New Year’s Day a Century Ago: War, Oil, and Billy Sunday

Happy 2019! The above depiction of the new year and the old year was published a century ago today in the January 1, 1919 Star-Telegram. (For someone who was just a few hours old, the baby new year looks remarkably mature, don’t you think? He looks like he’ll be shaving by Groundhog Day.)

What else did readers see in that first Star-Telegram of 1919?

“Ring out the old, ring in the new”: A tire company tailored its ad for the new year with the poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Air pollution was not much of a concern a century ago: William Cameron’s lumber company hoped that the new year would bring “a great increase in the number of smokestacks in our city.” In 1911 the Star-Telegram and the Fort Worth Board of Trade—forerunner of the chamber of commerce—had begun promoting the industrialization of the city with the slogan “We’re for smoke.”

Classified ads featured automobile marques that long ago disappeared: Hudson, Maxwell, Hupmobile, Cole, Peerless, Overland, Packard, Chambers, Chalmers, Paige, Inter-State, Franklin, Lozier, Saxon.

Readers could enjoy vaudeville at the Majestic Theater . . .

or talkies at the Strand, Hippodrome, Phillips Egypt, and Odeon movie theaters.

Capitalist/cattleman Samuel Burk Burnett began the new year by celebrating his seventieth birthday with a few friends. This is the guest list for the party on January 1 at the Metropolitan Hotel. The party was co-hosted by Marion Sansom.

The New York Giants announced that the team might not hold spring training in Marlin in Falls County. The town was known for the healthful properties of its mineral water. The New York Giants had held spring training in Marlin for ten years. The Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds also held spring training in Marlin.

Texas & Pacific railroad announced that it would add a train between Fort Worth and Baird. The town was named after Matthew Baird, who was one of the directors of Texas & Pacific and also owned the Baldwin Locomotive Works, the biggest in the world.

That Baird train may have been added to serve the Ranger oilfield, which the track passed through on its way to Baird. Railroad historian Gerald Hook says the train was named the Oil Flyer, lending credence to that supposition.l

But smokestacks and birthday parties and railroads aside, three topics dominated the Star-Telegram of January 1: oil company ads, Billy Sunday, and World War I.

Two years after William Knox Gordon discovered oil at Ranger. oil companies were still wooing newspaper readers with ads promising big profits for small investments.

William Ashley Sunday (1862-1935, photo from Wikipedia) was the best-known evangelist during the first two decades of the twentieth century. As the new year began, Sunday held a revival in Fort Worth. The sixteen-page January 1 Star-Telegram included eight stories about Sunday, including verbatim text of his sermons at North Side Coliseum and First Christian Church.

Sunday had been a National League outfielder before trading the bat for the Bible. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

Even though an armistice had been signed on November 11, 1918, fighting in World War I continued into the new year. (The Treaty of Versailles would not be signed until June 28.) War news dominated the first front page on January 1. The banner headline was “Americans Advance 2 Miles in Russia.”

Newspapers reported the war on two levels. One level was the macro level: the movement and clashes of armies, the negotiations and pronouncements of diplomats, generals, and politicians, the grim statistics. The Star-Telegram continued to report deaths, wounded, and missing.

Newspapers also reported the war on the micro level: the fate of individual soldiers. Much of the micro reporting came from letters written by the soldiers themselves.

For example, C. B. Brown of Fort Worth, a member of the Air Service (the aerial warfare branch of the Army and a forerunner of the Air Force), wrote to his parents describing a visit to Camp Bowie’s 36th Division at the front. He also described the appearance of American POWs released by Germany.

The last letter written by Lieutenant John James Goodfellow Jr. before he was killed in aerial combat was printed: “Do not hesitate or falter until the world is once more safe for women and children and ‘carry on’ is my last wish.”

But some Johnnies had come marching home for the new year. The Star-Telegram announced that it would print at no charge “situation wanted” classified ads for returned soldiers.

And the population of Camp Taliaferro was being reduced.

As you read this ad it appears to be a paean to the hard-working people who served the war effort on the home front. The ad in reality is a paean to Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery, a patent medicine. Ray Vaughn Pierce was known as “the prince of quacks.”

This “blood purifier,” promising “vim, vitality and vigor,” was sold for more than ninety years. The federal Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 had cracked down on patent medicines by levying fines for dangerous ingredients and misleading advertising, but manufacturers considered such fines to be merely the price of doing business.

Finally, a Fort Worth “girl” responded to a report that some “amatory” doughboys fighting in France preferred French women to American women. Wrote she: “If they love the French girls the best, why don’t they remain?”

Sacre bleu, y’all!

And bonne année.

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4 Responses to New Year’s Day a Century Ago: War, Oil, and Billy Sunday

  1. Dennis Hogan says:

    Beginning January 1st, a new train known as the “Oil Flyer” will leave Fort Worth at 9:15 pm every night running at far as Baird. It will make all stops and will include a special sleeper to be set out at Ranger that can be occupied until morning. Sleepers for the return trip will be available for passengers in the evening. They will be picked up around midnight and arrive Fort Worth at 5:30 am. Patrons may occupy the car until 7 am.

    Weatherford Daily Herald – Monday, 30 December 1918 (courtesy of Gerald Hook)

    • hometown says:

      The “Oil Flyer”! There should be a statue of William Knox Gordon atop that smokestack in Thurber. I see that the Frisco line also had an Oil Flyer out of Tulsa. Thanks.

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