James Arthur Skipper
Life in 1880s Arkansas

Electrical Power

Edison had just invented the electric light (although the streets of Paris had been lit by electric carbon arc lights for some time). Electrical power systems did not exist. Electric lights were so rare that in 1885 the folks of Austin, Texas, put up a string of electric streetlights specifically for a celebration. There were no electric motors or appliances. Electricity did not reach the Lanty area for another 60 years or so.


New Orleans had had a commercial ice making plant for about 15 years, but ice was not readily available out in the country. I don’t know when Morrilton first got an ice plant. Most rural people stored milk and butter in cold spring water, if they had access to a spring or they just drank the milk warm. There was a thriving natural ice distribution system in the northern states which delivered ice by clipper ship all along the Atlantic coast, but I doubt that much of it got up river to Morrilton. There was a commercial ice cream plant at an ice cream parlor in Austin, Texas, in the 1880’s and the owner used the steam powered refrigeration system to cool his parlor.


Wood was used for cooking and heating. Wood was readily available for the labor. Some may have used coal. Many older homes used fireplaces, but others used cast iron cook stoves and heaters.


Since there was no electricity, there were no electric lights. However, there was plenty of kerosene from the Pennsylvania oil boom of recent years. President Lincoln had studied by candlelight, these youngsters studied with the faint aroma of 'coal oil.'


Entertainment was totally different back then; it consisted of social activities and sports like baseball. Basketball had not been invented. Edison had just invented the phonograph, the first system for recording and reproducing sound. Very few people had phonographs for many years. There were no movies, radio, or TV of course. Because of this, many cities, even small towns, had their own bands.


There were two choices: the Postal Service or the telegraph; both had been in use for many years. The telephone had been exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, but it took many years to provide phone service out to rural areas. The first long-distance line was constructed in 1881 and a 292 mile long line was built in 1884.


The steam locomotive railroad train was the ultimate in modern transportation by land. Any other land travel was by foot, horseback, or horse or ox drawn wagons, carts, or carriages. There were probably few carriages in rural Arkansas. Roads were usually prepared by scraping the surface and digging ditches to keep most of the water off the road. Very few had crushed stone surfaces, much less all-weather paving so travel was limited in wet weather. Even in 1900 people were traveling to Oklahoma by wagon, crossing the Arkansas River on ferries. Travel by water was much more common then, but since the trans-continental railroad had been completed in 1869, fewer people made the trip around Cape Horn or the alternate, transferring by rail across the Isthmus of Panama. Air travel was limited to joy rides in hot air balloons, which had been in use for 100 years.

The "Bicycle Age"

The safety bicycle appeared about 1880. Both wheels were the same size. During the next ten years various improvements were made in the bicycle, including rubber tires, ball bearings for wheels, coaster brakes, cushion saddles, and handle bars that could be adjusted for the rider's comfort.
The bicycle was in its greatest use in the United States from 1889 until about 1900. In 1889, the air-filled rubber bicycle tire was introduced. By 1896, about 4,000,000 people in the United States regularly rode bicycles. In 1899 there were 312 bicycle factories in the country which made more than 1,000,000 bicycles during the year. Today, more than 24,000,000 people in the United States own bicycles. One factory in Little Rock, Ark., can turn out as many as 3,000 bicycles a day. (From the 1965 World Book Encyclopedia)


There was no indoor plumbing or water supply in the rural areas (and perhaps none in most small towns). Water had to be drawn from a spring or from a ‘dug’ well. (Drilled wells may have been in use also.) Some people collected rainwater in cisterns. Some people had hand pumps for pumping water from wells or cisterns, but I think they were rare in this area. Those were the days of weekly baths in a washtub in the kitchen or at the swimming hole in the summer, if there was one near by. I think that many homes didn’t even have an outhouse; the men simply went outdoors or to the barn, the women used a pot or ‘slop’ jar which could be emptied outdoors later. Well-to-do families had a commode seat to hold the pot at a nice sitting height and to provide a cover for the pot. 'Toilet paper' was not common either.

Although combs and hair brushes were common, many rural people didn't have tooth brushes. They chewed the end of a twig and brushed their teeth with that. In the recent '1900 House' TV project, tooth brushes with pig bristles were used. Handles were probably made of 'hard' rubber.

Other Things

They didn't have zippers! The first slide fastener was invented in 1892 and the modern metal toothed slide fastener in 1913. In 1924 B.F. Goodrich introduced Zipper galoshes with slide fasteners.

Aluminum containers and products did not exist. Napoleon had tried to produce aluminum for equipment for his army, but found that it was too expensive. There was no plastic, no cellophane, no celluloid. In other words, products were either natural such as cotton, wool, wood, ivory, leather and processed rubber or iron, brass, and copper. Probably iron containers coated with either zinc, enamel, or tin coatings for rust proofing were available to the common people. Rich people probably had brass cookware. Many used cast iron pots and skillets.

Rubber was the new material of the century. Although the native population of Central and South America had used the sap of the rubber tree for balls and coatings for their feet, it was not until 1823 that Charles Macintosh of Scotland produced the 'mackintosh' a rubberized cloth raincoat. In 1839, Charles Goodyear, accidentally discovered the 'vulcanization' process to make rubber into stable, elastic, airtight, and watertight products. Solid rubber tires were mounted on Queen Victoria's carriages in 1846.

Table of Descendants
LIFE in the 1880s
Joseph W. Skipper (1814-1875)
David James Skipper (1949-1909)
James Arthur Skipper (1882-1940)
James Arthur Skipper, Jr. (1921-1945)
James Maxwell Skipper (1941-        )

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Re-posted: 1/15/03