In 1916, what was then known as the war to end all wars still dominated the headlines. Losses on all sides were heavy and dispiriting. On the western front, French forces repulsed a major German offensive at the Battle of Verdun.* In July, after two years of stalemate in the trenches the British and French went on the offensive in the Somme, a campaign that lasted through November and is largely remembered for the number of casualties on both sides. In the East, the British withdrew from Gallipoli—another military stalemate–and Arab tribes rose up against the Turks, with British support. On the Eastern Front, the Russians launched the Brusilov offensive on June 4, beginning a string of crushing victories against the Austrian army. By the time Russian resources ran out in September, Brusilov’s forces had cost the Austro-Hungarian army 1.5 million men and some 9600 square miles–leaving the Austro-Hungarians so weakened that Germany fought virtually alone for the remainder of the war.
The United States congratulated itself on staying out of the war. In fact, Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election as president with the slogan “He kept us out of the war”—a position he would reverse three months after he was elected for a second term.
But the war wasn’t the only news that was fit to print in 1916. Here are a few other events worth remembering:
- On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of an Irish Republic and rose up in rebellion against British rule in Ireland. IRA violence of the later twentieth century tends to cloud the image of the Irish independence movement for modern readers but British rule over Ireland was an ugly thing. The grievances outlined in the American Declaration of Independence were nothing by comparison.
- Sometime in the dead of night between December 29 and 30, Russian nobles murdered Grigory Rasputin, a self-styled holy man who effectively ruled Russia while Tsar Nicholas led Russian troops in the war.
- Mexican revolutionary general, and former ally of the United States, Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. General John Pershing led 6,000 troops across the border in pursuit. He spent 10 months searching with no success.
- Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic on October 16. On October 26 she was arrested for obscenity because she promoted birth control. Apparently some battles have to be fought over and over.
- Daylight Savings Time was introduced in Britain under the more accurate name “Summertime”. Not a plus as far as I’m concerned.
On a happier note:
- On August 25, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service.
- The Chicago Cubs played their first game in Weeghmann Park, aka Wrigley Field. Here’s what the Chicago Tribune had to say on the subject:
It is not unlikely that there will be Germans marching through the downtown streets of Chicago this morning, but they will be harmless, for they will be only the Garry Herrmann delegation from Cincinnati trying to make a better showing than Carley Weeghmann and his crowd made on the streets of Cincinnati last week.
- Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly-Wiggly in Memphis, Tennessee, revolutionizing grocery shopping. For the first time, customers gathered up their own purchases instead of handing the list to a clerk to fill the order.
Come 1917, the pace of change was going to pick up.
*More accurately a siege, Verdun lasted for 300 days, From February through December. The Germans intended the siege to be a battle of attrition, designed to “bleed France white”. In fact, it turned into a costly standoff, with a combined loss of between 600,000 and 700,000 men.