While recently tinkering with my 1917 Ford, I wondered about life in Perry for the man who purchased that car new.
It would have sold at Rude Auto, First and Warford. Half of Iowa’s 160,000 autos were Fords, but Perry had several other dealers selling countless brands. Aubry, McCarty, and Bennett were selling Studebaker, Buick, Hudson, Mitchell, Overland and others. The Double Header grocery on Second offered five gallons of gas for 70 cents and new tires at $10.50. The car cost $370, assembled and delivered.
Life was different. This was before sliced bread, Social Security, and the driver’s license. Income taxes were only four years old. Perry was booming. We had passenger service on three lines. Railroads, coal mining, manufacturing and agriculture offered employment equally for the common $3 per day wage. Population had jumped 1,000 people from the last decade. Downtown the Rex and Grand offered movies or vaudeville shows for 10 cents. Many homes had a phone and electric lights, but rural people were years behind. Livery barns were switching to auto care, and funeral parlors advertised their switch to motorized hearses. Many churches, clubs and lodges were growing quickly. The Country Club was a year old, and the new post office was three years old. Gardner consolidated rural schools and built a new brick building.
Politically, Jack Bruce was again elected mayor after losing out one term. Judge Caudell held Superior Court in the Carnegie Building. Gov. Clark lost to Warren Harding, and Woodrow Wilson won a second term by defeating Charles Hughes. Politics were as strong as ever.
The biggest news that year was WWI, which we joined April 17. More than 500 Perry men were drafted. Interestingly, those found exempt were issued a badge so people would not think they were “slackers.” Perry and Dallas County quickly exceeded quotas on men, war bond sales, and Red Cross donations. War dominated newspapers.
Other news told of a Spanish influenza epidemic, outbreaks of hog cholera and many injuries and deaths to railroad workers. People were considering paving roads. Prohibition and new “blue laws” provided many stories about violators. President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover food administrator, and we quickly saw government price control on meat, coal, milk and grain. Women’s efforts toward winning the vote weren’t tied to Prohibition, but shared headlines. Organized labor clashed with big business and even the government’s work supporting the war.
Only daily war news, political arguments and Washington scandals make life seem similar to today. Five Perry banks offering 4 percent interest and the newspaper charging $1 yearly subscription seem odd. The Sunday auto sale ban is the only surviving blue law. But Perry, our great nation and that 1917 Model T continue on as usual.