Early Modern Era: Society Develops

In my mind, the early 20th century was a defining period in history. Leading up to this, intelligent men such as Edison and Tesla were opening doors to a new era of conveniences. In the early 20th century, new inventions such as the automobile, the electric light, and the airplane took root and saw widespread use. New styles of art and music emerged in and around this time. It was an exciting era. In this blog, I will share two pieces of art from that era reflecting the technological advancements that were occurring. I will also share a song composed in this era, and connect it to technology’s influence in the early 20th century.

Embed from Getty Images

Golden Gate Bridge, May 1937 (photographer unknown)

At 1.7 miles long, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed. Over 200,000 people came for its opening on May 27, 1937 (“Golden Route”). Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss managed the project well. A historical overview of the Golden Gate Bridge reported, “The Bridge opened ahead of schedule and under budget” (“Key Dates”). This bridge was just one example that America was leading the world in technological advancements. It also spoke to the country’s resilience following the Great Depression.

The perspective of this photograph, taken shortly after its opening, helps convey how massive this bridge is. The sweeping cables make your attention soar into the mountains on the far shore. It is an incredible view. The photographer did not seem to have a fear of heights.

Truck Convoy (1918) by John Singer Sargent

During the early 1900s, transportation was undergoing a revolution. In 1900, there was only about 1 vehicle per thousand people in America. By 1935, there were about about 177 vehicles per thousand people (U.S. Census Bureau). This new mode of transportation is shown in Sargent’s impressionist painting, Truck Convoy. I could not find where this painting was made, but Sargent may have painted it in England since he lived there from 1886 to the end of his life. Although I am not a fan of impressionism, this painting is somewhat intriguing. With its sepia tones, it looks somewhat like an old photograph. The brownness gives a sense of dust on the road. If it were not for the tree behind the convoy and the green grass, the prominent presence of the spiky trees would imply that plant life was suffering. Many artistic depictions of the industrialized society of the early 20th century give the sense that natural beauty was being stomped out.

“The Entertainer” (1902) by Scott Joplin

This familiar ragtime piece was likely written in St. Louis, Missouri, Joplin’s home between 1902-1907 (Trout). The syncopation in this song (typical of ragtime music) makes it a fun song to listen to. It is very upbeat.

Music was entering a new era in the early 1900s. Songs such as “The Entertainer” became more easily accessible as flat discs that played back at 78 RPM (not suprisingly called “78s”) became more popular. The first popular type of 78 was a disc with a thick wax coating that was carved with grooves to represent music. In 1925, the first electrically-based recording method using microphone was made. 78s were very limited, holding only about 3-5 minutes of audio per disc (“The History”). Nonetheless, they represented the entrance of a new era for music and entertainment. Technology was headed an exciting direction.

Works Cited

“Golden Route to Success.” World Highways. World Highways. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://www.worldhighways.com/sections/key-projects/features/golden-route-to-success>.

“The History of 78 RPM Recordings: A Brief Guide to Aid in Cataloging.” Yale University Library. Yale U. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/historyof78rpms.htm>.

“Key Dates.”  Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://goldengatebridge.org/research/dates.php>.

Trout, Carlynn. “Scott Joplin (c. 1868 – 1917).” The State Historical Society of Missouri: Historic Musicians. The State Historical Society of Missouri. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://shs.umsystem.edu/historicmissourians/name/j/joplin>.

United States. Census Bureau. “Section 31: 20th Century Statistics.” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1999. Washington: US Census Bureau, 9 Dec. 1999. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <https://www.census.gov/prod/99pubs/99statab/sec31.pdf>.

Weinberg, H. Barbara. “John Singer Sargent (1856–1925).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Oct. 2004. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/sarg/hd_sarg.htm>


2 thoughts on “Early Modern Era: Society Develops

  1. I like the painting by Sargent. It has a familiar quality to it, and definitely a simplicity that allows the viewer to digest the picture as a whole. My mind does not correlate the stark landscape with effects of the industry, however. My interpretation is that the trucks are a transient member of the landscape which is the way it has always been.
    I was surprised when I played the “The Entertainer” as the name of the song and the the performer were not familiar to me but the music was very familiar. It is one of those songs I never thought to consider the origins of. I appreciate having that brought to my awareness.


  2. I like that you presented a selection of different styles of art throughout to represent the increase in inventions. Although, I am not sure what The Entertainer displays that is from the increase in new technologies, other than the fact that it could be listened to on 78’s. I think that I would have liked to hear a song that perhaps involved some of the newer instruments that were being turned out in the Early Modern Era, such as the electric guitar (that was made in 1935, according to ART/THR/MUS 200). That aside, I liked that you discuss the other inventions that were coming to light. The view from up in the golden gate bridge is stunning. And, I just love the Truck Convoy. Sargent adeptly uses water color in this picture. I think the fact that the painting is done in a very monochromatic way really brings about the melancholy feel of war at the time. I am not sure that the painting’s main focus is the use of the cars so much as the war. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting that you focused on the trucks as a new invention able to be showcased in art, rather than just the context of the piece. Thank you for your interpretation of these different works.


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