Left Coast / Right Coast: A Brief History of U.S. Time

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

In March of 2018 I wrote about theoretical physicists’ view of time relative to our universe (Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”). This week I decided to write about time relative to our great country, the United States of America.

If you go back about a thousand years, you find that the Vikings discovered America in the tenth century AD.  Unlike the voyage of Columbus, who was searching for a shorter trade route to India (hence, why our indigenous people were named “Indians,” Columbus thinking he had found India), the Vikings I suspect were trying to get away from the horrible conditions at home.

They were called Vikings for a reason. A relatively primitive society – at least when it came to how their various home country tribes got along with each other – let alone any invading groups from elsewhere in Europe. So given the choice of staying at home and becoming the object of a barbeque roast or going “on-the-road” to discover new places to act as savages, many volunteered for a “road trip.”

Life in the “new world” was not especially easy. That prevailed through the time of Columbus as well as the Pilgrims who were actually the first large group to colonize the new land. Think of something as simple as making dinner. Unless one liked surviving on plants and squirrel nuts or the few types of non-poisonous mushrooms, most of us required protein. So that means meat. So, if you wanted meat for dinner (and we’re talking long before people had domestic animals for food – ex. goats, pigs, cows, chickens, etc.) you had to go out and hunt it down.

And hunting tools were also quite primitive. Bow and arrow or spears and clubs until the mid 14th century. Then primitive guns – single shot rifles and not that accurate – for another 400 years or so. Now if you were lucky enough to shoot something, you first had to get it home (not so easy with a 100 lb. deer or worse, a Moose), gut it, skin it, then butcher it into cookable human sized proportions.

Before you could cook it, you had to build a fire. That meant cutting down trees – again using primitive hand tools – and trying to get the meat cooked “right.” So not raw enough to cause disease nor over-cooked enough to taste like shoe leather. Sort of makes you appreciate Amazon Prime – on-line food ordering to your front door in under two hours. Or better still, any of the dozens of “order on-line – deliver to your front door” restaurants featuring every type of food you might want. And you don’t even have to “saddle up and mount” your horse or get in your car (with an electric starter – so no hand cranking).

By the early colonial times, in-home ovens were widely in use. Fired by wood and made of brick. They were a leap forward in “in-home” cooking. Now all the colonists needed to complete a relatively “modern” homestead was running water and modern sanitation. Oh yeah, refrigeration.

Running water meant not having to go out to the well, pump up some water into a bucket – then haul in into the house and either warm it up on a fire or use it for cooking cold as it came from the well. Indoor Plumbing became popular in the 1800’s. At about the same time modern sanitation was implemented. So no more trudging out to the frigid outhouse (in winter).

Initially, all homes had septic systems – the first designs simply large holding tanks – which required frequent pumping and disposal. Later, the use of liquid drain fields along with solid holding tanks made these systems work reliably for years in between servicing. (In fact, our home in unincorporated Snohomish County has a septic system.)

The 1800’s also produced the first chemical based refrigeration system. The early ones used Ammonia which was poisonous if it leaked (it did). Ultimately replaced by Freon based systems. Prior to this type of refrigeration we had the icebox, also from the early 1800’s. the only issue then was finding blocks of ice to put inside the box. Plus a delivery service to supply the ice. My Uncle worked as an “ice man” in the early 20th century. Carrying large blocks of ice on his back – held in place by metal tongs – from his truck into homes ultimately gave him severe arthritis which partially paralyzed him by the time he was 30.

By comparison, today’s homeowners have it so much easier. Any modern kitchen practically cooks one’s meals by itself. That leaves us so much more time to watch the daytime soap operas. Only problem is too much daytime TV dumbs your IQ down to the point where in under 100 years from now, we may have lost our ability to think. Then it would be back to chopping wood, pumping water and hunting for our dinner.


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