Posted by: bkivey | 11 June 2010


While perusing the stacks at the library I came upon an unprepossing book with a blue cover. It’s a given that if something is old and bound I’m going to pick it up. The book turned out to be a travel guide, specifically, Muirhead’s England Blue Guide published 1924. The Blue Guides are a series of travel guides with a long history that give detailed background on the cultural and architectural treasures of the area the specific guide covers. This travel guide featured several fold-out maps as well as floor plans of the major cathedrals in England. Looking through books like this gives insight into another time and place.

One of the first things I found as I randomly paged through the book was  a listing of postal rates. Three categories of rates are given: U.K., Colonies and USA, and Foreign Countries. My first thought was that after 140+ years the Empire still couldn’t let go. In 1924 the British Empire covered the globe, encompassing 58 countries; in fact the largest exhibition in the world was held in London of that year to celebrate the Empire. Apparently there are six degrees of freedom on the colonization spectrum and it appears, at least to the Guide’s editors, that Britain wasn’t quite ready to let the US fall under the  category of Foreign Countries. At least we still got the special colonies rate.

There was a section on travel to the UK which bore some scrutiny. The guide listed a number of steamship lines that served the US – UK passenger trade and the information was edifying. The one-way fares quoted ranged from 16 pounds sterling for steerage passage to 45 pounds for first class, meals included, and a passage time of  6 – 10 days. A little research finds that in modern money these fares range from $1300 to $3000. The average annual income in the US at the time was about $1100. Contrast that with roundtrip airfare between New York and London at the time of this writing going for around $1000 and one-way travel time of about 7 hours. The average individual income in the US is currently around $40,000 annually.

Of course, I found out all sorts of interesting information about 1924 while researching the other things. While Calvin Coolidge was president, there was no vice-president. The Dow reached a blistering 121. The average car went for about $400 while the median price for a house was just shy of $8000. As a percentage of annual income, cars were less expensive and houses more so than today. While no one would argue that a modern car is light years better than even the finest automobile built in 1924, the quality of houses is more problematical.

My favorite statistical measure was in the area of motor vehicle production. In 1924 the US produced over 3 million passenger cars and over 400,000 trucks. That same year the Soviet Union started motor vehicle production with . . . ten trucks. Ah, to be a buggy whip manufacturer in the worker’s paradise.

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