Christmas in 1905

Solomon D. Butcher’s photograph of a drugstore at Overton, Dawson County, Nebraska, in 1904 included a major display of toys. Boxes in the foreground with Santa Claus on them suggest that it was taken during the Christmas season. NSHS RG2608-2576

Solomon D. Butcher’s photograph of a drugstore at Overton, Dawson County, Nebraska, in 1904 included a major display of toys. Boxes in the foreground with Santa Claus on them suggest that it was taken during the Christmas season. NSHS RG2608-2576

A growing middle class at the beginning of the twentieth century meant that many parents had more money to spend on their children at Christmas. The Lincoln Evening News on December 23, 1905, reported that “more valuable gifts have been purchased [for the Christmas of 1905] than [in] any previous season. . . . The twentieth century youngster gets more toys and better ones than the eager urchin of more than a decade ago.”  

Although the most popular toys for the current holiday season are electronic, more than a century ago the toys in Santa’s pack were likely to be mechanical. The News reported that one of the “must have” toys of 1905 was “a miniature engine pulling a train of metal cars. A track is furnished, and it can be so arranged that the train is able to travel around and around until the locomotive has exhausted its wound up power.”  Gifts for adults included cigars “of the better grade,” many purchased by women. “Of course they do not smoke themselves,” said the News, “they purchase them for men friends, sweethearts, husbands, fathers and even uncles and cousins.” 

Learn more about the Christmas of 1905 in a Timeline column, and view toys from the early twentieth century in an online exhibit, both on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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