1917: A Year in Review

In 1917, the War to End All Wars continued to dominate the headlines. On April 6, the United States finally abandoned isolationism and entered the war, after being given a strong shove by Germany in the form of the Zimmerman Telegram.  On the Eastern front, Russia suffered devastating defeats, which contributed directly to the Bolshevik revolution (here and here) and separate peace talks between Bolshevik Russia and Germany. In the Middle East, Britain continued to support the Arab tribes in their revolt against the Ottoman empire, while at the same time the Balfour declaration committed Britain to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. (Anyone with half a brain would see that this was trouble in the making.)

It’s easy to forget that the war wasn’t the only news that was fit to print. Here are a few events that occurred off the battlefield in 1917 that are worth remembering:

  • The first jazz recording was made in New York by a group of white musicians from New Orleans, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, led by cornet player Nick LaRocca. Their 1917 recording of “Livery Stable Blues” and the “Dixie(land) Jass [sic] Band One Step” on the Victor Records label was a huge success. Many older people thought the music was just noise. (Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, claimed that he played jazz records backwards “because they sound better that way”.) Young people loved the new music; they bought more than one million copies of the first jazz recording, more than any record had sold before. (Just to put this is context: The first commercial record player was released in 1895.)
  • Clarence Birdseye developed freezing as a method of preserving food, triggering decades of foodie arguments about flavor and nutrition.*
  • Sigmund Freud published Introduction to Psychoanalysis, triggering decades of other types of debate.**
  • Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, also triggering debates, alas!

*As far as I’m concerned, the only thing frozen peas should be used for is an ice pack.
**You can argue that frozen food and/or Freudian analysis is good. You can argue that they are bad. But you can’t deny that they changed the way many of us live.

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