What a Difference a Century Makes:  1919

By:  M. Callahan

World Leaders at Paris Peace Talks

1919 US Population:  105,063,000

Public Figures

President: Woodrow Wilson
Vice President: Thomas R. Marshall
Virginia Governor:  Henry Carter Stuart
Chief Justice Supreme Court:  Edward Douglass White
Speaker of the House:  Champ Clark (D-Missouri) until March, then Frederick H. Gillett (R-Massachusetts
VA Senators: Thomas Martin  & Claude Swanson

BORN:  J.D. Salinger, Andy Rooney, Jack Palance, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Nat King Col

DIED:  Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick

Married:  Franklin Roosevelt to Eleanor, in NYC.


On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street (Boston) exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.

Since politics and current events influence economic performance, here is what was happening to influence the 14.57% inflation rate in 1919.

  • The German Farmer's Party, which would later develop into the National Socialist Party, is formed.
  • The Bolshevik party re-establishes the idea of a five-member Politburo at the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, making it the central body of political power in the Soviet Union. Its first members were Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev and Nikolai Krestinsky.
· The Turkish War of Independence begins after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's lands at Samsun, on the Black Sea.

· Benito Mussolini establishes the Fascist Party in 1919.

Massive war reparation payments, excessively high unemployment, high cost of goods, and significant devaluation of German currency, until it was not worth the paper on which it was printed.

The French and the British sought to appease Wilson by consenting to support his most cherished idea — the establishment of his League of Nations. However,

in the face of strong domestic isolationist sentiment and because some of the articles in the league's charter seemingly conflicted with the U.S. Constitution, the United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles nor joined the League of Nations.  In 1921, under President Warren Harding ,the United States signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary.

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that ended World War I.  It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand which directly led to the war.  The other Central Powers on the German side signed separate treaties.

The most controversial provision forced Germany to accept responsibility for Germany and for her allies for causing all the loss and damage during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This provision later became known as the War Guilt Clause. The treaty required Germany to:  “disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente Powers.”  The total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks or $31.4 billion or 6.6 billion pounds sterling.  In today’s money that equates to $442 billion US or 284 billion UK.  Notable economists of the time referred to this clause as a “Carthaginian peace” meaning that this was too harsh and would prove to be counter-productive.  Many historians have concluded that the start of WWII was the day this treaty was signed.  In order to meet any of the provisions, Germany, already bankrupt, could not feed their own population, provide employment, or necessary services for more than a decade.

Statement of Abdication. Of the German Kaiser: I herewith renounce for all time claims to the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith. At the same time I release all officials of the German Empire and of Prussia, as well as all officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the navy and of the Prussian army, as well as the troops of the federated states of Germany, from the oath of fidelity which they tendered to me as their Emperor, King and Commander-in-Chief. I expect of them that until the re-establishment of order in the German Empire they shall render assistance to those in actual power in Germany, in protecting the German people from the threatening dangers of anarchy, famine, and foreign rule. Proclaimed under our own hand and with the imperial seal attached. Amerongen, 28 November 1918. Signed WILLIAM

Results of WWI

Invention of new, more deadly weapons:  Tanks, machine guns, poison gas, flamethrowers, advanced rapid fire artillery and mortars.  Trench warfare became a powerful symbol of the futility of war. The battlefields developed into a stalemated struggle between equals, to be decided only by attrition.    The weapons being utilized were now more efficient in wide spread slaughter  although it took some time for the generals to fully absorb the implications.

Empires fall and royal rulers are toppled, assassinated and/or exiled. 

The former German Kaiser, abdicated and was exiled to Doorm, the  Netherlands. Where he died at age 82 on June 4, 1941. 

The last Emperor of Austria, who was also the last King of Hungary, and the Last King of Bohemia renounced participation in all state affairs but did not abdicate.  Neither he, nor the House of Habsburg ever ruled again.

The Russian Royal family shot and killed.  The Romanov Dynasty never ruled again.

Last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, whose forced abdication and exile in 1922 prepared the way for the emergence of the Turkish Republic.

National boundaries change & new countries are created.
Germany forfeited the Saar coalfield to France for 15 years, Alsace-Lorraine was given back to France. Danzig became a free city, and Poland was given a 'corridor' to the Baltic Sea.

Austria-Hungary was separated as a result of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. It forced Austria into becoming a republic, which meant all of the territory outside of Austria proper had to be given up. ... The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary collapsed and Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the State of Slovenes, Croatia-later Yugoslavia all emerged.

United Kingdom: lost most of Ireland as the Irish Free State, Egypt in 1922.

Bulgaria: lost Western Thrace to Greece also lost a part of Eastern Macedonia to Serbia (Yugoslavia).

China: temporarily lost Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong to the Empire of Japan

Montenegro declared union with Serbia and subsequently became incorporated into Yugoslavia.

Turkey became the successor state of the Ottoman Empire.

1919 Washington                
Washington joined thirty six other US cities in Racial Riots over what became known as the Red Summer of 1919.

Race Riots in Washington Summer 1919

The race riot in Washington, D.C. was one of more than twenty that took place during the Red Summer of 1919. Lasting a total of only four days, this short-lived riot was more accurately described as a race war taking place in the nation’s capital.

On Saturday night, July 19, 1919, in a downtown bar, a group of white veterans sparked a rumor regarding the arrest, questioning, and release of a black man suspected by the Metropolitan Police Department of sexually assaulting a white woman. The victim was also the wife of a Navy man. The rumor traveled throughout the sa

loons and pool halls of downtown Washington, angering the several soldiers, sailors, and marines taking their weekend liberty, including many veterans of World War I.

Later that Saturday night, a mob of predominantly white veterans headed toward Southwest D.C. to a predominantly black, poverty-stricken neighborhood with clubs, lead pipes, and pieces of lumber in hand. The veterans brutally beat all African Americans they encountered. African Americans were seized from their cars and from sidewalks and beaten without reason or mercy by white veterans, still in uniform, drawing little to no police attention.

On Sunday, July 20, the violence continued to grow, in part because the seven-hundred-member Metropolitan Police Department failed to intervene. African Americans continued to face brutal beatings in the streets of Washington, at the Center Market on Seventh Street NW, and even in front of the White House.

By the late hours of Sunday night, July 20, the African American community began to fight back. They armed themselves and attacked whites who entered their neighborhoods. Both black and white men fired bullets at each other from moving vehicles. At the end of the night, ten whites & five blacks were either killed or severely wounded.
After four days of violence and no police intervention, President Woodrow Wilson finally ordered nearly two thousand soldiers from nearby military bases into Washington to suppress the rioting. However, a heavy summer rain, rather than the troops themselves, effectively ended the riot on July 23, 1919.

In the end, several men were killed from gunshot wounds; nine were killed in severe street fights; and an estimated thirty or more eventually died from other wounds they received during the riot. Over one hundred and fifty men, women, and children were beaten, clubbed, and shot by both African American and white rioters. Six Metropolitan Policemen and several Marine guards were shot during these riots. Two of those shootings were fatal.” (1)


Trial of Ziang Sung Wan in Washington DC 1919

On January 31, 1919 three men were found shot to death in a rowhouse at 2023 Kalorama Rd. NW in the headquarters of the Chinese Educational Mission.   Police officers were told by a student, that, earlier on the same evening a resident of New York City named Wan had been at the Mission. Acting under instructions of the superintendent of police, two detectives started immediately for New York. On February 1, they entered Wan's room in a lodging house, found him there, and brought him to a Washington hotel for interrogation.  The police held Wan incommunicado without formal arrest, and browbeat a confession out of him.  Wan was suffering from the after effects of the Spanish flu and the police took advantage of his weakened state.  They questioned him day and night for nine days.  Food, water and bathroom privileges were denied.  Under extreme duress, he confessed. But later recanted. 

After multiple trials a ruling came down from the Supreme Court with Justice Louis Brandeis writing  that “a confession obtained by compulsion must be excluded, whatever may have been the character of the compulsion.

A now famous case came before the Supreme Court in 1966 known as  Miranda v. Arizona.  Out of this case came a  landmark decision. In a 5–4 majority, the Court held that both inculpatory and exculpatory statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant was informed of the right to consult with an attorney before and during questioning and of the right against self-incrimination before police questioning, and that the defendant not only understood these rights, but voluntarily waived them

The Miranda warning (often shortened to "Miranda", or "Mirandizing" a suspect) is the name of the formal warning that is required to be given by law enforcement in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody (or in a custodial situation) before they are interrogated, in accordance with the Miranda ruling. Its purpose is to ensure the accused are aware of, and reminded of, these rights before questioning or actions that are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response.

(Due to the Spanish Flu Epidemic, many competitions cancelled or only a few teams participated.)

World Series:  Cincinnati Reds over Chicago White Sox 5 to 3.

(Babe Ruth hits 29 home runs for the Boston Red Sox, breaking the single season record of 27 set by Ned Williamson in 1884)

Stanley Cup:  Montreal Canadians and Seattle Metropolitans win two games each in the finals.  Then, the series is cancelled when all the Montreal players contracted the Spanish Flu.

World Heavyweight Boxing:  Jack Dempsey over Jess Willard

USPGA Championship: Jim Barnes

US Open:  Walter Hagen 

Horseracing-Triple Crown:  Sir Barton, 1st horse to win this title.

Tennis: US Men's Singles  Bill Johnston (USA) defeats Bill Tilden (USA)

US Women’s Singles: Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman (USA) defeats Marion Zinderstein (USA) 


Jules Bordet, Physiology /Medicine 

Johannes Stark,  Physics

Carl Spitteler -Literature

Woodrow Wilson -Peace

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Pulitzer-Biography or Autobiography: The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

Pulitzer-Journalism: The Milwaukee Journal

Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity is confirmed when the Royal Astronomical Society sees the predicted effect during a solar eclipse.


Inflation hit hard (14.57%)  in 1919 particularly between July and December as soldiers came home to find few jobs and ever soaring unemployment, no GI Bill, financial or educational aid.  Massive labor strikes, and race riots Manufacturers, under a war profile, took time to retool to peace time production of household goods while the resource allocation created by the War Rationing Board resulted in massive inflation on consumer products.  Less income, higher prices set the stage in the US (indeed the world) for a depression.

Soaring unemployment, massive strikes, and race riots took place in 1919 Washington, the USA, and indeed, the entire world. 

Consumer Price Index:   17.3%
First-class stamp:   $0.03
Unemployment: new low 6.9%
Ave. Family Income:  $1,125
Pound of Butter:  $0.64
One dozen eggs:  $0.55
Loaf of bread:  $0.10
Chewing Gum:  $0.05 pk.
Quart of milk:  $0.28
1Pound of Sugar:  $0.25
Pound of Bacon:  $0.34 
Lamb:  $0.33 per pound
Ham:  $0.39 per pound
Cleveland Six Roadster:  $1,385
Chandler 6 Touring Car:  $1,895
Bicycle:  $34.95-$45.00
Newspaper:  $0.02 daily edition
Movie Tickets: Day 0.10-20. Eve. 0.30

New this Year:  pogo stick, American Legion, dial telephone, gasoline tax, commercial airline service, blender, pop up toaster, silica gel., A&W Root Beer, IBC Root Beer, Mitsouko perfume, Aperol, Hostess Cup Cakes, Eight O’Clock Coffee, Bokar Coffee (at A&P), Red Circle Coffee, Bonax, Walnettos, Chevrolet Series FB, Austen 20, Fiat 501 & 505, Peugeot 159 & 163, Richardson 1919 Cyclecar.

America and WWI

The US declared war on Germany and the Central Powers on April 6, 1917.  However it took a year to gather, train and equip the army.  It was not until the spring of 1918 that American soldiers departed for France.  

The U.S. made its major contributions in terms of supplies, raw material and money, starting in 1917. American soldiers under General of the Armies John Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), arrived at the rate of 10,000 men a day on the Western Front in the summer of 1918. During the war the U.S. mobilized over 4 million military personnel and suffered 110,000 deaths, including around 45,000 who died due to the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak (30,000 before they even reached France).

On the battlefields of France in spring 1918, the war-weary Allied armies enthusiastically greeted the fresh American troops  at a time when the Germans were unable to replace their losses. The Americans won a victory at Cantigny, then again in defensive stands at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. The Americans helped the British Empire, French and Portuguese forces defeat and turn back the powerful final German offensive (Spring Offensive of March to July, 1918), and most importantly, the Americans played a role in the Allied final offensive (Hundred Days Offensive of August to November). However, many American commanders used the same flawed tactics which the British, French, Germans and others had abandoned early in the war.  Consequently many American offensives were not particularly effective. Pershing continued to commit troops to these full-frontal attacks, resulting in high casualties against experienced veteran German and Austrian-Hungarian units. Nevertheless, the infusion of fresh US troops greatly strengthened the Allies' strategic position and boosted morale.  The war ended on November 11, 1918. 


The Most Decorated Soldier of WWI was Sgt. Alvin York

Alvin Cullum York (December 13, 1887 – September 2, 1964), also known as Sergeant York, was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I.  He received the Medal of Honor, the highest of American Military Awards, for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking at least one machine gun, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers and capturing 132 others.  York's Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender.  He earned decorations from several allied countries during WWI, including France, Italy and Montenegro.



Captured German U-BoatIn the Spring 1915 this German U-Boat was captured off the east coast of England.  The Brits enjoyed displaying it on the Thames in London.  By October 1917 it was sent to the USA in sections where this sub was paraded in New York City at War Bond Rallies. Huge wrecking cranes transferred the sections to horse drawn trucks under the combined strength of 42 powerful heavy horses.


Captured German U-Boat was paraded in NYV to promote sale of US War Bonds

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 Wilson in Paris

Watching the Treaty of Versailles being signed.

Kaiser Wilhelm

Treaty of Versailles

Attorneys A. Owsley Stanley, left, and Wilton J. Lambert with Ziang Sung Wan at his murder trial in the District.

Haverford Cycles, Washington DC

Soldiers stop an African American resident of Washington during the summer of 1919.

Mobile Post Office Truck 1919 Washington

Street Car 1919 Washington

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