The Year Was 1899

Street in Harlem, New York City, after the blizzard of Feb. 13, 1899The year was 1899 and the Spanish-American War had just ended. However, peace would not last. The U.S. had purchased Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from Spain for $20 million. In the Philippines, the Filipino forces (former allies in the Spanish-American War) had begun to resent American forces. After finally becoming free of Spain, they did not want another occupation, and on 4 February the Philippine-American War began and would continue for three years at a terrible cost of lost Filipino lives.

In Africa, another war was beginning as the British and the Boers began the Second Boer War, where again the forces of imperialism and nationalism clashed in bloody conflict. For years, Uitlanders (foreigners) had been flocking to the Transvaal (South African Republic) following the discovery of gold in 1886. Threatened by the newcomers, the government restricted the vote to naturalized citizens and began taxing mining interests.

In New York City, another battle was being fought–this time against newspaper moguls who had raised the price of newspaper bundles by ten cents. This price hike hit hard for newsboys who hawked the papers on street corners. These boys, many of whom lived on the streets, counted on the profits made selling these newspapers to survive. They had to pay for the bundle of papers up front and with the price hike, more papers had to be sold to turn a profit. To make matters worse, following the end of the Spanish American War, readership was down and newsboys frequently found themselves taking a loss on unsold papers. In July of 1899, newsboys went on strike against The Evening World and The Evening Journal in New York. With no newspaper system of distribution to replace the newsboys, the owners compromised and agreed to buy back unsold papers, although the price remained at sixty cents a bundle. News of the success spread and similar strikes were eventually held in other cities. These strikes helped to bring attention to the plight of children forced into labor and eventually led to reform.

Between 12 and 14 February, a blizzard ravaged much of the U.S. from New England to Florida. The Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) from 15 February 1899 reported that freezing temperatures had devastated the Florida and Georgia citrus crops, and the record cold temperature of 6.8 degrees fahrenheit chilled Charleston. Cape May, New Jersey, snow levels measured forty-three inches after fifty-two hours of continuous snowfall. New York City recorded sixteen inches, while neighboring area measured the precipitation in feet. Even the port of New Orleans was iced over.

Advances in 1899 include the first distribution of aspirin by Bayer and the invention of the paperclip. Who could have imagined at the time that this simple but useful invention would, a century later, annoy millions as it popped up in Microsoft applications as “Clippy?”

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Image: Street in Harlem, New York City, after the blizzard of Feb. 13, 1899 from Library of Congress Photo Collection.

9 thoughts on “The Year Was 1899

  1. Do you keep a collection of each “The Year Was…” somewhere that is easy to scan through? I was just thinking that if I knew someone who had died in Feb 1899, perhaps I could attribute some of the cause to the cold, or at least mention it.

    Thank you.

  2. I really appreciate receiving the Ancestry and always check out the photos and the special articles of interest. I had submitted a photo some time ago and will submit another soon. I had not seen the publication fo the first one but shall still check out the photo section. It is very interesting that others have photos of their ancestors. My maternal and fathernal families had not taken many photos but I do have a few which are in the Harmon Family Album published in 1997 by my husband and me. Much of the data was done by other family members.We printed 12 copies to distribute to family members. We also published the Genealogy of the Kington/Barr families with many interesting articles written by several of the ancestors as well as wonderful poetry by our lost family in Australia. the Barr/Cockram family. without Ancestry and the webs we would have never been able to find the lost member of the Barr family.

  3. yes i do keep a copy of “the year was”. For the same reason as you do. It would be nice if they were all printed in a book.

  4. I had no idea aspirin has been around that long! Awfully glad Bayer came out with it. Paper clips and aspirin–so little and yet so used every day of our lives.

  5. My Great-Grandmother Mary A. Soden died Feb 14, 1899 in Chacigo Ill. I had been told that it was so cold, she couldn’t be buried. She was only 31 years old and had 3 children. The younges was only 5 weeks old. So sad. I’m glad I read this, as I had forgotten about the story of the cold. I’ll be talking to my mother (age 86) to see if she remembers more.

  6. Here is some of Bayer’s history from

    “As an I.G. Farben subsidiary during World War II, Bayer entered the darkest period in its history. Recently publicized evidence suggests that I.G. Farben furnished experimental Bayer drugs for tests on concentration camp prisoners. The company stationed scientists at the camps to oversee human research, and provided at least a portion of the funds that supported the horrific experiments of Joseph Mengele, the notorious Nazi “Angel of Death.” I.G. Farben produced the Zyklon B gas used in countless executions, and the company reaped handsome profits from factories set up near the Auschwitz and Maidanek prison camps to benefit from ready access to slave labor.”


    “In the Auschwitz files, correspondence between the camp commander and Bayer Leverkusen was discovered. It dealt with the sale of 150 female prisoners for experimental purposes:

    ‘With a view to the planned experiments with a new sleep-inducing drug we would appreciate it if you could place a number of prisoners at our disposal (…)’ – ‘We confirm your response, but consider the price of 200 RM per woman to be too high. We propose to pay no more than 170 RM per woman. If this is acceptable to you, the women will be placed in our possession. We need some 150 women (…)’ – ‘We confirm your approval of the agreement. Please prepare for us 150 women in the best health possible (…)’ – “Received the order for 150 women. Despite their macerated condition they were considered satisfactory. We will keep you informed of the developments regarding the experiments (…)’ – ‘The experiments were performed. All test persons died. We will contact you shortly about a new shipment (…)'”

    “Another longtime Bayer employee, Helmut Vetter, also worked as a SS doctor at Auschwitz. He was involved in the testing of experimental vaccines and medicines on inmates and after the war he was executed for administering fatal injections.”

  7. I particularly enjoyed The year was 1899. My mother’s parents were both born in 1899 and it gave me a better insight into the world in 1899. I also enjoyed the bit about the newsboys…my grandfather was a linotype operator until he retired in the early 1970’s and it reminded me that life didn’t always revolve around computers and word processing.

  8. Will you do a column on 1898? I have a personal interest in this year as some of my ancestors were born then.

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