A snapshot of life a century ago

In my previous writings I tried to give you a picture of what it was like during the birth of Juneau and the years following. Now I’d like to go back from today one century to 1911 and give you an idea of what was happening worldwide, nationally, and in Alaska. This can only be a quick summary and some things will be missed mostly because of space, time, and ability on my part. However, it might be worthwhile to compare what is happening today with what was going on then to see if the spirit of this country has changed for better or worse.


One of the first things I came across concerning world events of 1911 was the Xinhai Revolution in China. It was the demise of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China. Soon after the revolution, the United States set up the Tsinghua Xuetang School in Beijing. This school is the predecessor of the Tsinghua University now in operation.

On Feb. 17, 1911 Russia sent a note to China demanding extra territorial rights and free trade with Outer Mongolia. This was followed up on the 18th when the government of Russia asked the Czar to immediately finance $60 million for the immediate construction of a greater navy, with the fleet of battleships to be built at once. Immediately there was an announcement from both Great Britain and the United States they would assist China in resisting the demands of Russia. By 1912 Russia had concluded a secret convention with Japan delineating their respective spheres of influence: South Manchuria and Inner Mongolia fell to the Japanese, North Manchuria and Outer Mongolia to the Russians.

On Jan. 3, 1911 General Manuel Bonilla reentered Honduras — where he was president from 1903 to 1907 — at the head of a large army and issued a proclamation declaring himself to be president. His main aides were Americans, drawn to his support by promises of power and loot. While in office, he gave generous concessions to the banana companies along the north coast of Honduras. He retained the office until his death on March 21, 1913.

The Mexican revolution actually began in 1910 when President Porfirio Diaz, who had been president since 1876, jailed Francisco Madero, who was running for president against him, and announced that he, Porfirio Diaz, was the winner by landslide. By late 1910 Mexicali and Chihuahua City were taken by revolutionaries. Within a very short time men and women, who would later go down in Mexican history as great leaders, joined the revolution. Some of them were Pascual Orozco, Abraham Gonzales, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Margarita Neri.

After Madero defeated the federal army on May 21, 1911, he signed the Treaty of Cuidad Juarez with Diaz. Diaz abdicated his rule and was replaced by Madero. Madero remained in office until 1913 when he was forced to resign.

By September 29, 1911 Italy had declared war on the Ottoman Empire, which is now Turkey. This turned out to be part of the build up for World War I.

On the national front:

Probably one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century began in 1904 and was in its final stages by 1911: the Panama Canal. President Theodore Roosevelt started the project and by 1909 President Howard Taft picked up where Roosevelt left off. President Woodrow Wilson finished the project just as World War I began on Aug. 15, 1914. Fifty-six-hundred-and-nine workers died during the building of the canal with a total cost of $350 million. Mosquitoes caused many deaths from yellow fever and malaria at the beginning of the project, but had been brought under control by 1911.

On May 15, 1911 the Supreme Court dissolved Standard Oil under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Then on Aug. 8, Public law 62-5 set the number of representatives in the House of Representatives at 435. The law would come into effect in 1913.

The Alaska Territory became an organized incorporated territory on Aug. 24, 1912. However the resolution, later to be called “The Oregon Resolution” was adopted by the House of Representatives on Jan. 19, 1911 and by the Senate on Jan. 26, 1911. For Alaska, this was extremely important as it enabled the creation of the Alaska Territorial Legislature. On Feb. 25, 1911 the Oregon resolution was printed in the Daily Alaska Dispatch in Juneau:

“Whereas the territory of Alaska is settled by hardy, active, and energetic people numbering more than 64,000, according to the thirteenth census, 1910, who have in the last ten years added in gold and fish alone more than $225,000,000, being greater than our trade with China and twice as great in value as our trade with the Philippines; and

“Whereas the development of the territory is being greatly retarded by the want of a law-making or legislative body therein, to be elected by the people:

“Resolved by the legislative assembly of the state of Oregon (the senate and house jointly concurring), That we do hereby declare our most earnest opinion that it is necessary to the development of the Pacific coast of the resources of and good government in Alaska that the congress of the United States shall, at the earliest possible date, pass an enabling act creating and providing for the organization of a territorial legislature in Alaska, to be elected by the American citizens resident therein, with such powers and limitations as have been usually given to and imposed upon such legislative assemblies in other territories; and the senators and representatives in the congress of the United States from the state of Oregon are hereby requested to aid and assist in securing the passage of such a bill.”

A century has gone by; the world has changed dramatically and yet some things seem to have remained the same. The United States has become a world power much because it stood for freedom and justice. Its generosity has had no bounds and its technology took us to the Moon. Alaska has become rich in fish, minerals, oil, tourism and great independent people. In 1959 Oregon had its centennial as a state and Alaska became a state. We celebrated together, two great states moving into the future together.


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