Hey, check out this chart. Who knew that 12 numbers could have so many fascinating implications? Bear in mind this was true locally too--Augusta Township, Ypsi Township, Superior Township.
First of all, did you try to guess the four technologies? Did you get them all right? I got one wrong. Instead of "telephone," I guessed "sewer system." But I shouldn't have, since this is from a book called Out of the Dark: A History of Radio and Rural America, by Steve Craig. I checked it out from Halle Library--yes, you, fellow average non-student Ypsilantian, can get a FREE library card at Halle! And check stuff out! When I found that out I was like JESUS I just got A WHOLE NEW LIBRARY!!! They charge you an arm and both legs to do that at U-M. But I digress.
1. Amazingly, car and telephone ownership is pretty much steady over these two decades. Why is this so? Well, of course, because cars became available shortly after the turn of the century, so by 1930 they were an established technology. Same with telephony.
2. But wait, why is electricity different? Like telephony, electricity also requires a wiring infrastructure (and as a commercial technology is roughly the same age as telephony). Yet as you can see the vast majority of rural residents wanted electricity--it really caught on as the rural infrastructure kept expanding post-war. Telephones, not so much. Why is this? With a telephone you could save the life of someone who just got injured on your farm. Wouldn't that be the vital, demanded thing?
3. And strangest of all, the least practical technology of all in terms of getting things done in daily life is the most wildly popular. Just look at that adoption rate soaring. And radios were EXPENSIVE---console radios were priced at what is comparable to larger plasma TVs today, hundreds to over a thousand dollars when you adjust for inflation. (There were smaller, cheaper radios too of course). Here are two examples that were on sale in Ypsilanti in 1932. Why would a practical subsidence farmer waste money on this frippery?
4. Comparing telephone and electricity again, it's interesting to note that the initial adoption rates of these two roughly contemporaneous technologies vary. This may be due to a number of reasons, but I'm guessing one big one was that the rural demand for electricity was initially not as strong. After all, rural residents got by previously with daylight and kerosene lamps. Absent a houseful of electric appliances, electricity does not add anything new per se. But the telephone does, so perhaps a larger group was initially willing to pony up for it.
5. Last, a mere seventeen years before DD was born, a 62% majority of homes in areas like Augusta Township did not have a phone. Contrasted to today, that is astonishing. How were people's lives changed by this absence, compared to today? Were their minds quieter? Were their lives calmer? Did things move more slowly? What else might have been different?
What strikes you about this intriguing chart?