“On the Threshold of 1900”
On December 31, 1899, the New York Times ran an editorial reviewing the past century and looking forward to the next. “We step on the thresh/ old of 1900 … facing a still brighter dawn for human civilization, ” the editors declared. Everywhere the prospects were encouraging. Factories were busy manufacturing products; incomes were steadily rising. Incredible new inventions—the telephone, automobile, and light bulb, to name only three—were transforming daily life. “Laws are becoming more just, rulers humane, ” said a Brooklyn pastor, “music is becoming sweeter and books wiser.”
Already the United States was the world's largest industrial power. After a severe economic slump in the early 1890s, our annual output of goods and services was nearly $19 billion. In just thirty years the number of Americans had doubled and now stood at 76 million. Three new states had been added in the past decade, for a total of forty-five. The entire nation, it seemed, was getting bigger, stronger, more prosperous.
Massive changes were under way, however. The great American fron/ tier—that vast expanse of unsettled land beyond the Mississippi—had largely disappeared. Thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Isaac Cody and his son William, the plains had been tamed. The last Indian outbreak—the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota—was a decade past; the former Indian territory of Oklahoma now teemed with thousands of new settlers.
Buffalo Bill Cody, though a child of the nineteenth century, was quick to sense the prevailing winds and take advantage of them. Despite his celebration of the past in the Wild West show, he was a visionary who had always looked to the future and who was perfectly positioned to thrive in the new century.
In February 1900, after visiting with friends and family in North Platte, Cody headed for Wyoming to look after his business interests there. He