This 100-Year-Old List of America’s Greatest Perils Is Still Extremely Relevant Today

On February 3, 1916, The Tacoma Times published a list of 20 “perils” that threatened America’s status as one of the world’s greatest nations.

The list, which was put together by 11 of the most distinguished scientists of the time, was first presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — “the greatest scientific body in the United States”, the Times writes.

According to the article, the scientists created the list as a direct response to American businessmen, who had recently told readers of the Tacoma Times that the nation was on the “threshold of supremacy” if Americans would only reach out and grasp the opportunity.

The scientists write,

“Are we husky enough as a people mentally and physically ever to hold world supremacy or must we degenerate into a second rate nationality because we allow these 20 perils to overtake and rob us of our strength? Read this list.”

[Editor’s Note: I’ve added current statistics/info to some of the items on the list for reference.]

1. 17 million unmarried men and women

As of 2014, there are now more single Americans than married ones.

2. Increase in divorces

In 1900, 1 in 12 marriages ended in divorce. By 1916 (when the Tacoma Times article was published) that rate had jumped to 1 in 9. Today, roughly half of all marriages in America end in divorce.

3. Declining birth rate due to birth restriction by parents

4. Excessive infant life waste

5. Large number of defectives in schools

6. Increasing idiocy and insanity

7. Enormous number of drug and alcohol victims

8. America leads all nations in murders

The United States still has one of the highest murder rates (5.2 per 100,000 people) among developed countries. If you exclude Russia, Mexico and Brazil, the US has the highest murder rate of any OECD country.

9. Economic waste from needless sickness and premature death, $200,000,000 a year

When adjusted for inflation, that figure comes out to roughly $430 billion in today’s dollars. A more recent study (from 2012) estimated that illness costs the US economy about $576 billion per year.

10. High and increasing nervous tension

11. Extraordinary increase in sedentary work

12. Hearty eating without exercise

13. Increasing obesity, weak limbs, soft muscles

In the early 1900s, only about 1 in 150 Americans were clinically obese. By 1950, that number had jumped to nearly 1 in 10.

Since then, obesity rates have risen by more than 200 percent. As of 2000, nearly a third of Americans (30.5%) are clinically obese (roughly 65 percent of Americans are overweight).

14. Noticeably low resistence to disease

15. Increase in early breaking down of organs

16. Increase in deaths from organic disease

17. Excessive life waste from germ diseases

18. Remarkable cancer mortality increase

19. Marked increase in diseased teeth and poor vision

20. Increase in suicides total of 15,000 a year

In 1916 the US population was 102 million, putting the suicide rate at 14.7 per 100,000 people.

Today, the US has a population of 320 million with roughly 43,000 suicides per year, putting the current rate at about 13.4 per 100,000.

You can check out the Tacoma Times article for yourself in the Library of Congress’s online archives.


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