By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham
Another year has passed, and with that more lists discussing the most important people/events of 2014 will soon be appearing on websites, in magazines, and on personal blogs. For us, however, we will once again be using historical hindsight to discuss, and debate, the most important/influential events of 100 years ago. We have identified the major events and placed them in a ‘March Madness’ style bracket. This year’s regions are: Transportation, International, Cultural Affairs, and Potpourri.
Readers will immediately notice that there is nothing about the First World War in the bracket. Before you start writing us angry e-mails, comments, and Tweets, a brief disclaimer is necessary. We omitted events of the First World War for two reasons. First, there is a wealth of excellent scholarship that has been written about the Great War to commemorate the centennial of this horrific conflict. Second, an event from the War would have won the bracket without any competition. Therefore, we decided to focus on other events from 1914 that may not be as familiar.
With this in mind, we selected what we think are the sixteen most important people/events from 1914 and pitted them against one another. Below is how our bracket turned out.
We hope you enjoy the Second Annual(?) Year in Review (100 Years Later) Bracket! If you disagree with our decisions and have an idea for a more important event, be sure to join the conversation!
Sweet Sixteen (Seeds in Bracket)
(1) First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion v. (4) Oxymorphone Developed
Aaron: Donating blood saves lives. Blood donations have helped countless numbers of people, and continue to do so to this day. Before 1914, blood transfusions had to be made directly from donor to receiver. However, on 27 March 1914, Belgian doctor Albert Hustin performed the first non-direct blood transfusion. It was discovered that by adding an anti-coagulant and refrigerating blood, it is possible to store donations for longer periods, which eventually led to the first blood banks and the ability to perform non-direct transfusions. Without this discovery and the first successful transfusion, we may still be relying on sitting next to the person we’re donating to while a thin tube connects us. I have donated blood on many occasions, but I don’t think I’d feel as comfortable carrying on a conversation with a (potential) stranger as my blood passes from my veins to theirs…
But what would the world be like without painkillers? It would sure make surgeries and stubbed toes more annoying…not that I take painkillers for stubbed toes… In 1914 the analgesic Oxymorphone was first synthesized in Germany. It is used to relieve moderate to severe pain, which following invasive procedures is generally preferred. It is still in use today, and is on Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of Canada.
While painkillers are likely used more, the fact that we can take blood donations and preserve them for longer periods is an amazing feat. By adding anti-coagulants non-direct blood transfusions are possible and continue to save lives around the world.
Sean: If painkillers weren’t such a disastrous force in so many people’s, I could champion how useful they are (I loved the pills they gave me after I had my wisdom teeth out), but for how addictive they can be and how dependency can ruin lives, it’s hard to put them ahead of revolutionizing blood transfusions. That’s not to say that, on the whole, painkillers are bad, but they seem to have more of a downside than blood transfusions.
And, after all, blood, it’s in you to de-coagulate.
First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion Wins (97-73)
(2) United States Congress passes law designating second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day v. (3) Canada’s Finance Act passed
Sean: We all love Mother’s Day – it’s a chance to honour the most important women in our lives and, perhaps more importantly, it gave us this. There have been versions of Mother’s Day for hundreds of years, but the American government’s decision to formalize the day in 1914 has led to Mother’s Day as we know it today. The decision was the final product of Anna Jarvis deciding to honour her late mother on May 9, 1905 and, despite the earlier work of many Protestant organizations, claiming that she had created the holiday. Regardless of its exact origins, however, Mother’s Day has become a major staple of North American life.
On the other hand, the 1914 Finance Act is sneaky important in one critical aspect: it ended the Gold Standard. Granted this was an emergency measure associated with the onset of the First World War, but it set a precedent whereby the government could now issue more currency than it had gold to back. In 1926 the Gold Standard was reinstated, but by the 1930s it was relegated to history. Apart from the Gold Standard, the Act also provided the Department of Finance with new powers – which may be scary if you know some Finance employees – and altered the manner in which banks provided loans. But ultimately, the loss of the Gold Standard remains the Act’s principal legacy.
I wonder if either of these formal declarations ultimately made much of a difference though. There were already informal celebrations of mothers in the spring and by the 1930s the re-implemented Gold Standard was gone (although the 1914 precedent may have made that easier). I think my vote is for Mother’s Day though, if for no other reason than it’s a tangible product of the period. Sure the Gold Standard may have an impact on my finances, but that implies that I have finances and I’ve been a grad student for the past 7 years so, you know.
Aaron: I’m going to agree with your conclusion. In terms of long-term impact of formalizing Mother’s Day is better known and appreciated. The elimination of the Gold Standard was certainly important and it impacted global economics; but we don’t have a day celebrating the Finance Act, whereas we have a day to celebrate mothers everywhere. And I feel ya on the lack of finances.
Mother’s Day Wins (109-48)
Cultural Affairs Region
(2) Babe Ruth makes his Major League debut v. (3) Joe DiMaggio born
Sean: Baseball!! Thanks James! I love baseball – it was the subject of one of my favourite episodes of the History Slam podcast. Joe DiMaggio is arguably the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. He has a career OPS of .977 – which is really, really good. He also holds what is considered to be the most unassailable record in sports with his 59 game hitting streak – a streak which is so amazing that Major League Baseball offers a $1 million prize to fans who can correctly pick a different player each day who gets a hit for 56 days. It’s madness. Oh, and he has a great song, married Marilyn Monroe, and dunked.
On July 11, 1914, a young George Herman Ruth stepped to the mound for the Boston Red Sox as they played the Cleveland Naps. Babe Ruth became one of the best hitters of all time, as his record of 714 home runs was one of the sport’s most hallowed – even if he was a short little man who wasn’t actually a sultan. Although he pretty much stopped pitching after he was sold to the New Yankees in 1920 – which led to the famed ‘Curse of the Bambino’ – he was good when he did, sporting a career 2.28 career ERA. He was also the first great Yankee – Yankee Stadium was often referred to as the house that Ruth built – and started the somewhat obnoxious tradition of Yankee lore. For everyone who is not a Yankee fan it’s quite annoying, but his impact on the sport and on popular culture in general was immense.
Aaron: Baseball? Really? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the Blue Jays on a summer’s eve, but as far as sports go, it comes in third after hockey and football. As for the subject at hand, we’re dealing with two icons of baseball and both are worthy of advancement. I don’t know much about either’s playing record, but I know enough about the sport to be more impressed with DiMaggio’s stats than Babe Ruth’s. However, Babe Ruth will always hold a special place thanks to the amazing baseball film, The Sandlot
Sean: You are so wrong about baseball – at least they’ll still be playing it in 50 years. Not so much for the football (brain injuries) and the hockey (global warming) – plus it gives us stuff like this. And you’re wrong about DiMaggio v. Ruth – granted it’s one of those things where I’ll gladly take the second pick, but Ruth set the stage for people like DiMaggio. His presence and influence allowed the Yankee Clipper to take his place in Yankee lore. In that respect, it’s got to be Ruth.
Babe Ruth wins (88-87 OT)
(1) American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers founded v. (4) Charlie Chaplin debuts The Tramp
Aaron: When someone mentions the name Charlie Chaplin, you immediately think of his loveable and iconic character, The Tramp. Well, Chaplin first introduced this character to the world on 7 February 1914 in the short film Kid Auto Races at Venice – although the first film to feature The Tramp was Mabel’s Strange Predicament, which was shot a few days before Kid Auto Races, but was released two days later. During the era of silent films, The Tramp became an international symbol and one that united audiences of all languages and cultures. What probably makes the character more iconic is the fact that Chaplin refused to make a film with The Tramp once “talkies” took over. There have been many memorable characters in film history over the years, but the fact that The Tramp is still universally recognizable one hundred years later makes this an important event to remember.
We’re all familiar now with copyright and the protection of artists’ works – make your own Napster reference here. The origins of protecting music copyright dates back to February 1914 with the creation the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). The purpose of ASCAP is to protect artists’ works by monitoring public performances of their music, and it continues to operate in 2014. Since downloading music is such a common practice today and the need to protect copyright remains, ASCAP is still a relevant organization.
It should come as no surprise that I think The Tramp’s debut should move on in the bracket for the simple reason that the character is so popular and iconic a century later.
Sean: Don’t get me wrong, I love Charlie Chaplin. In all my courses about popular culture, showing clips of The Tramp is always a highlight. But I’m not so sure he has the same lasting influence as ASCAP. Certainly Charlie Chaplin greatly influenced many of today’s comedians, but in the past 20 years ASCAP has heavily influenced the way in which we consume music. As Aaron rightly alludes to, Napster was a thing, torrents remain a thing, and yet because of it (and other organization’s efforts) people want to consume music legally. I would argue that iTunes is as successful as it is because of groups like ASCAP. In a time when we’re trying to figure out how to navigate an increasingly digital world, organizations like ASCAP play a central role.
Aaron: Yes, because everyone downloads episodes of The History Slam legally… If you were to ask people on the street what is more important, The Tramp or copyright protection, I think nine of ten will say Charlie Chaplin’s character. The sheer fact that you use him in every course about popular culture and it remains a fan favourite is justification enough.
Charlie Chaplin wins (66-61)
(1) Panama Canal Opens v. (4) Marcus Garvey founds Universal Negro Improvement Association
What would the world of global shipping be like without the Panama Canal? Before the Canal was opened on 15 August 1914, ships traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans (and vice versa) had to sail around the extremely hazardous Cape Horn of South America. Not only was the shipping route hazardous, it was also very, very long. Construction on the Canal commenced in 1881 by France, but after more than twenty years of gruelling work and thousands of deaths due to malaria, the United States took over the project in 1904 and completed it a decade later. Since its opening the number of ships that pass through has continued to grow, linking more and more communities together to increase global economics. Also, these ships can now pass from one Ocean to the other in only eight hours! The Panama Canal was a massive engineering undertaking and is a crucial part of our modern global economy. Random tidbit: the first consideration for a cross-continental canal in Central America was planned in Nicaragua, which, if you look at a map, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Thankfully better minds prevailed and Panama was selected instead.
Certainly many people know about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of the 1960s, in which black Americans were able to shake off the long-standing Jim Crow Laws that had plagued American society since the 1880s. Yet many people are probably not familiar with the name Marcus Garvey. Garvey was born in Jamaica in 1887 and throughout his life played a prominent role in the Black Nationalism and Pan-African movements of the early twentieth century. In 1914, Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) with the intention of uniting all peoples of African descent and fixing the damages of the African diaspora of preceding centuries. This strong black nationalist movement would later influence other movements, especially in the United States where Garvey promoted the UNIA-ACL until his deportation from the US in 1927.
Garvey’s actions to bring attention to the African diaspora were no doubt essential, but in terms of long-term effectiveness and impact I have to throw my support behind the opening of the Panama Canal. I think it’s amazing that engineers were able to dig a 77-km long canal across the country to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It has most certainly had a major impact on global development and will continue to play an important role as long as ships sail the oceans.
Sean: Marcus Garvey is arguably the most interesting figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but I agree that the Panama Canal is more influential. Oh, and does it go “Hot shoe, burnin’ down the avenue?”
Panama Canal Wins (69-66)
(2) Nigeria becomes one country with merging of Northern and Southern colonies v. (3) Indian Relief Act passed in South Africa
Sean: The history of Nigeria, like a lot of former British colonies, is rather complex in terms of its administration. After it came under the British sphere of influence in 1885 and became a British protectorate in 1901, the country was separated into northern and southern colonies. In 1914, the British formally united the area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, which also included the Lagos colony. While independence was another 56 years away, the country’s geographic boundaries had largely been settled.
The Indian Relief Act of 1914 abolished the £3 tax imposed on Indians who had not renewed their indentures while also recognizing the validity of customary Indian marriages. The Act was heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the series of protests he organized through the early part of the decade protesting the treatment of Indian people in the country. One of the concessions he made in the negotiations, however, was to leave the country for good – a welcome development to South African officials who had become weary of his efforts.
Which of these two has a greater legacy? I’m not entirely sure. Nigeria still exists, but with independence, a civil war, and democratization it has gone through many changes. The Indian Relief Act was a sign of progress in the battle against racial discrimination in South Africa, but it would be a long time before the Apartheid system finally came to an end. As a tie-breaker I would have to say that the inclusion of Gandhi – and the Act’s contribution to his legacy – puts the Indian Relief Act over the top.
Aaron: This one is tough. Taking steps to end racial discrimination is essential to the well being of a modern society, and the Indian Relief Act surely fits this bill. But I think the union of the northern and southern Nigerian colonies into one unified state should move on. African history is full of negative European influence, and this seems like one that might not have been so terrible…at least not in 1914. I also think you picked the Indian Relief Act solely because of your support for Gandhi, as seen in last year’s bracket.
Sean: It’s extremely true that I have a soft spot for Gandhi – although it’s not like I want him to dip his bald head in oil or anything. I just think when we’re talking about legacy the effort to chip away at the racial social structures of South Africa are more lasting than the unification of Nigeria.
Indian Relief Act wins (59-56)
(2) Ford Introduces the 8-hour work day v. (3) Cleveland Installs First Electric Traffic Light
Aaron: Red traffic lights. You gotta love and hate them. While annoying because they impede your progress, it gives you a moment to change radio stations, take a sip of your coffee, or even make eye contact with a passenger. Traffic lights are, of course, so common and so universal that they literally control our lives. They have actually been around since the mid-nineteenth century, but the first electric traffic light was installed in Cleveland, Ohio, on 5 August 1914. Instead of the common three lights – red, yellow, green – there were only two, just green and red. There was also a buzzer that provided a warning about the imminent colour change – I wonder how annoying that sound was… Electric lights then spread across the United States and eventually across the world. We may hate them at times, but could you imagine what our city streets would be like without them?
In the history of labour, arguably the most important event was the switch to the eight-hour work day and forty-hour work week. Before, people were expected to work as many as 12 or even 14 hours a day! No thank you! Yet by the early twentieth century several companies had made the shift to a regulated eight-hour day. One of the most influential was the Ford Motor Company. On 5 January 1914, Ford made a radical change by doubling wages to $5/day and cutting shifts from nine to eight hours. Rivals were not impressed by this move, yet they could not argue with the results. Productivity and profits both increased, which led to competitors following suit soon thereafter.
Traffic lights have ensured that anarchy does not rule the road, but the eight-hour work day has arguably had a more important impact on our society in the hundred years since it was introduced. But next time you’re belting out a tune at the red light, be thankful there is no buzzer interrupting your shining moment.
Sean: I agree – the eight-hour work day was revolutionary – although I wonder how long before the 7.5-hour day is officially recognized as the standard – man, we’re getting lazy. Plus, traffic lights had already been in use and it’s not like people obey them now anyway.
Eight-hour work day wins (100-88)
(1) World’s First Airline, St. Petersburg Airboat Line, founded v. (4) Last Passenger Pigeon Dies
Sean: Those who remember last year’s bracket will note that I hate flying, but love aviation. The thought that we can fly anywhere in the world within 24 hours is bananas. And that we have been dealing with airlines for only 100 years now is remarkable. Think of how dependent we seem to be on the airline industry – if an airport in a major city shuts down for even a day the damage can be in the billions. The St. Petersburg Airboat Line started this tradition with regular flights between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. At the time a typical flight took about 23 minutes, thus cutting off anywhere from 2 to 10 hours from the train and 90 minutes from a nautical voyage.
For as much as I love aviation, the passenger pigeon is an interesting story. Once considered the most abundant bird in North America, it became extinct in 1914 following years of extensive hunting and destruction of its habitat. The stories of the flocks of passenger pigeons in the 19th century are legendary – reports of flocks so large that they took 14 hours to pass, thus blocking out the sun for a full day in some communities. And by 1914 all that was left was Martha, a female passenger pigeon at the Cincinnati Zoo. While it’s sad the way Martha went out, (although wouldn’t it be at least somewhat cool to be the sole survivor of a species?) ultimately the passenger pigeon didn’t have tray tables and couldn’t lose your luggage, so I think the choice is clear.
Aaron: Once again I agree with your summation. Flights are so common and so necessary that I don’t think we can even imagine a world without them. I can only imagine how gruelling that 23 minute flight from Tampa to St. Petersburg must have been!
As for the passenger pigeon, how do you know that it didn’t offer tray tables and reclining seats for smaller birds?
World’s First Airline Wins (87-69)
(1) First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion v. (2) United States Congress passes law designating second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day
Aaron: Without the ability to preserve blood donations thanks to anti-coagulants we wouldn’t have as many mothers in the world to celebrate on the second Sunday in May. Thus, the first successful non-direct blood transfusion takes this round, in my humble opinion.
Sean: I’m not sure I care for your plea to emotion or the counter-factual nature of the argument. Look, blood transfusions are tremendous, but they don’t raise you. Or bake cookies. Or make you feel better when you’re sick. I find your complete dismissal of mothers somewhat off-putting. That’s it, I’m calling your mother.
Aaron: Without blood transfusions there might not be a woman to raise you. Or bake cookies. Or make you feel better when you’re sick. Or to get angry when you don’t tell them about your doctoral defense. (PS: Please don’t call my Mommy…)
Blood Transfusion wins (99-84)
Cultural Affairs Region
(2) Babe Ruth makes his Major League debut v. (4) Charlie Chaplin debuts The Tramp
Sean: I am so in the tank for Babe Ruth on this one. Not only is he one of the greatest players ever, but the stories that surround his career are legendary. He called his shot in Chicago. Hit home runs because of beer and hot dogs. Hit his first home run in Canada. Just read the stories that were printed in newspapers in each city as he traveled around the league. Sure, the lionization of our sports figures is over the top at times, but it’s much worse in the entertainment industry. Our athletes can inspire us to go beyond the ordinary and challenge ourselves to reach new heights – actors have us get fat eating popcorn and drinking soda.
Aaron: You must be tanked to go all in for Babe Ruth over The Tramp. Outside of North America Babe Ruth is basically unknown. The Tramp, however, is a universally recognized character that transcended different cultures. Baseball is popular in only a handful of regions of the world – especially in the United States – whereas movies are popular all over the world. I’m sure Babe Ruth influenced many kids to pick up a bat, but Chaplin’s reach would be much wider. And while we’re on the subject of weight, I’m pretty sure some athletes are not in top physical condition. One guy from the Texas Rangers and another from the Tampa Bay Rays come to mind.
Sean: I think you’re discounting the international popularity of baseball. Ruth was a major star in Asia and the Caribbean in addition to his stature in North America. Plus, look at the longevity. Ruth is much better known today than is Chaplin. There are no legendary stories about Chaplin in the same way as there are about Ruth. In talking about transcendent stars, I think it has to be Ruth.
Aaron: That’s it! We’re flipping a coin.
Babe Ruth wins (119-118 3OT)
(1) Panama Canal Opens v. (3) Indian Relief Act passed in South Africa
Aaron: To me this one is a no brainer. The Panama Canal has had a much larger impact on human history since its opening in 1914 than the Indian Relief Act. If the Panama Canal had been abandoned by the Americans like the French had before then we’d be having more of a debate. I predict a BIG win here.
Sean: I don’t know if it should be a big win, but I agree that the canal should move on. While it is likely debatable, the international ramifications of the canal are greater and the economic benefits immense.
Panama Canal wins (77-66)
(2) Ford Introduces the 8-hour work day v. (1) World’s First Airline, St. Petersburg Airboat Line, founded
Sean: Have you ever flown across the country? Yes – well that trumps all else.
Aaron: Actually, I haven’t, so… But if you can fly across the country in 23 minutes like they did from Tampa to St. Petes I’d be impressed. Since you can’t, working only 8 hour days is more important.
Sean: Only? 8 hours is still a third of a day. If Ford really wanted to get revolutionary he would have made it a 5-hour work day. Or better yet, he would have given people money for not doing any work – or as it’s known in Ottawa, being a public servant.
Aaron: This coming from the guy who has not put in a proper 8-hour day in his life?
Sean: Yup. Thanks Ford.
8-hour work day wins (72-70)
Transportation Region Winner (2) Ford Introduces the 8-hour work day v. Potpourri Region Winner (1) First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion
Aaron: I really appreciate that we only have to work an 8-hour day; although I think it’s more appropriate that I say I will appreciate only working 8 hours once I find a real job post-PhD. But if I had to choose between working a 12+hour day versus dying due to a blood disorder because we didn’t know about anti-coagulants, I’d pick living every time. Non-direct blood transfusions have indeed revolutionized our world and our ability to take care of one another. The 8-hour work day, although a great step forward, is still too many hours to be spent at work in a day.
Sean: You think you’re finding a post-PhD job? That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. Although I agree that being alive is pretty swell.
Aaron: A man can dream, can’t he? #keepreachingforthosestars
Blood Transfusion wins (54-47)
Cultural Affairs Region Winner (2) Babe Ruth makes his Major League debut v. International Region Winner (1) Panama Canal Opens
Sean: How many workers were killed during construction of the Panama Canal? Approximately 5,600. How many fans were killed by Babe Ruth home run balls? Approximately less than 1. Fact! From a humanitarian perspective alone the vote has got to be for Ruth. You might look at this and say that I’m grasping for straws, but let’s be honest, the Panama Canal is much more of an economic development whereas Ruth is cultural. Given my predisposition for culture, I’m going with Ruth.
Aaron: Number of ships actively navigated between the Atlantic and the Pacific by Babe Ruth? Approximately less than 1. Number of ships that have used the Panama Canal? Considerably more than 1. I appreciate the straw grasping, but global economics is more important than a “Sultan” swinging the bat.
Sean: This makes me sad.
Panama Canal Wins (50-47)
Enrico Palazzo Championship Game
Panama Canal Opens v. First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion
Sean: This is a tough one – you could argue for either one having a greater impact of people’s lives around the world, just in extremely different ways. That being said, the Panama Canal may have a greater legacy than transforming the way we do blood transfusions. Medical science is constantly evolving, so the means through which we take blood from one person and put it into another will change. But the Panama Canal is more permanent. It provides a vital transportation link that is more likely to stay the same than blood transfusions.
Aaron: I agree that this one is tough; arguably tougher than last year, especially since we’ve got two #1 seeds. But my vote is for blood transfusions. I’m going to re-hash an old argument: without blood transfusions you don’t have as many people around to use the Panama Canal.
Sean: But the Canal is a marvel of engineering and a product of capitalism. In this country, medicine is socialized. So really what we have here is socialism v. capitalism. So that’s where you want to go, comrade?
Aaron: So making money is more important than saving lives?
Sean: Just ask Kevin O’Leary.
Aaron: ‘Nuff said.
Blood Transfusions Win (49-41)
Aaron Boyes is a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa who is currently working on his dissertation about the importance of ideas in the political union movement in Canada and the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. He previously completed his MA in history at the University of Ottawa and his BA at Trent University in Peterborough.
Sean Graham has a PhD? In history? From the University of Ottawa? His dissertation examined the early years of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation? He is also the host of the History Slam Podcast?