What a Difference a Century Makes:  1918

By:  M. Callahan

American Soldiers returning from the Battle of Saint-Mihiel 1918 US Population:  104,550,000

President: Woodrow Wilson
Vice President:
Thomas R. Marshall
Sect. of State:
  Robert Lansing
Virginia Governor: 
Henry Carter Stuart
Chief Justice Supreme Court:
  Edward Douglass White
Speaker of the House: 
Champ Clark (D-Missouri)
VA Senators:
  Charles A. Swanson & Thomas Martin

Leonard Bernstein, Ted Williams, Betty Ford, Richard Winters USA, Howard Cosell , Bobby Riggs,  Sam Walton, Pearl Bailey, George Fortunato, Nelson Mandela, Ray Charles,  Spiro Agnew.

Joyce Kilmer,  John L. Sullivan,  César Ritz,  Quentin Roosevelt

The American Expeditionary Force arrived in France in June 1917 joining Allied Forces in many major battles.  Many allies (then and now) criticized America for waiting so long to show-up.  Americans (then and now) believed this war was a tragic and unnecessary carnage that could have been averted if diplomatic judgement had been employed and the enormous clash of political egos were held in check.  The war saw massive shifts in geographic borders, creation of new nations and new political systems.  It also ended three empires—Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian and removed the Kaiser from power in Germany.  Unfortunately, the peace treaty signed a few years later was so harsh in demands, especially unreachable monetary demands made on Germany, that the Second World War was inevitable.  

America entering the war brought 2,000,000 troops, an abundance of supplies, food, and advanced weaponry such as the Browning machine gun, flamethrowers, better tanks and aircraft, submarines & torpedoes. Field artillery delivered larger shells over longer distances.  In spite of these technical leaps, the Allied General Staff of European Nations, tucked-up in the comfort of their chateaux accommodations and far from the front, directed battle using archaic tactics which created millions of unnecessary deaths. 

American troops were in combat theatres from June 1917 to November 1918. These new troops gave the allies the much needed fresh soldiers and supplies required and a command strategy that brought battles to a quicker resolve.

MAJOR EVENTS: Between 1914 and 1918, some 3 million people were added to the military and half a million to the government.

Typical Wages
Bricklayers, 1.25/hour
Laborers, 5.50/8 hour day
Laundress, 3.00/day
Men’s suits pressed, .50/each
Telephone operator, 14.00/week
Tutoring, 2.00/hour

Cost of Average Automobile
Chandler, touring, 1,895.00
Cleveland Six, touring, 1,435.00
Overland, touring, 1,035.00

Typical Wages
Bricklayers, 1.25/hour
Laborers, 5.50/8 hour day
Laundress, 3.00/day
Men’s suits pressed, .50/each
Telephone operator, 14.00/week
Tutoring, 2.00/hour

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

World Series:  Boston Red Sox defeat the Chicago Cubs 4-2
Stanley Cup:  Toronto Arenas 
Kentucky Derby Champion:   Exterminator
NCAA Football Champions:  Michigan and Pittsburgh  

PhysicsMax Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck
ChemistryFritz Haber
Medicine, Literature & Peace – not awarded

Charlie Chaplin in "A Dog's Life."

Russia: 9,150,000
Germany: 7,143,000
Austria-Hungary: 7,000,000
France, 6,161,000
Britain & Commonwealth: 3,190,000
Italy: 2,197,000
Turkey (Ottoman Empire): 975,000
Romania: 536,000
Serbia: 331,000
USA: 323,000
Bulgaria: 267,000

Wounded /Crippled
20, 000,000

Displaced Refugees


Civilian Casualties
Incalculable, but thought to be in excess of 9,000,000 

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. However, papers were free to report the epidemic's effects in neutral Spain giving the impression that Spain was the epicenter of the flu.

The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 100 million people around the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and resulted in the deaths of 50 (three to five percent of the world's population), making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. A considerable spike occurred at the time of the pandemic, specifically the year 1918. Life expectancy in the United States alone dropped by about 12 years. Even small remote towns who quarantined themselves from the outside public found the virus invading, often from the postman.  Patient zero was most likely a soldier (s) from Fort Riley, Kansas.   Soldiers  from this Fort were among the thousands crowded onto troop ships, infecting others and still more in France from worldwide armies.

Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly, or already weakened patients; in contrast, the 1918 pandemic predominantly killed previously healthy young adults.  Current research shows that this influenza was not particularly more dangerous than those of the past but due to overcrowded medical camps, hospitals, war rallies, troop ships, poor hygiene, and malnutrition, it promoted bacterial super-infection that killed most of the victims. 

The second wave of the 1918 pandemic was much deadlier than the first especially in the month of October. The first wave had resembled typical flu epidemics; those most at risk were the sick and elderly, while younger, healthier people recovered easily. But in August, when the second wave began in France, Sierra Leone and the United States, the virus had mutated to a much deadlier form.  Civilians and public servants alike began to wear masks whenever outdoors or at public gatherings.  Unfortunately, the flu is caused by a virus (yet invisible to the human eye as this way prior to the development of the electron microscope) but the masked did absolutely nothing to prevent contracting the flu.

The death toll of this second wave was at an infection rate of up to 50%.  It killed up to 20% of those infected as opposed to the usual flu mortality rate of 0.1%.

Patients presented with such unusual symptoms that typhoid, cholera, and dengue fever were often misdiagnosed.  Hemorrhages from the mucous membranes, and bleeding ears were common with deaths occurring most often from bacterial pneumonia but, the virus also killed people directly, by causing massive hemorrhages and edema in the lung. Many death certificates identify pneumonia as the cause of death but not the underling cause being influenza.  Consequently, it may never be possible to pinpoint the true death rate from this epidemic.  (2) 

Flu wards were established at both civilian and military hospitals throughout the Washington area.  Many War Bond Rallies had been held along Pennsylvania Avenue and in nearby towns such as Alexandria and Maryland.  Due to the rapid transmission of this flu, they were cancelled along with other public gatherings such as parades, sporting & entertainment events, and mandatory closing of churches  and schools.

“The greatest medical holocaust in history" and may have killed more people than the Black Death.It is said that this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS killed in 24 years, and more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century.” (3)

In the US, the highest mortality month from this pandemic was October 1918.  Starting in November, deaths dropped dramatically and tapered off thereafter.  It was thought that the most vulnerable of the population had either died or contracted the flu, recovered, and were thus immune to reinfection by this strain.

Estimates of Deaths:
50+ million worldwide
25 million died in the first 24 weeks alone.

(2)  Wikipedia, American Red Cross
(3) Pankhurst, Richard (1991). An Introduction to the Medical History of Ethiopia. Trenton: Red Sea Press.  
Photographs from Library of Congress, Imperial War Museum, Library of Virginia, US Army Official Photos, Wikipedia, & Private Photographic Archives.

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US Marines route the Germans at the Battle of Belleau WoodsGen. John (Black Jack) Pershing, USA

Baron Manfred Von Richthofen German Air Ace known as The Red Baron

The Russian Roayal Family who were executed in 1918.

	The public started to take precautions to prevent transmission of the virusPublic masked themselves tring to avoid the fluPractice at Wash. DC Red Cross Dressing Station for transport of Flu Victims

American Red Cross at Jackson Place, DC wrapping bandages

American Red Cross with Children Volunteers at White House 1918

Spanish Flu Ward at Walter Reed Army Hospital

	Flu wards were often set-up in athletic or other public facilities

Pennsylvania Ave. in 1918 was the site of many protest, war bond parades, and victory marches

Pictures are from Wikipedia and the Library of Congress, Private Collections, and the Imperial War Museum.


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