Updated on 01.06.12

Ten Pieces of Inspiration #54

Trent Hamm

Each week, I highlight ten things each week that inspired me to greater financial, personal, and professional success. Hopefully, they will inspire you as well.

Recently, I was working on a project that coupled frugality tips with black and white public domain photographs. In order to find ones for the project, I spent a lot of time digging through The Commons, which is a collection of the world’s public photography archives. Along the way, I found a lot of wonderful pictures of all kinds, so I thought I’d share this week’s “pieces of inspiration” sharing ten of my favorites with you.

1. U.S. Troops Surrounded by Holiday Mail During WWII (c. 1944)
Regardless of how you feel about particular wars, the individual people on the ground are doing something incredibly courageous and quite threatening to their lives. I have a friend currently serving in Afghanistan. He made a very courageous choice to do that and regardless of whether I agree with it, I respect it and hope he makes it home in good shape.

U.S. Troops Surrounded by Holiday Mail During WWII

I’d like to believe that every military mailroom looks like this around the holidays when we have soldiers putting their lives at risk.

2. Mailing Letters (c. 1880)
Recently, my six year old has taken strongly to getting the mail for us and putting mail in the mailbox. The mailbox is higher than his head, so he reaches up to pull out items, sight unseen.

Mailing Letters

One element of this picture that I found interesting is how the mailbox works. The boy appears to be dropping mail in the top of the mailbox, and there’s not a door on the front of it.

3. A Man from the Umingmaktormiut Tribe (1924)
I often feel like this during the worst parts of winter.

A Man from the Umingmaktormiut Tribe

The thing that struck me is even though this man is obviously very cold and has been through a pretty intense weather experience, he looks pretty happy about the state of things.

4. World’s Columbian Exposition: Electricity Building, Chicago, United States, 1893.
One of the things I’d love to have been able to see is the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where electricity was publicly demonstrated for the first time. Stories say that the electricity building was illuminated by incandescent lights, the only building in the city lit up like that. It stood out like a beacon in the night.

World's Columbian Exposition: Electricity Building, Chicago, United States, 1893.

I’ve read several books and seen many photos of this fair. It’s one of those moment I would have loved to have seen.

5. Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma (1936)
I’ve never seen the great soil storms of the Dust Bowl captured so starkly before. The reason everything looks so washed out in this picture is because the air itself is just loaded with dry dust, swept off the ground by vicious winds.

Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma (LOC)

This seems like another world.

6. Hotchkiss Field, Halloween (1959)
What I find noteworthy here is that the costumes almost entirely look homemade. They’re refashioned dresses, masks made from plaster at home, costumes that were hand-sewn.

Hotchkiss Field, Halloween

Today, most of the costumes I see were purchased a few days before Halloween at the local department store. Plastic masks of well-marketed characters. There’s just something missing.

7. Two girls standing outside Desnick’s Drug Store, Minneapolis (1946)
There’s just something so Americana about this picture. It’s just two girls standing in front of a pharmacy just after World War II, but there’s something about it that seems to capture the essence of the pastoral America.

Two girls standing outside Desnick's Drug Store, Minneapolis

I love going to small towns that still have a thriving Main Street. There’s just something wonderful about them.

8. Man surveys his vegetable garden in the Narrabeen flood (1927)
I was a witness to the Mississippi River floods of 1993 and 2008. A flood can do an incredible amount of damage, turning enormous amounts of human endeavor into a soggy mess in an instant. In some ways, a flood is a particularly devastating disaster because there is an incredible amount of cleanup work that needs to happen before you can even begin to rebuild.

Man surveys his vegetable garden in the Narrabeen flood, April 1927, by Sam Hood

There was something incredibly familiar in this man and his child, surveying the damage of the flood in an area where he had personally invested a lot of time and passion.

9. Gold minehead and seven miners, Gulgong (c. 1871-1875)
I have this strange fascination with people who would pick up their lives and dive wholeheartedly into gold rushes in the 19th century.

Gold minehead and seven miners, Gulgong, 1871-1875 / American & Australasian Photographic Company

Their entrepreneurial spirit was amazing, but often they would enter into a beautiful area by the thousands and lay waste to it. It’s a fascinating mix of traits I deeply respect and results that trouble me.

10. Toddler playing with a hose in a garden (c. 1912)
The thing that I love about all of these old photographs is the commonality of human experience.

Toddler playing with a hose in a garden

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen my own children do something like this, only to end in a mess just a few moments later.

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  1. Aerin says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing them. The dust storm photo is especially interesting to me. I wonder if the building was built that short, or is it being swallowed up by the dust bowl?

  2. SwingCheese says:

    I love the last picture. There is just something fascinating about hoses for toddlers – my parents have a picture of me (circa 1980) in almost that exact pose, and I have memories of my son from just this last summer in almost that exact pose. Kids are kids, in many ways.

  3. valleycat1 says:

    #1 Aerin it looks like in the #5 photo from the lower hinge on the door that the building is at least 6 inches under built-up sand. I’ve been in West Texas dust storms (1970’s, early 1980’s) where the view from the camera would have been a lot blurrier. The dust comes in like a wall & totally destroys any visibility & could leave up to an inch by the time it passes.

    #6 – I was in grade school late 1950’s/early 1960’s and remember either we or our mom would make our Halloween costumes. We’d start planning a month ahead of time. It was a huge deal one year when she purchased a spaceman costume for my brother; we envied him the helmet/mask but we actually felt sorry for him at the cheap quality of the actual costume compared to our home made ones.

  4. Maureen says:

    I always made my children’s hallowe’en costumes. Their costumes included: pumpkin, rosebud, Lion King, fireman, clown, baby, witch, devil, basketball(with hoop and backboard), skydancer, dalmatian, princesses, medusa,wizard,Harry Potter, Arwin(LOTR), Geisha, knight etc. Now as young adults they make their own if they go to costume parties. My daughter has made costumes for an FBI agent and circus ringmaster.

    We find thrift stores are great sources for costume pieces. Most costumes require only minimal sewing skills.

  5. David says:

    There isn’t a door in the front of the mailbox. There is an opening at the top of the mailbox covered by a flap, but the boy is not tall enough to pull the flap down, so he is trying to post the letter in the narrow gap between the top of the flap and the opening in the mailbox. What is slightly puzzling is that the Doremus mailbox of which this is an example wasn’t patented until 1889, yet the photo is dated “c. 1880”.

  6. lurker carl says:

    The photographed man from the Umingmaktormiut Tribe is staring at the flash, photography was a foreign concept to him. The expression is more likely surprise and amazement as the flash powder exploded. This gentleman lived in the Artic, a typical day rather than an intense weather experience for him.

  7. Maureen says:

    I loved seeing these pictures and listening to how you see them. Since we don’t know the exact history about most of them, it’s up to our interpretation. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed it.

  8. Jules says:

    So, Trent, how long before you figure out what that “something” is? :-)

  9. Briana says:

    photo #5 – While it looks like there is a bit of dust build-up, many farmers also lived in homes that were half-dugouts and when they enter they step down.

  10. deRuiter says:

    “Stories say that the electricity building was illuminated by incandescent lights, the only building in the city lit up like that. It stood out like a beacon in the night.” If you want to see this effect, travel to North Korea. The capital buidling and a few blocks around it are a shinging beacon of light in the dark and the rest of the country has almost no electricity. It’s even more striking from satelite, South Korea (not socialist / not Communist) lit like a Christmas tree, the whole country, and North Korea, by contrast (Communist) black as pitch at night, with one tiny area of blazing light where the important politicians are lodged, and the rest unable to afford, or without proper electic services, living in the dark. Capitalism: 2012, Communism: 1893, at the same time!

  11. Evita says:

    Good post.
    I really enjoyed your choice of photographs. The overuse of the words “incredible” and “incredibly”, not so much.
    (I know, expecting too much from a writer….)

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