Throwback Thursday | Back in My Day…

Not so long ago, there was nothing where a lot of something is now

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Out West Magazine – “The Mad Rush to Move West!” (1901)

Storytellers usually begin with “Once upon a time…” And if the one telling the story is recalling how things were, he or she may begin with “Back in my day, gas was only 25 cents a gallon.” Not that long ago – I remember it well. Gas stations had price wars and offered full-service benefits like checking the oil, washing the windshield, and filling your tank with a smile.

Shifting gears (sorry about the pun) to a time I don’t personally recall, but let’s go back in time anyway…

The story of California around 200 years ago, at the time, was told by a handful of miners, ranchers, and farmers. The San Gabriel Valley they knew would not be recognizable today. The only remnant left, in my day, is the San Gabriel Mountains which look very much the same for several centuries now.

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PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Glass Slide – California comparison to nine other states in size and population (1900)

In the vintage glass slide above, California land area nine states combine (New York, Ohio, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) to roughly equal California’s landmass. However, in 1900 (120 years ago), our state’s population was 1.5 million compared to their 12.5 million. The same space with less than 1/8 the population!

Today, California has the most folks – nearly 40 million! As a sovereign nation, our state would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | News | Out West Magazine – “The Sad Parting of Two Old Friends” (1901)

California’s plentiful natural resources and year-round mild weather have fueled massive growth in infrastructure and population – especially during the 1920s and since WWII.

Next week’s Throwback Thursday will focus on the magnet that attracts people to our neck of the woods, hometown South Pasadena. Just a hint: it has something to do with sunshine, oranges, and ostriches! Weird, I know.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.