10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

1.Pneumonia and influenza

Remember when we said diarrhea could be as deadly as catching a cold? Well, we weren’t joking. Pneumonia and influenza killed 40,362 Americans in 1900 because we didn’t have any effective treatments. 

Penicillin changed the game

Alexander Flemming invented penicillin in 1928 and it totally revolutionized how doctors could treat pneumonia patients. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for those with influenza and civilization would have to wait until 1933 for scientists to develop the first influenza vaccines.

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

2. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis was a nasty way to go in 1900s America. The disease often had a long lead time, infecting the septum and gradually destroying one’s lungs over the course of years. Maybe that’s why it killed 38,434 Americans in 1900. 

No reliable treatment

There was really no way to treat tuberculosis at the turn of the century. According to the University of Virginia, doctors would advise their patients to “rest, eat well, and exercise outdoors.” But this was rarely a cure. 

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

3. Diarrhea, enteritis, and ulcers

It’s a little gross but completely understandable considering the lack of tools doctors had to treat diarrhea and intestinal-related illnesses, which killed 28,491 Americans in 1900. 

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

Considering living conditions at the time

Diarrhea would have been a very common phenomenon for most Americans in 1900. Very few people had proper home plumbing or water and there were no refrigerators to store meat… So catching a case of the “hersey’s squirts” might just be as deadly as running as catching a cold! 

4. Diseases of the heart

No, we’re not talking about being lovesick. The number four killer of Americans 123 years ago was heart disease resulting in the death of 27,427 people. 

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

Heart disease in 1900

Unlike today, heart disease was considered relatively uncommon in society and it is thought that a change in dietary habits and an increase in smoking is what has made heart disease today’s top killer.

5. Intracranial lesions of vascular origin better known as Cerebrovascular Disease

Cerebrovascular Disease refers to a group of various conditions that restrict blood flow to the brain and in 1900 they killed 21,353 Americans. 

The collective conditions

Most Cerebrovascular Diseases fall into four categories according to the University of Michigan, these include “blood vessels narrowing (stenosis), clot formation (thrombosis), artery blockage (embolism), or blood vessel rupture (hemorrhage).”

6. Nephritis

You may have to look this one up but it’s relatively simple. Nephritis is a condition in which kidney tissue becomes inflamed and stops filtering waste from one’s blood and it killed 17,699 Americans in 1900. 

10 leading causes of death in America in 1900

Why it was so deadly

Back before the invention of dialysis in the 1940s, doctors could only treat Nephritis with dietary restrictions and recently invented anti-inflammatory drugs. Today we not only have dialysis for severe cases but also a host of drugs and steroids that can be used to reduce the inflammation that causes nephritis. 

7. All Accidents

This category is a little interesting because it includes all accidental deaths that occurred in the United States in 1900. Accidents killed 14,429 people, which seems low considering the United States had a population of 76.3 million at the time. Maybe a few accidents just didn’t get reported?

The most common cause of accidents in America

The biggest accidental killers in America in 1900 were industrial in nature according to the Social Security Administration, so think of accidents while constructing railroads or mining coal. America was a dangerous place during the Industrial Revolution!

8. Cancer and other malignant tumors

Cancer was just as big a problem in the 1900s as it is in today’s America. Cancer and other related malignant tumors killed 12,769 Americans before there were any real treatments. 

How to deal with cancer in 1900s America

Interestingly, doctors in 1900 did have some tools available to help diagnose and treat cancer. X-ray machines and modern microscopes were just starting to be used to identify cancer in the human body and radical mastectomy was being used to eliminate cancerous growths before they spread according to the American Cancer Society. 

9. Senility

What exactly does it mean to die by senility? Well, it essentially means someone died of old age, which is a little worrying since it only appears at number 9 on this list killing only 10,015 Americans in 1900. 

Dying of Senility

Senility covered a broad range of symptoms in the 1900s. For some individuals, it could have meant that they succumb to Alzheimer’s or senile dementia, while for others it may have just meant that they died as a result of the gradual loss of cognitive functions that accompany old age. 

10. Diphtheria

You may have never heard of this type of bacterial infection but for most of our history, Diphtheria was one of the leading causes of death in humans. In 1900 it killed 8056 people in America, which was roughly 40.3 in every 100,000 people. 

A dangerous infection

Diphtheria can be particularly deadly in infants because of the toxins it creates in the body and it wasn’t until a vaccine was developed in the 1920s that Diphtheria dropped off as one of the world’s top killers.

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