“A Century of Progress”

Complete text of 1933 Centennial Address by Dr. Edward Conradi
The New Bremen Sun - Friday July 14, 1933

It is a great pleasure for me to be here. Though I left this village and this countryside some 40 years ago, some of my choicest memories cling around this place. These are not only memories of the childhood days in a lovely home, but also memories of fine contacts with men who gave me stimulus for a finer and nobler life. Such men as W. F. Torrence, the first superintendent of schools, and C. W. Williamson, a later superintendent, both of whom were my teachers, were real builders of the spirit. They were veritable princes in their profession. Another man who did more for me here probably than anyone outside of my father and mother was Rev. Martin Vitz, pastor of Zion’s church. I may add that I was not a member of his church. What he did for me in a beautiful cooperative spirit was so fine and so helpful that I cannot imagine how anyone could be finer and truer and more helpful to a young fellow than he was to me. My memory of his friendship belongs to the choicest memories of my life.

When one takes a historical perspective it is necessary to get one’s bearings right so that one may make rational interpretations in order that one’s observations may not lead one astray. For myself, when I take a look backwards through the corridors of time to see what man has done through the centuries and through the ages, I like to think in terms of one of those great seers of some three thousand years ago. After the Israelites had come out of the land of bondage they expected to come into a land that flowed with milk and honey. However, when they reached there they found that the milk did not always flow and the honey was not always there. They came to a land that was on the edge of the greatest desert on earth and periodic droughts caused hunger and starvation. Water was precious in a way difficult for us to understand. After David had for some years gone over those hills and valleys and from experience had learned the real value of a proper supply of water and the joy of the wells that had been builded by the men that had gone before him he said: “Blessed is the man…who walking through the Valley of Baca make it a well.”

It was difficult for me years ago to find the Valley of Baca in the geography, but I got a different interpretation when I read Luther’s translation when he said: “Wohl dem Menschen…die durch das Jammerthal gehen und machen daselbst Brunnen”. So I like to think this evening in similar terms, namely: Blessed is the man who walking through the valley of life makes here beautiful wells of the life of the spirit.

As we are here in this beautiful church at this centennial celebration and take a look back through the past hundred years I wish at the outset to call attention to a fundamental fact that man has been forgetting from time to time or maybe did not see at all; a fact we are at present apt to forget or not see clearly. Especially are we subject to this forgetfulness or oversight during a time of material progress such as the world has not known in all its history. In other words, we must learn to see ever more and more clearly, and must never forget that the spiritual values are as true and as real in the life of man as the law of gravity is in the heavens. These values just are! You may sneer at them, you may curse at them; but they nevertheless are. You may sneer at the law of gravity and jump out of an eighth-story window; that does not interfere with the law of gravity. You take the consequences. You may laugh at the character of electricity and place your hand on the live-wire and you take the consequences. So may you laugh and sneer at these spiritual qualities in the life of man; you ignore them and you take the consequences. For they are what they are.

This has been a problem all through the history of the human race. Read the story of the Hebrews, of the Greeks, of the Romans, of the people of modern times and the story is the same. In times of material prosperity the spiritual values are apt to be relegated to the rear; they are apt to be too largely neglected or forgotten. Moreover, new revelations in the life of the spirit as well as in the creative forces in the cosmos are often not understood and are laughed at or sneered at. Yes, the great leaders, the great lighthouses of the spirit in both fields have often been persecuted and sometimes killed.

During the days when the Hebrews had their ups and downs through the centuries, their great leaders were often persecuted. Elijah, even that great seer of his day, fled from his persecutors and sat under the juniper tree and hoped he might die. With all his ability and insight into life he did not see that the persecutors were not the life of the world, he did not see that their ignorance and blindness was not the life of his people. In his trouble he did not see the 7000 that were still anxious to be true if he would but help them see the light of life. Moreover, he had no idea at the time that the greatest Prince of the Spirit the world has ever known would some time later come from the very people who he thought had gone to the bad. He had fallen into that discouragement that is apt to come into the heart and mind of man in times of trouble - a human phenomenon that appears all through the centuries and appears with us from time to time because of a lack of insight, a lack of faith, a lack of hope.

Again, when Jesus spoke to his followers at Capernaum and told them to eat of his body and drink of his blood, many of his followers did not understand. They understood eating and drinking to keep the body alive, but they could not carry that over into the life of the spirit. Even when he said: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth - the flesh profiteth nothing, the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” - they did not understand him. They thought of eating him bodily as they would eat fish or pork. Many were utterly disgusted and left him. If they had used the language of our forefathers that was prevalent here in New Bremen years ago they would probably have said: Jetzt schleit sich doch ene Koh an’t Been, Wer kann denn so ene Dummheit gloeben”. Yet those fellows are all forgotten and the light that Jesus was trying to give them and they could not see; the light which he gave to the world at that time is still lighting the pathway of history and will continue to do so through the ages.

May I just add here that when we read this story of the Hebrews as recorded in the Bible we are apt to think that God spoke to them in Hebrew and that the Lord does not speak to people that way nowadays. The Lord, I am afraid, pays no attention to our human ways of speech. He speaks neither definitely Hebrew, nor Latin, nor Greek, nor German, nor French, nor English. He speaks a language that all people on the face of the earth can understand. His language is universal. He speaks in terms of the Spirit; a language of love and affection and good will that every human creature on the face of the earth can understand, no matter what particular man-made vocabulary one uses for practical human communication. He speaks to you and to me today and tomorrow just as well as he did to the Israelites of old. All we need to do is open our hearts and minds to understand.

The same phenomena that we find in the early history of the race are with us today if we will but open our eyes to see them. Referring to this past century in which we are especially interested at this centennial celebration, may I call your attention to an interesting phenomenon of approximately one hundred years ago. I am doing this especially because right now while the country is holding one of the greatest expositions in the City of Chicago celebrating a century of progress, we are in one of the severest depressions in our history. We are in an economic debacle that is tragedy. We need the faith and the hope and the courage that only the light of the spirit can give.

In 1821, right after the Napoleonic wars, Europe was in a state of depression similar to the condition that we are in after the World War. In that year Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the greatest geniuses of his day and of modern times, said: “I thank God that I am not a young man in so completely finished a world.” He did not see that he stood at the beginning of the greatest century of progress in the history of the world, with reference to the comforts of life based on a better understanding of the eternal cosmic forces which were and are and will be. He was in the same mood in which Elijah was several thousand years before him and he was just as much in error.

Let us look at some of the things that happened since Goethe uttered these words of discouragement. When our forefathers here in and around New Bremen were grubbing away in the wilderness and lived in little log houses without any conveniences, when a common woodstove for cooking would have been an extreme luxury, they had no matches to light their fires in the grate. They had to use the friction spark or save some live coals from day to day for convenience. Matches were invented in 1829. They had no grain reapers and no modern plows or other modern machinery. The scythe and the cradle were used for mowing the grain. Some crude reapers may have come in the later twenties but the first reaper patented was the McCormick reaper in 1834. It, however, did not come into common use until some 20 or 30 years later. Crude threshing machines came in the later twenties. Modern agriculture and modern nutrition has come only in the past 40 or 50 years.

The sewing machine was invented in 1846. Before that day the sewing machine was the needle in the hands of the housewife. The typewriter came into use in the seventies and when a clerk sent a typewritten letter to President Hayes it was considered an insult to the President of the United States. About 70 to 80 years ago, it is said, some of our cities had ordinances on their books forbidding bath tubs in homes for health reasons. The explosive engine which runs our automobiles was invented in 1879, but the inventor could not get a patent on it in Washington until 1895. It was evidently deemed impossible to drive an engine that way.

When Murdock first discovered gas in 1802 and asked for a franchise to light up a town in Scotland with gas, Sir Walter Scott said “There is a madman in town who wants to light up the town with, what do you think, smoke!” Baltimore began to use gas in 1816, Boston in 1822, New York in 1825, Philadelphia in 1829. The first steamboat crossed the Atlantic from Savannah to Liverpool in 1819, and the first regular transatlantic traffic by steamboat was established in 1838. The first railroad was built from Washington to Baltimore in 1828, and the Union Pacific, the first railroad to cross the continent, was completed in 1869. It may be of interest to know that it is said that 150 years ago it was as iniquitous to burn coal in Philadelphia as it is to sell liquor today. Oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859; and the man who drilled the first well was held up to ridicule.

The great leader in the field of electricity, Farraday, lived the forepart of the last century; he died in 1867. He was the great pioneer in this field. The telegraph was invented in the latter thirties and the first line was built in 1843 from Washington to Baltimore. The first transatlantic cable was laid in 1858. The first telephone came in 1876 and the arc light in 1878. The incandescent electric lamp was perfected in the latter 70s. It was one of the outstanding phenomena of the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. The first electric street car was built in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. And Herz made his great discovery that led to noiseless telegraphy in the latter 80s. Roentgen made his famous discoveries as to x-rays in 1895.

In the past 90 years epoch-making advances have been made in medicine. Chloroform was discovered in 1847. In the latter sixties Lister made his experiments in antiseptics and Pasteur made epoch-making experiments in bacteriology in the seventies and eighties, experiments which placed him among the foremost men of all time as a contributor to human welfare and human happiness. Loeffler found the diphtheria germ in 1884 and Koch the tubercular germ in the latter eighties. Ross made his experiments with malaria the last years of the past century and the yellow fever commission was appointed by the president of the United States in 1900. These latter experiments gave us control over these two dread diseases. All these great discoveries gave a valuable control over contagious diseases which heretofore had killed thousands and multiplied thousands every year. These men and others who worked with them belong to the great benefactors of the human race. Think of the health conditions a good deal less than 100 years ago - with no scientific knowledge of anesthetics, nor antiseptics, nor contagious disease.

One hundred years ago free schools had not yet come. There were schools but generally the patrons had to contribute either money or fuel or board for the teacher. Many states had rate bills providing for certain fees to be paid. These rate bills remained in force until the middle and past the middle of the last century. Ohio, for instance, abolished its rate bill in 1853. And when schools finally became entirely free, the poor often did not care to send their children to the free schools since they did not care to be classed as paupers, and the well-to-do did not care to send their children since they did not want to lose social standing.

Teachers in those days were very poorly prepared. The colleges that existed did not prepare for teaching and teacher training institutions did not yet exist. Teachers had no standing in their communities. Schools were in a very poor condition. The first teacher-training institutions were established toward the middle of the past century. The first Normal School Act was passed in Massachusetts in 1838. Then followed New York in 1843, Connecticut in 1849, and Michigan in 1850. The latter part of the century, our larger colleges and universities established teacher-training divisions in their institutions. In 1894, when I entered college, the state university of Ohio had no department of education and psychology. I, therefore, went to the state university of Indiana.

One hundred years ago there were very few high schools. Boston established one in 1821 and a few other cities followed soon after. Cleveland established one in 1846, Cincinnati in 1847, and Toledo in 1849. The great mass of the high schools in our smaller cities and towns were established in the latter part of the last century and in the forepart of the present century. In 1877, New Bremen had two school buildings, one on the north side with two teachers and one on the south side with one teacher. Then the new grade school building was built on Franklin Street in 1877 and a few years later a high school was organized, doing from two to three years of high school work. This high school was later developed into a standard high school.

In 1890, from three to four per cent of the children of high school age attended high school in this country. In 1930 this had risen to slightly over 50 per cent. The attendances of colleges underwent a similar change.

In the earlier days of high schools girls did not attend much and many of our leading colleges did not admit women. When women demanded college education it was necessary to establish women’s colleges, especially in the East and in the South. Most of our leading women’s colleges in the North and East were established between 1870 and 1890. A few of them were established earlier. Holyoke, for instance in 1837, Elmira in 1855 and Vassar in 1865. There were a number of schools for women in the South called colleges but most of these did not develop into real colleges until the forepart of the present century.

In Europe the higher education of women developed later than in this country. Moreover, in Europe, higher education was only for people of rank. The ordinary rank and file of the population could not send their children to the institutions of higher learning. The United States was the great lighthouse of the world in providing the same educational facilities for the rich and the poor. The example of the United States is gradually followed by European countries but the change is yet in the process of being made.

These pioneers who came into the frontier country and carved civilization out of the wilderness were men and women who “walking through the Valley of Baca made it a well.” They had their ups and downs, their periods of prosperity and their periods of depression such as 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1929 till now, but on the whole there has been a forward movement that is without precedent in the world in science, in education and in a larger and broader understanding of the spiritual values of life; it has stimulated us to a larger vision as to the outlook on life and has given us a glimpse of the larger possibilities that still lie before us. It has given us a vision of life and of the cosmos far beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers a hundred years ago.

If one had said to our forefathers here in New Bremen, or to the people anywhere, for that matter, “before the coming century is over you will run in machines over paved roads as level as the floor in your house at the rate of seventy-five miles an hour”, or “trains pulled by steam engines will run on railroads at the rate of eighty miles an hour”, they would have said “Mit dem kerl ist etwas verkehrt, Wer kann dat gloeben.” If one had told them, “Before the century is over you will be able to sit in your house and talk to your family two thousand miles away”, or, “You will be able to send a message around the world in a few moments”, they would have said “Junge, bist du verrueckt?” If one had told them that soon they could have a leg amputated without an iota of pain, they would have classed one with the Arabian Nights storytellers. Yet all those things have come true and many more. They would have felt the same as the people of Capernaum when they forsook Jesus because they thought he was a crazy crank when he was trying to give them the light of life.

May I give you a few items of news from some of the greatest men of science of our day which may sound like Arabian Nights stories to you and give you a chance to react in the same way as was done in the days of old. In the past such news led often to persecution and sometimes to execution but in our day we have advanced far enough in general enlightenment not to resort to execution but now and then we still see symptoms of persecution though they are few and little more far between. Listen to a few of these:

If we could use one pound of radium, it would do the work of one and one half million tons of coal.

If we could get the atomic energy out of one ton of coal, it would be equal to the energy of 18,000 million tons by ordinary combustion. In that case a man could get for himself a thimbleful of coal when he and his wife start housekeeping; it would keep his house warm as long as he lived. The unused portion he could bequeath to his posterity.

When we see red light, 400 million million wavelets strike the eye per second. When we see violet, it is 800 million million per second.

The heat of the interior of the sun is estimated to be 50,000,000 degrees. A pin head with this temperature would kill every living organism within a radius of 1000 miles.

The star Antares has a diameter of 390,000,000 miles. In other words our sun could be placed in the middle of it and the earth could revolve around our sun in that star if it were hollow and be as far from the outside of the star as it is from the sun.

One thimbleful of air contains six quintillion molecules, each molecule composed of a number of atoms and each atom of a number of electrons. If each molecule were the size of an orange, they would cover the United States 1000 feet high.

The number of stars in our galactic system to which our sun belongs is estimated by various astronomers to be from 30,000 million to 300,000 million. It takes light 220,000 years at the rate of 186,000 miles per second to cross this system. There are visible to the telescope 2,000,000 other systems called nebulae, each composed of material to make about 2,000 million stars and each nebula is 2,000,000 light years away from the other. In these nebulae it is believed by astronomers that new stars are in the process of formation. From the nearest of these nebulae it takes light 850,000 years to reach the earth and from the farthest nebulae it takes light 140,000,000 years to reach the earth.

If one female mosquito lays her eggs in the spring, about 200 in number, and assuming that half of the young are female and they lay their eggs as soon as they are old enough and so they continue for 180 days, assuming that all conditions are ideal and no mosquito of that family dies in that time, there will be at the end of the 180 days 2,000 decillion mosquitoes.

If any of you think that I am a fit candidate for the insane asylum, I want to caution you again that I am saying all this not on my own authority. I am quoting the most outstanding men of science today. And I wish to add that all of these men of science that I have mentioned and quoted have created nothing and are creating nothing. They are only getting a little better acquainted with the great creative processes of God. It gives us a larger conception of God and may I add that many of these great leaders are amongst the finest spiritual minded men in the world. They are the men who are walking through the valley of life and make there some wells.

Listen to Michael Pupin, the great inventor and scientist in electricity, when he answered the question “What is light?” He says the earth is one great cosmic bell which is singing the glory of God. He bases his definition on the sound of the church bell in his home village in Serbia. When the clapper sounded during his boyhood days his mother would say, “Michael, don’t you hear the bell calling you to the worship of God?” He says a certain infinite number of clappers from the sun and the distant stars fall upon a rose and it sings “I am pink”; a certain number of other clappers fall upon another rose and it sings “I am yellow”; and all the clappers fall upon the lily and it sings “I am white”. He can imagine that in one of the nearer nebulae a new star is being born. If the light of that astral baby could be interpreted as a message to the earth it would say: “I am an astral baby. When this message reaches your earth a million years from now I will still be a baby. It will be several billion years before I will have cooled down to the size of your central star, the sun. How long it will take me to cool down to the size of your earth, God only knows. But when that time comes I will join those other cosmic bells and sing the glory of God.”

This reminds us of the poet who says:

There is part of the sun in an apple, there is part of the moon in a rose,
There is part of the flaming Pleiades in every blade that grows.
The vast becomes the nearness for the God whose love we sing
Lends a little of his heaven to every living thing.

May I say in conclusion that these pioneers who came here to build their homes in the wilderness, and walking through poverty and want builded this beautiful village and this beautiful countryside, were builders of wells of the life of the spirit as they walked through the valley of life. They first builded plain little places of worship and little ungraded schools. Then as they were able they builded this beautiful church in which we meet here tonight and the other beautiful churches in the village for they had a consciousness that beauty is one of the choice qualities of a cultivated life. They later builded the fine school houses for the intellectual and spiritual life of their children. All this is evidence that they were conscious of this fundamental fact of life as emphasized by the great Prince of the Spirit, namely, “It is the spirit that quickeneth.” May all this that they have done keep us from discouragement during this severe depression. May it be a real stimulus to all of us that we may be builders of the wells of the spiritual life as we walk through the valley of life for what is builded in the life of the spirit is immortal; it belongs to the eternal world.

–Dr. Edward Conradi