The first decade of the Twentieth Century was filled with many important aspects: The first was the Neptune-Pluto conjunction of the early 1890s; then Uranus opposite Pluto and then Uranus opposite Neptune; Neptune cardinal, then Uranus cardinal and finally Pluto cardinal. But in the midst of this was Uranus at the midpoint of Neptune and Pluto 1901-1907. This was the first zeitgeist change of the Twentieth Century.
Now, living under the fruits of Modernism, the revolution in the early part of the Twentieth Century, we forget how revolutionary the changes of that period were to those accustomed to the relatively slow-paced life of the Nineteenth Century. No one is alive today that remember those days. And what a revolution it was. Automobiles became increasingly poplar among people who were not wealthy, allowing people to move around at much higher speed than had previously been available for most. Electrification of urban areas allowed the use of nighttime hours, which had only been illuminated by oil or gas lamps. Cinema was changing people’s perception of life by allowing scenes that had only been seen by few to be seen by many for only a small price. Some art became totally abstract, and other art was somewhat representational but still widely different from conventional life. Music took strange atonal paths. And two great breakthroughs in science — special theory of relativity and quantum mechanics — changed the strictly mechanistic sense of the universe forever. In psychology, people learned that human motivations was often pushed by unconscious forces that where not imagined previously. And of course the introduction of the first mechanical airplanes were to change the world forever. What follows are a few highlights of the revolutionary changes at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
The first Russian Revolution took place in 1905; it wasn’t successful and made the Russians even angrier. Then, after the disastrous World War I, they fought the second Russian Revolution of 1917, which was successful.
The Emperor of China, Puyi, who was the twelfth ruler of the Qing Dynasty, served as a child emperor for a few years. A film was made about his life in 1987. Born in 1906, he ruled from 1908 to 1912. He was not only the last emperor of his dynasty, but in fact the last emperor of China. The Twentieth Century was encroaching on China. By the end of that century, China would be a place unrecognizable to Puyi.
The NAACP – then called the Niagara Movement, so called because the forming members were not allowed to eat in a hotel in the United States so they had to meet on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls – was formed in the United States in 1905.
The International Workers of the World, commonly known as the Wobblies, were formed in 1905 with the intent to be One Big Union. They wanted all workers to join together to form a union, and were on the forefront of radical labor action, for which they paid a high price.
An Indian lawyer in South Africa by the name of Mohandas Gandhi, promulgated his doctrine of non-violent protest, called Satyagraha, on September 11, 1906. This is often referred to as “the first 9/11” but has a much different meaning in history than what the phrase “9/11” usually refers to. He later moved back to India where that doctrine changed the government. His doctrine was also adopted by Dr. Martin Luther King in the United States, with far-reaching repercussions.
There were anarchist and syndicalist movements forming all around the world, such as in Korea, China, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, and South Africa. Details of this international anarchism are found in the book Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World 1870-1940 edited by Steven Hirsch and Lucien van der Walt.
In America in 1904 there was one of the biggest ecological disaster that had ever happened in that country. In that year started a chestnut bight that destroyed an estimated 3.5 billion chestnut trees in the country. The cause was a fungus imported from Asia. By the time the Great Depression hit America in less than 30 years the people of especially Appalachia were hit by this lack of food and lumber.
In the realm of science, two major theories were developed in this period which revolutionize science and our concept of the Universe, which up until that time had been based on theories of Issac Newton in the Eighteenth Century. In the very small quantum mechanics was developed by Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and others. In the very large the Special and General Theories of Relativity were developed by Albert Einstein with help by Max Planck and others. Both these theories had profound implications and brought science beyond Newtonian physics. And in 1912 the meteorologist Alfred Wegener developed theory of continental drift, which was immediately rejected only to be accepted a quarter of a century later. The theory was first suggested in the late 16th Century under a Uranus-Pluto conjunction. Also in the first decade of the Twentieth century scientists like Henri Becquerel, Ernest Rutherford, and Marie Curie made discoveries that laid the foundation for the atomic bomb.
But there were also big changes in our concept of the interior world, lead by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, who first communicated in 1906. There were many others developing the new fields to explore the mind, such as psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. The concept of the subconscious and the interest in analyzing dreams were just two of the ways their ideas changed the world.
The art world also saw a big burst of change. The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque were starting their careers which would lead to the school of Cubism. Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from 1907 shocked and scandalized the art world. Also at this time an artist who is considered one of the best of the Twentieth Century, along with Picasso, was at work. This was Henri Matisse. Marcel Duchamp, who later would be famous in the world of Dada, created the painting called Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, which was shown in 1912. In Italy the movement know as Futurism was developed. The artists of this school were enchanted by the speed of cars and planes, of the new world forming at the beginning of the century. In Russia what has been called the Russian avant-garde was developing. The best known artists of this school were Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich but there were many others. They took abstraction far beyond the ideas of Picasso and Duchamp.
Among writers there were James Joyce, who often considered the outstanding author of the Twentieth Century, and Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group. Upton Sinclair and Jack London were publishing novels that shook up the view of the world. And don’t forget L. Frank Baum and his Wonderful Wizard of Oz, rumored to be a political parody, which is still influential. Theodor Herzl published his idea of Zionism, whose influence is felt strongly 100 years later.
The development of computers took a step forward with the work of Herman Hollerith. He developed the 80-column punch card that could be used to tabulate data automatically. This device was used to automate the 1890 census, speeding up the time it took to finish the count by a factor of eight. He founded a company which was later merged to form IBM. The use of 80 columns was popular in the computer field through the Eighties.
But then an even more important development necessary for the whole modern electronic age happened in the middle of the first decade of the Twentieth Century. This invention is little remembered today, thought it is as important as others that are still heralded. This device was the audion or triode, invented by Lee de Forest (called the Father of the Radio) in 1906. I found him mentioned in a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, which has further references. The audion was an amplifier for electric currents, and made possible radio and long distance telephone calls, which would otherwise be limited by weak signals. Vacuum tubes were extremely important in the first electronic computers, invented under the second zeitgeist change of the Twentieth Century, and when miniaturized into transistors, were important in the second generation of electronic computers, developed in the Fifties.
Cars were becoming increasingly popular in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. This popularity was greatly helped by the introduction of the first affordable automobile, the Model T Ford in 1908. This automobile was released by the Ford Motor Company of Detroit Michigan and not only allowed the middle class to afford an automobile, but provided employment to many, including recent immigrants to the United States and Blacks fleeing the Jim Crow South. The implication of the automobile were profound but they weren’t realized for many years. All of the gas burned polluted the atmosphere causing the greenhouse effect, and people stopped moving, leading to many diseases of inactivity. As a result of the widespread use of the automobile large stretches of open land have been paved over, for highways, parking lots, and driveways—personal parking lots for each home. In fact , some homeowners associations require all houses to have driveways, whether or not they are used. If an alien viewed Earth, the alien might believe that automobiles are the dominant life-form on the planet. These automobiles are attended to by small symbiotes who feed them and keep their outsides clean, and buy them fuzzy dice and dashboard mascots, in exchange for which the small symbiotes are taken places by the automobiles.
Motion pictures were developed during this period. People like Edison in 1891 and Lumiere in 1895 developed a way of projecting a picture onto a screen: if this was done often enough the human brain would not see individual frames but rather continuous motion. But by the early years of the Twentieth Century motion pictures became wildly popular as the art of cinema developed and people no longer had to be content with images of simple motion. By the middle of the first decade of the XXth Century feature films – films longer than one reel – were being produced. At the same time actors began to get credit and production companies were organized.
But it was not only motion pictures that became increasingly popular, but still pictures that could be taken by an individual. Today when many people carry camera with them on their cell-phones, we forget what a breakthrough this was since before this time photography was a difficult process not suitable for someone not truly interested in the act. This change was due to George Eastman and his introduction of the Brownie camera in 1900 with the motto “You push the button, we do the rest”.
The development of the airplane, most famously by the Wright Brothers, in the first decade of the new century, revolutionize life. Another person famous in the history of powered flight, who may also have a claim to the first flight, is Glenn Hammond Curtiss, who made the first officially witnessed powered flight and founded the aircraft industry. The names of both these pioneers lives in the name of the current aerospace company Curtiss-Wright Corporation. The dream of flying like a bird had been a long one for mankind, as the myth of Icarus suggests. It was given a boost with the development of hot-air balloons by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783, allowing humans to float over Paris. But by the Twentieth Century powered flight came into being, and there were many developments after that in the field. This allowed humans to move easily from place to place around the world, and also, as an unforeseen consequence, to transfer all types of animals and microbes from one part of the world, where immunity existed, to other parts of the world where that particular disease had never been seen. We are living with the consequences.
Music also changed in this period. Igor Stravinsky changed music with his Rite of Spring, first performed in 1913. The production was shocking, and the use of chords changed the way future composers looked at music. There was also a Futurist movement in music with many of the same origins as in painting. Charles Ives was one of the first American composers to be known throughout the world. The French composer Edgard Varese was relatively unknown at the time, but he has influenced many such as the rock artist Frank Zappa. Sergei Prokofiev was another composer who broke away from the Nineteenth Century.
Another important change for the United States and the rest of the world was that in this period — specifically 1899 — the United States made the conscious decision to become an empire. Full details are given in the recent book by Stephen Kinzer The True Flag. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American war, the United States came into possession of colonies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. In the latter, the US was engaged in a fierce struggle to hold on to the islands against the natives who for some reason did not want to be governed by another foreign power. The American Anit-Imperialist League was founded to battle this war, and had prominent members such as Mark Twain, William James, and Andrew Carnegie.
Here we see two charts: One for the explosion of the battleship Maine in the Havana Harbor, thus beginning the Spanish-American War. The second chart is for the explosions on 9/11, thus beginning the War on Terror. Notice they are the reverse: The first chart has Pluto on the Descendant of the United States opposite Saturn, indicating an explosion outside the country. The second chart has Pluto opposite Saturn again, but this time Pluto is on the Ascendant, indicating an explosion in the country. I see these two events/charts as booklends to the American Empire.
The period 1900-1913 saw the greatest immigration in to the United States. People from other countries were seeking a new home in the United States, and often working at low paying jobs and living in tenements that had developed in larger cities, unlike the immigrants of earlier times that formed homesteads in rural territories.
This period saw changes in the commercial sphere as well. The first Sears catalogs had appeared at the end of the Nineteenth Century; they were the Amazon.com of the day, allowing people to look at many products within the comfort of their homes. The early Twentieth Century saw the improvement of the catalog, which reached more people. The cash only department stores, that catered to the urban population (still a minority in a country that was basically rural), started to allow products to be bought on the installment plan, which meant that consumers could buy products that were previously unavailable to them because of prices that were beyond their budget. This practice of installment buying led to problems during the Great Depression a quarter century later.
But this whole period of growth was brought to an end by another astrological configuration: Pluto crossed into Cancer. In Uranian astrology, the world horoscope is based on the cardinal cross: 0 of Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn. These form the foundation of the world, hence the term “World Horoscope”. This is also the basis of the tropical astrological signs. And Northern Hemisphere centric, they place 0 Cancer at the Tenth house cusp, because the Sun is the highest then in the northern hemisphere. When these outer planets, especially noticeable with Pluto, cross this axis, the world is changed: one example: when Pluto crossed into Capricorn in 2007-09, the world experienced what is called the Great Recession. Five hundred years before that, at a similar ingress, the Reformation began. Half way between the two, also a Capricorn Ingress of Pluto, the English defeated the French in Canada during the Seven Years War, and thus became the dominant power in a unipolar world. In 1914, Pluto made several entrances into Cancer, and within a month of one of those, a royal couple was shot in Sarajevo, igniting the First World War and thus ending the developments of the first decade and a half, under this midpoint of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
Much of this entry was previously published in “Modernism and the Start of the Twentieth Century”; I have plagiarized several paragraphs.
The major changes of this period are so ingrained in the modern world that there is little controversy about them. Not so for the next two zeitgeist changes of the Twentieth Century. These are still close to the current era, and their effects are still prominent in the current world.