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1920s Omaha: Babies and schools galore, fast horses and a meatpacking dynasty
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1920s Omaha: Babies and schools galore, fast horses and a meatpacking dynasty

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2020 marks a century after Prohibition banned the manufacturing and selling of alcohol in America. Here’s some information that may surprise you.

Each Sunday in February, we dive into The World-Herald archives for a glimpse of life in 1920s Omaha. For this installment, we also pulled gems from the Omaha Public Schools archives.

Just imagine: It’s the start of the decade, America is back from World War I and babies are bustin’ out all over. In Omaha, the baby boom sparks a school construction boom. Among the elementary and high school buildings popping on the landscape are Omaha Technical High School (1923), Minne Lusa (1924), Belvedere (1924), Omaha North High School (1924), Monroe (1926), Pershing (1926), Saratoga (1926) and Omaha Benson High School (1927).

1920

The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben dedicate their new racetrack on Sept. 14, 1920, and three days of horse racing follows. The entertainment includes auto polo, high diving, “freak aviation” and mule races. About one-third of the 5,000 attendees are women. The grandstand had been knocked down by a tornado the previous April and is completed in time for the crowds. Nebraska Gov. S.R. McKelvie, opening the program with remarks, pronounces the field the crowning achievement of Omaha and of Nebraska.

1921

J.G. Masters establishes the National Honor Society at Omaha Central High School. The organization goes national soon afterward. Masters serves as principal of the school from 1915 to 1939.

The Nebraska Senate passes a resolution naming John G. Neihardt of Bancroft the poet laureate of Nebraska on April 15, 1921. (Nebraska had a Senate and House until a 1937 reorganization.) Two of Neihardt’s best-known poems are “The Song of Hugh Glass” and “The Song of the Three Friends.”

1923

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Omaha Technical High School opened in 1923 as the largest school west of Chicago, with 3,000 students. This photo was taken in 1929.

Omaha Technical High School opens with 3,000 students, making it the largest high school west of Chicago. It has five wings and amenities to teach students in specific areas, such as wood and metal shops as well as home economics.

Marie Witzel, principal of Farnam School, establishes a school safety patrol with the support of local police. It’s the first of its kind in the country. With the increasing number of automobiles on streets, the patrol aims to keep students safe while walking to school.

1926

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The Omaha Livestock Exchange Building, shown in 1926 or 1927, once was part of the busiest livestock market in the world. The building was designed by architect George Prinz and built by Peter Kiewit Sons’ in the Romanesque revival and Northern Italian Renaissance Revival styles. Today, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Its top-floor ballroom is popular for weddings and other special events.

Feb. 26, 1926: As building construction explodes at the University of Nebraska, officials envision a multi-use venue to be located east of the new Memorial Stadium. The first event hosted at the Coliseum is a men’s basketball game. Nebraska loses to Kansas 25-14. In describing the loss, World-Herald sports writer Gregg McBride compares Nebraska to the biblical David and the Kansas team to Goliath, but with a different outcome: “The Nebraska basket teasers had neither sling nor shot Saturday night in the dedicatory game of the university’s half-million dollar field house and the Kansas Jayhawkers out-sized, out-shot and out-sped the Cornhusker five.”

Immigrant labor fuels Omaha’s meatpacking industry. The Livestock Exchange Building, a symbol of the national role that Omaha plays in the livestock and meatpacking industry, opens in June 1926. The building includes offices, a bank, a restaurant and hotel accommodations for stock growers. An average of 400 stock growers come to Omaha each day of the year.

1927

Morrill Hall, which houses the University of Nebraska State Museum, opens on Feb. 1, 1927. The natural history museum showcases the state’s past and present biological diversity. It’s home to “Archie,” the world’s largest fully mounted and composite Colombian mammoth fossil.

World-Herald staffer Pam Thomas contributed to this account.

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