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Doomsayers expected life on earth to end

"I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together." -  Mark Twain, a Biography. Twain was born Nov. 30, 1835, and died April 21, 1910.

Doomsayers expected life on earth to end in
May 1910 when Halley’s Comet returned

Contributed by Jim Blount

A century ago, some Butler County residents were among thousands, perhaps millions of people nationally, who didn’t expect to live beyond May 1910. Doomsday believers thought civilization on earth would end during that month. Some hopeful souls were depending on special pills to spare their lives.

With Halley's Comet approaching the sun in 1910, astronomers said the earth would pass through its tail in May.
The majority of scientists declared that the planet would be unharmed. Only a few joined the doomsayers. Their dire prognostication was based on the assumption that Halley’s Comet would emit poisonous gases, including cynanogen.

They ignored astronomers who said the matter in the comet’s tail would be widely dispersed, causing no fatal effects on earth.

Sources say Halley’s Comet (pronounced HAL-lee) had been appearing about every 75 or 76 years since at least 240 BC, and possibly as early as 1059 BC. Before 1910, it had last been seen in 1835. More recently, it was visible in 1986.

The first of several comet viewings in Hamilton was the morning of May 2, 1910. The key date was May 20, when the earth would complete its thrust through the comet’s tail.

A May 17 sighting caused no noticeable harm. The next night, Wednesday May 18, at midnight, Hamiltonians gathered along High Street and on the High-Main Bridge to view the comet, but a reporter said "everyone was disappointed" because it "was not visible. The world did not come to an end. The sky was not full of fireworks. The air was not polluted with gaseous odors.

Thursday, May 19, a headline in the Hamilton Republican-News said "Earth Was Not Hit and We’re Still among the Living." Local comet observers later had clear sightings May 21 and May 23.

1 Early in May some gullible skeptics -- here and elsewhere -- began taking "comet pills," touted as life savers for those exposed to cosmic poisons. Others resorted to prayer. Some quit their jobs to permit them maximum final time with family and friends before the comet wiped out civilization.

Some stores and factories closed. At nearby Kings Mill, the Kings Powder Co. stopped production of gun powder and furloughed employees for a few days because it was feared comet gases would cause explosions in company shops and storage areas.

Some people lamented that the deadly comet would deprive Hamilton High School’s largest class of experiencing graduation exercises. The 85-member 1910 class included 53 girls and 32 boys. Thirteen of the seniors resided outside the city.

The 1910 census counted 70,271 residents in Butler County, up from 56,870 in 1900.

Hamilton increased from 23,914 to 35,279, Middletown from 9,215 to 13,152, and Oxford population growth had a meager increase from 2,009 in 1900 to 2,017 in 1910.

Hamilton was Ohio’s 10th largest city, following Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, Akron, Canton and Springfield.

Life expectancy in the U. S. in 1910 was 48.4 years for males and 51.8 for females. The 2010 estimates are males 77.1 years and females 81.9, dramatic increases in 100 years of 22.7 and 30.1 years, respectively.

Hamilton had more than 140 industries, employing about 10,000 people, in 1910, giving credence to a new city slogan, "Known in the World’s Markets."

Major employers included Champion Coated Paper Co. (the world’s largest coated paper mil); two other paper producers, the Sterling and Beckett mills; Mosler and Herring-Hall-Marvin safe companies; Estate Stove; Niles Tool Works (considered the largest machine tool operation in the world); Hooven Owens Rentschler; Black-Clawson Co.; Long & Allstatter Co.; Shuler & Benninghofen; American Frog & Switch, Newburg Tobacco Co.: and Columbia Carriage Co.

A century later, only Beckett Paper, now part of Mohawk Paper, is operating.

In 1910, a Hamilton-built automobile lost a well-publicized race to an airplane piloted by one of the Wright brothers, who had pioneered flight in 1903. Sept. 22, 1910, was Aviation Day in Dayton, featuring the contest between a Wright plane, piloted by Orville Wright, and a Republic auto.

The Republic Motor Car Co. had started production in Hamilton in 1909. The firm was founded by George Adam Rentschler, a well-established Hamilton industrialist. Others investors were Charles U. Carpenter, George H. Helvey, C. F. Cousins, C. H. Knowles, Frederick B. Renstchler and Gordon S. Rentschler.

Wright's flight -- at a maximum altitude of 2,500 feet -- covered about 22 miles in 25 minutes. A newspaper said Wright "looked down on the 60-horsepower Republic going as fast as it could and kept about even with it until it was necessary to go ahead," winning by about a mile.

Flying was an advertised feature of the 1910 Butler County Fair in October. Stores, restaurants and other Hamilton businesses prepared for thousands of visitors. Railroads and interurban lines expected record passenger numbers. Instead of seeing the area’s first flights, fairgoers encountered mud, created by "the greatest rain in the county for 42 years." The fair board tried again in October 1911, but the aircraft owner refused to fly.

The first successful local flights were witnessed by thousands July 12-13, 1912, in a two-day event sponsored by the Hamilton Retail Merchants Association.

Not all aerialists were disappointed in the summer of 1910. July 18, a balloon launched in Hamilton claimed to have reached 13,000 feet and eventually landed in Illinois. Ten days later, another balloon lifted from Hamilton to a reported 8,000 feet in altitude before landing in Marion, Ohio.

Earlier, some vendors and patrons were unhappy about the relocation of the Hamilton farmers market, believed to have originated before 1820. Most of those years it had been located on High Street between the bridge and the courthouse, most recently around the courthouse.

City leaders had decided to relocate the market in 1909, but the move to Market Street wasn’t effective until Feb. 8, 1910. The next day, a newspaper said "the market people were up in arms over the matter and didn’t take to the innovation with much joy." After a petition drive, the market returned to the courthouse June 4, 1912.

The year ended on a positive note. The City of Hamilton reported a treasury surplus of $66,613.53 for 1910, more than twice the 1909 year-end balance. The 1910 amount, allowing for inflation, would equal about $8.3 million in 2010.