It’s the roaring 20’s in PA all over again
January 22, 2020
Like the rest of the planet, Pennsylvanians now find themselves in a new decade. For a brief moment, social media seemed to take a respite from politics to present images of the Roaring Twenties, although usually the Twenties as imagined by Hollywood players with an unlimited rather than the actual world of our great-grandparents.
It takes little imagination to draw contrasts between the eras: one would search in vain for a house illuminated by gas, much less a raccoon coat, in contemporary Pennsylvania, while the fact that most Pennsylvanians can conjure up the resources of the Library of Alexandria using a phone smaller than a deck of cards would have been utterly outside the imagination of our forebears.
More instructive might be a glance at what has not changed over a century: Pennsylvania remains a center of innovation, energy development, transportation, and agriculture.
It was unquestionably easier to get one’s hands on the fruits of innovation a century ago. A steel ingot from Bethlehem or the myriad of goods produced by Westinghouse or General Electric were nothing if not solid. They were also the end result of the cutting-edge technology of the day. A century later that innovative frontier is found in robotics, in drug research, and in software development—all of which can be found in abundance in Pennsylvania.
Coal may be little more than a distant memory in most of Pennsylvania, found mostly in black-and-white photographs and sepia-toned memories, while “sweet Pennsylvania crude” was largely displaced by the discovery of oil in the Permian Basin—but the shale revolution is unmistakably here to stay, and an extraordinary economic boost to more than a few communities long assumed to be caught in an inexorable decline.
Geography alone dictates that Pennsylvania remains a transportation hub, from the construction of the first National Road to today’s network of highways, railroads, and airports, which connect a huge portion of the American publican and in the case of the airports often serve as a departure point for the Old World.
Finally, agriculture. Farming remains the largest occupation in Pennsylvania, and the same research and innovation that are shaping the world of high technology continue to shape agriculture in Pennsylvania in ways that rarely capture the attention of those detailing that moment’s “wave of the future.”
So while bathtub gin and flappers may be in short supply these days in the Keystone State, Pennsylvania—which not at all incidentally has again become something of a magnet for immigrants—can reasonably be said to be traveling on a path charted a hundred years ago.