Many changes since first Transpac race
AFTER reading a recent Water Ways column about the first Transpacific Yacht Race in 1906, one of my three regular readers e-mailed me a few facts about life in general 100 years ago.
"I agree that 'history' can often be embellished by the storyteller and become 'his story'," he told me. "But here are a few historic facts that are well-documented.
"If you can share some of them with your readers," he suggested, "it may help them see how different things were for Transpac's 'father' Clarence Macfarlane in those days and why such a race was so remarkable."
To begin with, he noted, there were only 45 states in the U.S., the entire population was just over 85 million, the average life expectancy was 47 years, and more than 95 percent of all births took place at home.
I checked and according to the Hawaii Data Book, the Territory of Hawaii's total population in 1906 was somewhere around 160,000, with just 65,000 living on the island of Oahu.
Only 8 percent of the homes across the nation had a telephone and just 14 percent had a bathtub, my reader continued, and yet 18 percent of those households had at least one full-time servant or maid.
Nationwide, there were just 144 miles of paved roads, and although there were only some 8,000 cars in use, the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
Just 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school in 1906 and two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write.
One 1906 dollar would have had the buying power of more than $20 in 2007, however the average wage was just 22 cents an hour. This meant that a wage earner was taking home less than $18 for an 8-hour workday.
Of course a staple like sugar (Hawaii's No. 1 source off income then) cost only 4 cents a pound and coffee was just a bit more at 15 cents a pound.
Still, the combination of two events just a few years before -- the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War that made the U.S. a world power, and the annexation of Hawaii by the U.S. -- may have created the right atmosphere for an affluent businessman like Macfarlane to organize such a race.
And for a population that had never seen the kinds of technical marvels we take for granted today, a yacht race from California to Hawaii would have surely captured everyone's imagination and admiration.
This, of course, would tend to validate every story told about the overwhelming welcome the boats' crews received in Honolulu at the end of that first Transpacific Yacht Race.
"The entertainment for visiting yachtsmen went on from sunrise to sunrise," exclaimed one report.
And the reason one skipper gave for beating his competition to the finish line was he had been to Hawaii before and knew about the hospitality that awaited him.
Isn't it great to know the aloha is still here?