Born In The Right Era?

Felt Manor, B&B in Galena, IL 1848

As a historical writer, I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong era. How much more exciting would it have been to see all of the things I can only research these days? Streets lined with grand carriages, filled with people dressed to match. Imagine the fabrics! And of course one of the biggest employers in nearly any era before the industrial age was in the service industry—so most families had a maid or two. Ah, to live the elegant life of a Victorian lady residing over one of those gorgeous manor houses.

Until I remind myself that I would have likely been the maid in instead of the mistress, or lived in something between the manor house and the tenement house. Then, mainly because I’ve never trusted Hollywood to accurately portray history, I can guess how odorous those years must have been, how plagued by sickness and death. I recently read through some of the old family records my oldest sister has been collecting of our family history and time after time it read something like: John and Mary had seven children, three of whom survived childhood. Or how about this entry: Father was a painter who fell off a roof along with his tools; was in excruciating pain for six months, then died.

Elegant era? I don’t think so.

The other day my husband was reading about Preston Tucker, an article that ended by saying he’d been born a generation too late. Evidently Tucker loved automobiles;  he learned to drive when he was only eleven years old. As an adult, after working on the police force (mainly so he could drive fast), he got a job selling cars—and with his outgoing personality and charm, he was successful. His real dream, though, was to design and build his own car. But one challenge after another, both legal and with car designs themselves, proved too much in an era where plenty of car choices already existed. His auto ideas may have been great—but his innovations weren’t enough to compete with what was already out there. Had he been born a generation earlier, among the likes of Ford and Nash and others in early automobile history, he’d probably have had a great future. As it was, he made only a few dozen cars then his production ended due to scandal, lawsuits and oh yeah, lack of a factory. Was he was born too late to have his dream pay off?

Somehow I think we’re all born into the era we were meant for. I don’t know much more about the man who wanted to design cars, but I think the personality he had for sales would probably have fit into nearly any era. Certainly he made a mark or there wouldn’t have been a newspaper article written about him (although, sadly, I no longer have the article and can’t recall his name!). His car journey might have been more like Nash than Ford anyway, even had he been born a generation earlier. Who knows? Plus he might not have lived long enough to see air conditioning in those cars, and that was worth waiting for!

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