Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section071/Don Washburn

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J. D. Washburn
BornJune 29, 1893
Diedunknown
OccupationEx-Soldier, tire shop repair owner
SpouseMarried in 1923. Name of spouse unknown
ChildrenTwo boys and a girl

Overview[edit | edit source]

J. D. Washburn was born in 1893 in North Carolina. He was a soldier in World War I and later became a tire repair shop owner in Asheville, North Carolina. Washburn was interviewed as part of the Federal Writers Project by Douglas Carter on February 16, 1939

Biography[edit | edit source]


Don Washburn, was a white man born on June 29, 1893 in North Carolina. After moving around the US, Washburn was drafted into the army on July 5, 1918 and worked in a camp hospital at Camp McClellan when the flu pandemic of 1918 hit. On November 10, 1918 he sailed to France. After spending about half a year as part of a medical unit his unit was sent home and Washburn was honorably discharged on July 26, 1919. He found work in Kansas shucking corn and later worked in one of the largest rubber plants in Ohio. At the plant, Washburn took night classes to learn all he could about rubber. With the boom of the automobile era and the related boom of the tire industry employed many people. Washburn met a man named Myers and together they moved to Asheville, North Carolina and opened a tire repair shop in 1921. In about a year Myers sold out of the business. Two years later, in 1923, Washburn married and together he and his wife had a girl and two boys. As of the interview Washburn had owned the tire repair shop for 17 years and had 5 employees.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

The Tire Industry Boom[edit | edit source]

Tires being manufactured sometime between 1917-1918

During the 1920s the U.S. economy surged. The usage and production of cars increased and “ the automobile industry, which ranked third in manufacturing value added in 1919, ranked first by the mid-1920s” [1]. In less than 10 years the boom of the automobile industry created jobs and helped the economic boom of the 1920s. Impressively “the automobile manufacturers produced over four and a half million new cars in 1929” [2]. The increase of car production and usage was directly correlated with the increase of tire manufacturing. The rubber tire industry became one of mass production. Originally the rubber tire industry was secondary to the automobile industry having not anticipated becoming a mass production industry consisting of only small operations. However, “between 1910 and 1930 the demand for tires increased more than a hundredfold, reflecting the dynamic growth of the automobile industry” and the growing use of the rubber tire [3]. The tire industry also had a boom echoing the automobile industry growth. Companies no longer made only rubber boots and other small items, but also the automobile tire and soon struggled to meet demand of the auto era. “Tire manufacturers satisfied most of the demand with innovations in tire design and rubber chemistry” [4]. Not only was the tire industry doing very well, advancements in tire designs were rapidly occurring.

The Influenza of 1918-1919[edit | edit source]

Camp McClellan sometime between 1910-1919
Nurses at Camp McClellan photographed on August 22, 1918
Camp McClellan, photographed between 1917-1918

The influenza of 1918-1919 is believed to have originated in Kansas and spread with the help of soldiers. Soldiers were one of the largest vectors as they moved around U.S. bases, and with international deployment spread influenza throughout Europe and then across the globe. One soldier could be infected and within weeks thousands could have the disease. “At the outbreak’s peak, 1,543 soldiers reported ill with influenza in a single day” [5]. After 15 months from the beginning of the pandemic “between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, according to the most widely cited analysis” died [6]. Camp McClellan, established in 1917 in Alabama, was one of the largest Army camps in the United States. The camp received recruits from across the nation. Influenza hit the camp on September 20, 1918, resulting in a quarantine lasting from October 2-14th. The pandemic swept across the camp and during October, 1918, “at the epidemic’s peak, Camp McClellan had over 4,900 cases of influenza and pneumonia, and about 228 reported deaths” [7]. Medical facilities quickly were overwhelmed and patient overflow was directed into tents and recreational buildings. Airing out bedding, taking out patients for fresh air and an additional 10-day quarantine of recovered patients was enforced in hopes of containing the virus’s further spread. The chance of survival at Camp McClellan was lower with a “mortality rate of about 4.7 percent [..] compar[ed] to those of larger camps”, meaning there was a higher chance of death [8]. The death rate was also considerably different among age groups as “normally, elderly people account for the overwhelming number of influenza deaths; in 1918, that was reversed, with young adults killed in the highest numbers” [9]. The influenza claimed many lives and arrived at a time when the world was at war, hardly prepared to fight a national pandemic.


Economy in Asheville N.C.[edit | edit source]

Pack Square photographed around 1910.

Asheville enjoyed a strong economy from the late eighteenth century, but was devastated on November 20th, 1930. Asheville was one of the hardest hit cities in the country as it had amassed the highest debt per capita. However, before the Great Depression, Asheville in the 1920s saw an increase in memorable infrastructure, and a rise in wealth and wealthy visitors. The citizens’ “confidence soared in Asheville as a thriving downtown quickly filled with shops and buildings to become known as the hub of Western North Carolina” [10]. Land development and new businesses flourished and “numerous new housing developments accompanied Asheville's economic expansion.” [11]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Smiley, Gene. “US Economy in the 1920s”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. June 29, 2004. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-u-s-economy-in-the-1920s/
  2. Smiley, Gene. “US Economy in the 1920s”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. June 29, 2004. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-u-s-economy-in-the-1920s/
  3. Nelson, Daniel. "Mass Production and the U.S. Tire Industry." The Journal of Economic History 47, no. 2 (1987): 329-39. Accessed October 11, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2122232.
  4. Nelson, Daniel. "Mass Production and the U.S. Tire Industry." The Journal of Economic History 47, no. 2 (1987): 329-39. Accessed October 11, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2122232.
  5. Barry , M. John, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine. (November, 2017). Accessed October 7, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.
  6. Barry , M. John, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine. (November, 2017). Accessed October 7, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.
  7. Fargey, Kathleen. “The Deadliest Enemy. The U.S. Army And Influenza, 1918-1919” Army History, no. 111 (Spring 2019), pp. 24-39. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26616953?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. Fargey, Kathleen. “The Deadliest Enemy. The U.S. Army And Influenza, 1918-1919” Army History, no. 111 (Spring 2019), pp. 24-39. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26616953?seq=3#metadata_info_tab_contents
  9. Barry , M. John, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” Smithsonian Magazine. (November, 2017). Accessed October 7, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.
  10. “Asheville History: Early Settlement to Downtown Boom.” Romantic Asheville. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.romanticasheville.com/History.htm
  11. “Asheville History: Early Settlement to Downtown Boom.” Romantic Asheville. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.romanticasheville.com/History.htm