1912 Seventy-five Years Ago

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Woodrow Wilson was elected President on November 2, defeating the Republican William Howard Taft; Theodore Roosevelt, who had founded the Progressive or Bull Moose party; and the Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, a twenty-yearold poet from Camden, Maine, suddenly found herself famous in November. That month an anthology entitled The Lyric Year was published, containing what were deemed the best one hundred poems written by Americans in 1912. Millay’s “Renascence”—“All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood”—was included in the anthology as fourth best, though it had been promised first prize by an editor who was later overruled by his fellow judges. After The Lyric Year was published, however, “Renascence” was universally acknowledged the best poem in the volume, and Millay received wide acclaim. “Fully armed from the head of Jove had sprung a new miracle,” wrote the poet Witter Bynner a few years after Millay’s sudden emergence before the public. “Where there had been nothing, no whisper of her, stood a whole poet.”

The arrival of the new 1913 automobiles prompted Harper’s Weekly to run an article entitled “The Vanishing Hand Crank” in its November 2 issue. The 1913 models were not the first to feature the self-starter, a device invented by Charles Franklin Kettering in 1911 and soon after perfected by Vincent Bendix. But it struck Harper ’s as the first year in which the majority of cars were self-starting, heralding the end of an arduous and risky chore. The “fair feminine driver” will benefit most from the death of the hand crank, Harper ’s noted, but so, too, would those drivers whose motors stalled in the midst of heavy city traffic, a form of public humiliation now long forgotten. “It is naturally mortifying as well as time consuming to be forced to alight from the seat, walk to the front of the car, and then crank a few times,” wrote the author, “the while traffic behind—and possibly on either side, if on a busy cross-street—is held up until the engine can be started and the operator can return to his seat.”