The 1910s are a decade hard to separate from the Great War. In the conflict, millions died, empires fell, and history was changed forever, but before it began (and even after it ended), the decade seemed determined to be remembered in infamy. Disasters, revolutions, and one of the deadliest pandemics in human history all served to make the second decade of the twentieth century a memorable one. Here are 7 historical events that took place in the 1910s.
The Mission to the South Pole (December 1911)
From 1909, as plans began to be formulated, a Norwegian exploration team led by Amundsen found themselves in a race with a British team led by Robert Falcon Scott. No one had ever reached the South Pole before, and both teams left their respective bases in June 1910: Scott’s Terra Nova departed from Cardiff, while Amundsen’s Fram departed from Oslo. Pulled by dog sleds, after a few false starts, Amundsen’s team reached the pole first, on 14th December 1911. The stricken Terra Nova team, largely on foot and unaware they had already been beaten, reached the pole a month later. Finding Amundsen’s flag, they fell into despair, and as temperatures plummeted, the five-man team tragically succumbed to the elements.
China becomes a Republic (February 1912)
Following the events of the Xinhai Revolution which started the previous October, the final imperial dynasty to rule China, the Qing was overthrown officially in February 1912. Like many dynasties before it, long rule had led to complacency, uprising, and eventual fall. But unlike centuries gone by, a new imperial family was not put in its place. Instead, China’s first Republic was set up in its place, with Sun Yat-sen a pivotal early figure. While early attempts were made by rivals to form a dictatorship, the Republic would last until 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong swept them aside and declared the new People’s Republic of China in its place. While it only lasted three decades, China’s revolution in 1912 was incredibly important to its history, ending as it did an ancient ruling system that had survived for well over 2000 years up to that point.
The sinking of the Titanic (April 1912)
The great unsinkable ocean liner, the largest in operation at the time, sank in the North Atlantic in the early hours of 15th April 1912. Traveling from Southampton, England, to New York City, on her maiden voyage with 2224 people on board, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. Two hours and forty minutes later, the ship was submerged, taking over 1500 souls with her to the bottom of the sea. Lifeboats were launched, but for some inexplicable reason, despite room for many more, the Titanic was fitted with only enough to carry half of the passengers to safety. Distress signals were sent and those lucky enough to be on a lifeboat had to paddle by the cries of freezing men and women in the water, for fear they would capsize the boats if let on board. To this date, the Titanic remains one of the most deadly peacetime maritime disasters in history.
The First World War (July 1914 to November 1918)
With tensions simmering in Europe and war seeming inevitable, the straw that broke the camel’s back proved to be the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28th June 1914. Within a month, large-scale battle with new destructive capabilities ravaged the continent. The Great War ultimately pitted the interests of the Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the aging Ottoman Empire, against the Allied Powers of Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and Serbia. As the war showed no signs of ending quickly, and much of the world was now involved in some capacity, American reinforcements arrived and helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies. By the time German Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and the armistice was signed on the 11th of November 1918, millions had been killed.
The Beginning of the Russian Revolution (1917)
The two revolutions of Russia took place on the first days of March (known as the February Revolution as the Julian calendar was used at the time) and November (called the October Revolution for the same reason). Tensions had been boiling for decades, with an uprising in 1905 placated by weak attempts at political reform and a state government that Tsar Nicholas II spent the next decade overruling at every opportunity. With anti-monarchist sentiment at its highest, and the mounting bodies of Russian men on the Western Front, the people revolted. A triggering factor was the murder of Rasputin on the 30th December 1916, which undermined the imperial family, and the Tsar was not strong enough to guide the country back from the brink. Nicholas signed the abdication papers and 300 years of Romanov autocratic rule came to an end. In July 1918, Nicholas and his family would be executed to remove any chance of a return to the old regime.
The Spanish Flu pandemic (March 1918 to April 1920)
After the devastation of the First World War, the intermingling of people in terrible conditions across the globe led to one of the most prolific pandemics in human history. Known as “the Spanish Flu” to contemporary historians, despite not originating in Spain, the H1N1 influenza virus was first reported in the USA in March 1918, spreading through Western Europe in the following weeks, and in two years, killing as many as 50 million people worldwide. The timing couldn’t have been worse, with many of those infected already malnourished, crowded in medical camps, and practicing hygiene appalling by today’s standards. It came in four waves, finally ebbing out in severity by Spring 1920 when immune systems had picked up and post-war health conditions and treatments had improved.
The Treaty of Versailles (June 1919)
Exactly five years to the day after Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, kick-starting the terrible First World War, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end it officially. The armistice from six months prior was followed by intense Allied negotiations, as the spoils of war, and beneficial terms across the winning powers were drawn up and confirmed. Article 231, known as the “War Guilt Clause”, levied harsh financial penalties on Germany, and many historians believe this made a big impact on what followed. The treaty made the Germans resentful of Europe but did nothing to weaken them, leading to the rise of the Nazi party and another World War in 1939.
If you enjoyed this article on the 1910s, you should check out our Centuries Articles!