What the world was like when the Cubs last won the World Series

The World
Republican Party campaign poster, 1908, including the pledge to "stop at once the accumulation of dishonest wealth, thereby carefully distributing the national wealth more fairly."

 Republican Party campaign poster, 1908, including the pledge to "stop at once the accumulation of dishonest wealth, thereby carefully distributing the national wealth more fairly."

Library of Congress

The world has changed a lot since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1908.

Let's take a look back.

Life for most Americans then was nasty, brutish and short. There was incredible poverty. Many people lacked even basic sanitation, much less access to higher education or health care.

The Civil War had ended just 43 years before. That made it about as recent as the Vietnam War is to us right now. In 1908, that meant a huge number of veterans living in the country, and there were about a million Americans alive who'd been born as slaves.

The Spanish-American War had been fought just 10 years earlier. So the occupation of Puerto Rico and Hawaii was still very fresh, and US troops were just winding down their second occupation of Cuba.

At the same time, the age of the Wild West was coming to an end. Three weeks after the Cubs won the World Series, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were supposed to have been killed in Bolivia.

It was an idealistic time, too. Some might say innocent. Think early Downton Abbey. There was great belief in the idea of progress — socially, technologically, constitutionally. The disasters of World War I were still in the future.

But sadly some of the big ideas of that era are not so pleasant to remember.

This was the golden age of nationalism, imperialism and white supremacy. Many countries were on the threshold of an era of forced assimilation and marginalization of minorities, especially indigenous peoples. The concept of "social Darwinism” held that nations and peoples were in a life-or-death evolutionary competition for power, and that fed a push for unity and homogeneity, helping lead ultimately to global war and genocide.

The US population was very different in 1908. There are about 3.5 times as many Americans today as there were in 1908. Back then, Americans were overwhelmingly non-Hispanic whites (88 percent). But believe it or not, there were more immigrants as a percentage of the total population in 1908 (14.7 percent) than in 2016 (13.3 percent). Despite the hardships people faced in the United States, life seemed better there than in so many other parts of the world.

Many Americans didn't welcome these new arrivals. They thought immigrants were taking jobs, pushing down wages and committing crimes. They seemed to bring with them diseases and violence, and were members of religions seen as alien and hostile, like Catholicism and Judaism. 

Sound familiar?

Like 2016, 1908 was a US election year.

Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was ending his second term as president. His Republican protege William Howard Taft was taking on William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat. And to listen to those 1908 campaign speeches today, you'd think the world was turned upside down.   

Taft for example was championing workers' rights:

“To enable them to maintain themselves against employers having great capital,” Taft said in one campaign speech, “they may well unite, because in union there is strength, and without it each individual laborer and employee would be helpless.”

Taft also defended anti-trust laws, promised to take on big business, and pledged to promote civil rights and education for people of color.

“The Republican platform,” Taft said, “explicitly demands justice for all men without regard for race or color.”

Meanwhile, African Americans were being disenfranchised.  

In 1908, Georgia became the last of the old Southern rebel states to rewrite their constitutions making it harder for blacks (and many poor whites) to vote.

It was also impossible for Native Americans to vote, at least those belonging to registered tribes. As "separate nations" they were denied American citizenship until 1924.

Women could vote in four western states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho), but the women campaigning for the vote — the suffragettes — were not taken seriously elsewhere. It would take a world war for the male establishment to recognize the value of women’s work. The 19th Amendment granting women voting rights was passed in 1920.

Elsewhere in the world, imperialism and nationalism were driving affairs.

Germany was completing a genocidal war against the Herero people in German South-West Africa, now Namibia, complete with concentration camps and mass killings. It was the end of the “Scramble for Africa” — only three portions of the continent were not under European control by this point in time: Liberia, Ethiopia and Morocco. France and Spain would divide up Morocco within four years.

There was a crisis in the Balkans. The Young Turks had staged a successful coup in Istanbul on July 23, making the Ottoman Empire look weak. So Bulgaria dared to declare its independence from the Turks on Oct. 5, while the provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina were annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire on Oct. 7. That led to a full-on war crisis with Russia: Russia and Serbia threatened war but were countered by German support of Vienna. Moscow backed down but was humiliated. It was a key incident in shaping Russia’s response to the crisis in 1914: Its leaders decided they could not be humiliated again, and chose war.

The year 1908 saw another huge change in world affairs, with the first oil discovery in the Middle East. This was in southwestern Iran, and the wells immediately came under British control.

There were two epic natural disasters in 1908.

The Tunguska event in Siberia — caused by a meteoroid or comet fragment — destroyed almost 800 square miles of forest. An earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Sicily and southern Italy on Dec. 28, killing an estimated 70,000 people.

The “latest thing" in terms of technology was probably flight. Wilbur Wright demonstrated his plane in Europe for the first time in 1908. This year also saw the first fatal air crash, in Virginia.

There was also the first vacuum cleaner, and of course Ford's Model T started rolling off the production line for the first time on Sept. 27.

Oh, and the Cubs won the World Series. 

What a year it was.