Progress was a recurring theme of Reagan's, perhaps because he'd seen so much of it in his lifetime.
Health care as we know it today barely existed. Basic treatments like penicillin and vaccines were still years away. Tuberculosis was one of the leading causes of death, and diseases like measles, polio and smallpox were present threats.
About seven moms died during labor out of every 1,000 births, and one in 10 babies died before their first birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A report issued one year before Reagan was born found that 90 percent of doctors didn't have a college education.
Most homes lacked indoor plumbing (even by 1940, just 55 percent of homes had "complete" indoor plumbing, according to the Census Bureau), and only about a quarter had telephones. There were no air conditioners, refrigerators (the first to see widespread use was introduced in 1927) and few other home appliances.
People generally worked six days a week, clocking more than 50 hours and getting all of three holidays a year. Cities were often choked with coal dust.
On the entertainment front, there was no commercial radio, let alone television. And the movie industry had barely gotten off the ground. In fact, the first film by a Hollywood studio was shot in the fall of 1911.
While cars were hot sellers, there were still relatively few -- just about 640,000 -- and there was little in the way of paved roads. The first "commercial" airplane flight wouldn't take place until 1913.
Women didn't have the right to vote (the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920), and racial segregation was in full force.
And few today could comprehend just how small the federal government was the year Reagan was born.
In 1911, federal spending accounted for just about 2 percent of the economy. It's 24.7 percent today. There was no income tax. (That didn't come into being until 1913, and then the top rate was just 7 percent.)
There were no departments of education, environment, energy, heath and human services, housing and urban development or transportation.
And there was no Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid, programs that today account for 42 percent of all federal spending.
Of course, for Reagan -- who long championed limited government and who said things like "the problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much" and "in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem" -- the huge growth in government is the one kind of progress he probably wished hadn't occurred.
In his second inaugural address, Reagan said that "there are no limits to growth and human progress, when men and women are free to follow their dreams."
If nothing else, the past 100 years are testament to that.
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Below are a few comparative numbers for 1991 versus 2011.
1911 vs. 2011
Population (in millions)
% of the population aged 65 or older
Life expectancy at birth (in years)
Deaths from tuberculosis (per 100,000 population)
% of adults with a high school diploma
Average household income ($)
Average price of a new home ($)
Number of farms (in millions)
Number of registered autos (in millions)
Price of a gallon of gas ($)
Federal government spending
Federal spending as % of GDP
Number of federal cabinet agencies
Sources for data: Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 1911, National Center for Health Statistics, Transportation Department, Energy Department, Office of Management and Budget, Congressional Budget Office.
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