Simanaitis Says

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“THE VAST EXTENT and rapidly changing conditions of the United States make the production of a satisfactory guidebook a peculiarly difficult task.”

You’re telling me. I hasten to mention that this opening quote comes from the Preface to The Handbook to the United States, published by Karl Baedeker in 1909.

The following tidbits are gleaned from the introductory portion of the guide. See also “The United States—1909” for more on this Handbook for Travellers.

A Glossary is included to clarify pesky differences between an American’s and the King’s English, in this case, Edward VII’s, aka Bertie. Here’s a sampling of the Glossary:

Bit (California and the South), 12 1/2 c. (two bits 25 c. six bits 75 c.).
Block, rectangular mass of building surrounded by four streets.
Cowboy, cattle herdsman.
Cracker, biscuit, also, in the Southern States, a poor white man.
Creek (often pron. crick), a small stream.
High Ball, whiskey and soda.
Right Away, directly.
Take Out, an American takes a lady ‘out’ to dinner, while an Englishman takes her ‘in.’ ”

On Beverage Choices. “Iced water is the universal beverage, and a cup of tea or coffee is included in all meals at a fixed price. Wine is generally poor or dear, and often both. It is much to be regretted that, outside of California, the native vintages, which are often superior to the cheap imported wines, seldom appear on the wine-list, and travellers will do good service by making a point of demanding Californian wines and expressing surprise when they cannot be furnished.”

“Cafés, in the European sense, are seldom found in the United States except in New Orleans and a few other cities with a large French or German element in the population. The name, however, is constantly used as the equivalent of restaurant and is sometimes applied to first-class bar-rooms.”

This and the following from Baedeker’s United States.

“Liquors of all kinds are sold at Saloons (public houses) and Hotel Bars. Restaurants which solicit the patronage of ‘gents’ should be avoided.’’

Ladies, Note Well. “When ladies are in the party, it is advisable to frequent the best hotels only.”

Hotel Quality Varies. “The hotels of the South are often poor and (in proportion to their accommodation) dear; but great improvements have taken place of recent years. Many of the hotels in the West, on the other hand, even in the newest cities, are astonishingly good, and California contains some of the best and cheapest hotels in the United States.”

In General. “The first requisites for the enjoyment of a tour in the United States are an absence of prejudice and a willingness to accommodate oneself to the customs of the country…. He should from the outset reconcile himself to the absence of deference or servility on the part of those he considers his social inferiors….”

Aborigines. “The native tribes that once covered the entire domain of the Union belonged to fifty independent linguistic stocks. Some of these were spread over vast areas, for example, the Algonkian, Athapascan, Iroquoian, Muskhogean, Shoshonean, and Siouan.”

“But a wonderful change has taken place in two centuries…. The aboriginal title gave way to the title of discovery, and the feeble Indian title of occupancy has been swept away by the tide of European immigration.”

Feeble Indian title of occupancy? Waiters as social inferiors? As much as I enjoy collecting Baedeker’s Handbooks for Travellers, there are times when Karl makes me cringe. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Mike B
    December 5, 2018

    Another interesting set of old guidebooks is the group of USGS guides to major western rail routes – Guidebook of the Western United States – from the early 1900s. Can be downloaded from their web library. The ones I’ve found are Parts A-F, Bulletins 611-14, 707, & 845.

    As for Baedecker, they come from an era when rich Europeans expected to be catered to and all others were considered only slightly better than draft animals. Not something to be admired, but with suitable mental editing those older guidebooks can still be interesting reads. A certain amount of that creeps into the USGS guidebooks too.

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