The summer of 1910 was an exciting time to be living in Columbus.

The summer of 1910 was an exciting time to be living in Columbus.

The economic recession that had haunted the land for the previous few years finally seemed to be ending. The factories were running at full strength once again and most stores and shops seemed to have many customers.

The city of 175,000 people was a major center of transportation and trade and continued to be a major producer of shoes, steel and buggies — especially buggies.

Columbus had been best known as a Midwestern capital city and railroad center until well after the Civil War when the Hocking Valley Railroad had opened the immense timber, coal and iron resources of southeastern Ohio to Columbus businesses. In short order, the town rapidly become a major producer of a wide variety of products. Most important among them were buggies. By 1900, there were 22 buggy companies in Columbus and one of every five buggies in America was made here.

While Columbus had become a much larger city by 1910, in many ways it had not changed very much at all. Downtown was still the center of things. It was the place most people still visited to find shops, theatres, markets and churches.

To be sure, Columbus did have its suburbs. Some were quite fashionable, well removed from the downtown and only reachable by buggy or the newly invented automobile. Other suburbs were closer to downtown, catered to the newly emerging middle class and were linked by an elaborate streetcar network. While many people might have lived two or three miles from downtown, they were only a half hour away by streetcar.

In an era when television, radio and the Internet did not exist, people tended to come together often to socialize — with their families, with their friends or in the large number of theatres, restaurants and social clubs around the city. And the residents of Columbus gathered together early and often to celebrate a wide variety of holidays.

Many of the holidays we celebrate today were celebrated in 1910. Some of them were not legal holidays, but the important ones, like the Fourth of July, were generally recognized by the entire city. The celebrations included picnics, parades, special church services and parties and gatherings at social clubs.

There were always fireworks on the Fourth of July. Fireworks were used by local residents on variety of other occasions. But the Fourth of July was the one day — and night — of the year when one could always expects to see fireworks. One could also expect to see fireworks injuries. The toll in Columbus in the early years of the 20th century was not all that different than that found in other American cities.

In 1906, 20 people had been injured by "cannon cracker, toy cannon, firearms, powder explosion, skyrocket, torpedo or pinwheel." Eleven persons had been injured in 1907 and six in 1908. The year 1909 was particularly bad. Sixteen persons were injured — seven of them by firecrackers — and one person had died.

These kinds of injuries were nothing new and many people had come to assume nothing could really be done about people playing with fire on the Fourth of July.

But by 1910, there were some people who had begun to think differently and they were prepared to do something about it.

The years between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914 in America have come to be called the "Progressive Period." In the last 20 years of the 1800s, a social and political movement called populism had been especially popular in rural America. It distrusted the new urbanization and industrialization sweeping across the country and longed for a simpler time. While populism never died completely, by 1910 a newer movement had captured the American imagination.

Based in America's towns and cities, progressives believed — as the name suggests— in progress. Knowing that America had problems, progressives nevertheless believed that these problems could and would be solved. How to solve problems — with a lot of government intervention or not much at all — framed the debate of the era. But most progressives, from President Theodore Roosevelt to the newly elected mayor of Columbus, George Marshall, believed that almost any problem could be solved with some ingenuity and effort.

In 1910, Mayor Marshall, with the support of a city council composed of many people in agreement with him, sponsored legislation to put in place what came to be called a "safe and sane" Fourth of July. A local newspaper explained the ordinance with wit:

"Monday is Fourth of July. Shh! Shh! Not a mouse will be stirring. The police have strictly tabooed explosive celebrations. Maybe though, you could strike a match, very quietly, and get away with it.

"The new city ordinance covers everything in the explosive line. Anything that has gunpowder or anything explosive connected with it in any way will not be tolerated by the police. You can't use firecrackers, toy pistols, blank cartridges, torpedoes, explosive canes or anything of a similar character — even non-burning Japanese fires. According to the strict wording of the ordinance, you cannot inflate a paper sack and explode it."

The interesting thing about the new ordinance —somewhat to the astonishment of all — was that it actually worked. While there were still scattered explosions around the city on the evening of the Fourth, the holiday passed without a single injury resulting from fireworks or other explosives. No one writing at the time could remember the last time that had happened. But with the exception of individual fireworks, the rest of the Fourth of July was quite similar to many others in the city's recent history.

The day was marked with parades, picnics and socials. The Columbus Trade and Industrial Exposition highlighting Columbus products ended with a major celebration. Three hundred Columbus school children performed as a chorus while forming themselves into a giant, living American flag. This was followed in the evening by fireworks both at the exposition and in a field at the end of West Ninth Avenue just past Neil Avenue.

It had been a memorable, if somewhat novel, Fourth of July.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.