Happiness circa 1911

I like to tell the odd joke now and then. Many of my friends will confirm that they are indeed ‘odd’. I don’t they the are. Very.   As I was perusing my bookshelf earlier today I found a 10-volume set called The Wit and Humor of America that I bought at a flea market, years ago. It was edited by Marshall P. Wilder published by Funk & Wagnalls Company of New York and London. Its most recent copyright was 1911, so it should be pretty squarely in the public domain now.  (Note  ‘Funk and Wagnalls’ was turned into a humorous phrase in and of itself in the 1960s by Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In TV show.)

I’ve often heard, in response to some of my jokes, “That was so funny, the last time I heard it, I almost fell out of my high chair.”  What about jokes more than 100 years old?

My father, a jokester himself updated this one (that he presumably heard in his high chair, nearly 100 years ago): What has four legs and flies?  Answer: A dead horse.


What has for wheels and flies? Answer: A garbage truck.

As far as I know, there has been no update to the following joke:

What is black and white and red all over? (a joke better told than red off the page). Of course the answer is: The newspaper.

That one was probably good until the 1990s.  I think I’m safe in assuming that one is truly kaput.

The following excerpt from (page 100 of) the first volume, which I found interesting, was about happiness. It was (allegedly) contained in correspondence from a ‘Mr. Biggs’ to E.W. Howe:


I have observed that happiness and brains seldom go together. The pin-headed woman who regards her thin-witted husband as the greatest man in the world, is happy, and much good may it do her. In such cases ignorance is a positive blessing , for good sense would cause the woman to realize her distressed condition. A man who can think he is as ‘good as anybody’ is happy. The fact may be notorious that the man is not so educated, and as refined as anybody, but he has not brains enough to know this, and, content with conceit, is happy. A man with a brain large enough to understand mankind is always wretched and ashamed of himself.”

Aside the early 20th century vernacular, do you think the same thing holds true today?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: