Saturday, 5 April 2014

What was Happening in the World 100 Years Ago in 1914?

Many events in 1914 shaped the lives of people for generations. Some of these events were continuations of a long chain of events, while others were spontaneous game-changers.
  • 1914 saw WWI start, killing 37 million and changing political maps for a short time. Then 5% of casualties in wars were civilians. Today it is 75%.
  • In 1914 the colonial powers “owned” all of Africa except Ethiopia. Now in 2014 - Side effects of globalization, bad politics with MNCs and dictators keep countless millions in the poverty trap.
  • In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was aggressively demanding this and that territory for Germany and challenging Rule Britannia. In 2014, it is China challenging Rule Americana and demanding this and that (300 islands and lots of land from about 20 countries.)  
  • Global trade was already very high in 1914. The ratio of world trade to GDP in 1914 was 21% but mostly the imperial powers benefitted. In 2014, it is 32% and still only the superrich benefit most. 
  • Stainless steel knives appeared in shops in UK, USA. Called rustless steel, they were not successful and were called “knives that don’t cut”.
  • Green beer invented. It became a hit, especially for St Patrick’s day.
  • 1st Non-direct blood transfusion – by a Belgian doctor, Albert Hustin.

Now let’s take a look at what was happening in 1914 all around the world:

  • Tsar Nicholas II is eager to personally lead Russia into the war. Rasputin warns “If Russia goes to war, it will be the end of the monarchy, of the Romanovs and of Russian institutions.” (Alexandrov, 1966).
  • 175 million people live in the Russian empire in 1914. In 2014, population is 143 million, of which 81% are ethnic Russians.
  • The capital St. Petersburg is renamed Petrograd.
  • Russia is the world’s largest food exporter. In 100 years Russia drops to 157th rank globally but Russians are fatter than ever and others.  
  • Russia’s foreign debt to GNP ratio was 40% in 1914. In 2013, it is 8.4%, compared to 105.7% of USA.
  • Russia ingloriously whacked at the Battle of Tannenberg by Germany. The Second Russian Army (230, 000 soldiers) lose to the Eighth German Army (150,000). Germans move entire army corps by train – precursor to Blitzkrieg. 
  • Adolf Hitler paints The Alter Hof in Munich in watercolour.

  • President Yuan Shi-k’ai dissolves parliament and local self-governing bodies and provincial assemblies and assumes absolute power.
  • Locust plagues in east central China and China joins the Universal Postal Union (the events are not related).
  • Peking’s first Western-style theatre (First Stage) opens.
  • Sun Yat-Sen forms the Chung-hua Ko-ming-tang to replace the Kuomingtang. Members swear oath of allegiance to him personally (like to Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany).
  • Republic of China, Tibet and Britain agree in the Simla Accord that China will not interfere in the administration of Outer Tibet.
  • Chinese foreign debt is a mindboggling $835 million = $19.417 trillion in today’s money. Compared to $ 16.440 trillion foreign debt of USA today.
  • Chinese population in 1914 is 441 million. Now it is 1.35 billion.
  • The Mexican Revolution continues. 
  • Tampico Affair – USA occupies Veracruz cutting supplies from Germany and Mexico severs diplomatic relations with USA.
  • US General Pershing with 5000 soldiers invade Mexico and for 9 months try in vain to capture El Centauro del Norte General Pancho Villa (who felt he was betrayed by USA).

  • 315 million people live in India. Now = 1.23 billion.
  • Efforts to “civilize” India by Macaulayism continue. "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”
  • Indian Copyright Regulations come into force. 
  • 60% of India ruled directly by Britain and 40% through alliances with native rulers.
  • Komagata Maru incident - 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims of Indian origin arrived at Burrard Inlet, Vancouver, Canada on May 23, 1914, from the Indian sub-continent on the ship Komagata Maru (Guru Nanak Jahaz). Racist immigration policy denied entry to 352 passengers and forced to depart. 3.5% of Canada are Indo-Canadians in 2014.
  • Hindu-German Conspiracy. Plans for a Pan-Indian rebellion against the British Raj with domestic and foreign help (e.g. German embassy in San Francisco).
  • Gandhi leaves South Africa for the last time after achieving his goals there – abolishing the £3 tax (£200 today) and arrears on former indentured labourers and recognition of Indian marriages.
  • Famous Indians born in 1914: Field Marshall Manekshaw, Baba Amte, G. P. Sippy, Jyoti Basu, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal.
  • In 1914, 44% of global net foreign investment was coming from Britain. France accounted for 20%, Germany 13%.
  • The first colour film showed in Britain – TheWorld, the Flesh and the Devil.  
  • House of Lords rejects women suffrage. All suffragette prisoners released unconditionally. Women get to vote on equal terms as men in 1928.
  • Henriette Caillaux, wife of former French Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux shoots Gaston Calmette, the editor of Le Figaro because he threatened to publish Caillaux's love letters to her while he was still married to his first wife. Henriette is later acquitted.
  • France decimates (executes every tenth soldier) a regiment of its Tunisian soldiers for retreating. 
  • Soliciting gay French men during WWI would ask other men “Parlez-vous Allemand?” [Do you speak German?] as homosexuality was associated with Germanness (probably due to the Eulenberg scandal).
  • Algerians no longer need travel permits to France. 300,000 men (1/3rd of Algeria’s male population) were transferred to France for the war efforts. 
  • The 1,7 million people of Algerian ancestry are still considered 2ndclass citizens in France. 
  • Federal government is much smaller in 1914, spending 2.7% of GDP or $ 1.005 billion (it spends 20.6% of GDP or $ 3.5 trillion now)
  • The world’s first airline St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line opens service with heavier than air aircraft.
  • The Ford Motor Company announces a revolutionary 8 hour at $5/ day wages in place of $2.40 for a 9-hour day. Assembly line for Model T introduced.
  • Mother’s Day proclamation signed by President Woodrow Wilson.
  • Panama Canal opened to ships. 500 workers/mile or 27,609 workers (5600 in the US phase) died in the construction due to Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dysentery, Typhoid and Dengue.
  • Opium and Cocaine were still legal. The Harrison Act of 1914 required anyone exporting, manufacturing or distributing them to register with the Federal Government and pay a tax (it was not a prohibition). In 2014, USA is the world’s largest consumer.
  • Winston Churchill’s (no relative of the British Chruchill) novel The Inside of The Cup was a great success in USA.
  • Mussolini (Il Duce) denounces orthodox socialism because it did not understand that class distinction had become insignificant compared to national identity and loyalty in WWI. He is promptly expelled from the socialist party.
  • Only Vatican and San Marino still remain outside unified Italy.


  • Oscar Mathisen sets 500 m skating world record at 43.7 seconds. In 2014 it is 34.03 by Jeremy Wotherspoon of Canada.     

  • 100 years without previously bellicose Sweden fighting a single war as a nation. But Swedes fight on both sides as volunteers and mercenaries. Lars Gyllenhaal and Lennart Westberg's "Swedes at War: Willing Warriors of a Neutral Nation, 1914-1945" details.

Alexandrov, Viktor. The end of the Romanovs. Translated from the French by William Sutcliffe. 1966. Hutchinsons, London.