By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham
You know what they say about decades – in like a lamb, out like a lion. 2019 has been, at times, a slog. From a remarkably contentious federal election campaign, to impeachment, to climate change, to violence, consuming news this year has rarely left us with an overwhelming feeling of optimism. That’s why stories like the $100,000 art banana have been so welcome for their seemingly random absurdity. Perhaps we are too invested in current events to see the forest for the trees, however, and with time maybe 2019 will look a lot better that it does as we reflect today. Only with time and distance can we truly assess a year.
It’s that idea that inspired the Year in Review (100 Years Later) posts when we started them back in 2013. Through the sober lens of time, we looked back and through a March Madness-style bracket determined the most important event of 1913. Despite some changes to the format, that model has stayed in place and this year will take us through 1919.
Even though the First World War (at least Canada’s participation) ended in 1918, our rule prohibiting First World War events from the bracket (because they were so well covered by the Canada’s First World War series) will apply to the Paris Peace Conference, Treaty of Versailles, and League of Nations. Our rule preventing repeat winners means that events related to suffrage around the world have also not been included. (Past brackets: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Even using that crutch to eliminate events, this year was extremely difficult to determine the 16 things that would be included. 1919 was so influential that paring the list down was just as hard as determining a winner. We were able to do it, though, and divided the 16 entries into 4 brackets: Conflict, Foundational, Diplomacy, and, of course, Potpourri. And while we recognize that not everyone will agree with our selections, we hope that you enjoy this year’s bracket in the lighthearted spirit in which it was written.
1) Fascist Party Formed by Benito Mussolini
4) Marcus Garvey Incorporates the Black Star Line
Sean: Just because we don’t talk about First World War topics as part of these retrospectives doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to some of the major players in the Second World War. In March 1919, Benito Mussolini, who had fought in the war, established the national Fasci di Combattimento, a name which came from 19th century fighting bands of peasant revolutionaries. Commonly known as the Fascist Party, the group promoted Italian nationalism and launched a campaign of intimidation against its opponents on the left. Over the next 6 years, Mussolini’s popularity grew as the Party coerced Italians into publicly supporting its leader. In January, 1925, with the help of his brutal police force, a Fascist state was declared with Mussolini as leader. Despite his hopes of renegotiating treaties with Italy’s former Western allies, Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia eliminated any possibility of that, so a year later he aligned with Hitler in supporting Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War, a conflict which further set the stage for the Second World War.
An endlessly fascinating figure, in 1919 Marcus Garvey incorporated the Black Star Line. Around this time, Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association was growing, both in membership and commercial activity, and he hoped that the Black Star Line would accelerate its expansion and contribute to Garvey’s Back to Africa movement. Modeled on the successful White Star Line, the Black Star Line purchased the SS Yarmouth, a First World War coal ship, and rechristened it the SS Frederick Douglass. The first of four ships, the SS Frederick Douglass sailed between the United States and the West Indies. With its all-black crew and captain, the ship surprised critics who believed that the company was doomed from the start.
Unfortunately for the Black Star Line, however, the ships it purchased were in poor condition and were oversold. At the same time, the FBI investigated accusations of mismanagement within the organization. While there were some legitimate management issues – it famously sailed the ‘cruise to nowhere’ on the Hudson River – one FBI agent, James Wormley Jones, allegedly sabotaged the company by contaminating the fuel. Beset by these problems, the Black Star Line ceased operations in February 1922, with its estimated losses between $630,000 and $1.25 million.
In this matchup, I have to go with the founding of the Fascist Party. Marcus Garvey was an incredibly influential figure during this period – this is not his first appearance on one of our brackets – but the Black Star Line did not have the same long-term influence as the Fascist Party. Not only did Mussolini terrorize the Italian people for the better part of the interwar period, but he was also a major player during the Second World War, a position which resulted from the founding of the Fascist Party in 1919.
Aaron: It’s tough to disagree on this one given how influential the Fascist Party was and, unfortunately, continues to be.
Fascist Party Formed by Benito Mussolini Wins (97-48)
2) Gandhi Announces Resistance Against Rowlatt Act
3) American Legion incorporated
Aaron: The history of British India is fascinating, if at times unsettling. The British ruled India from 1858 until 1947 when it became a Dominion, and finally a republic in 1950. During this time, the British did all they could to maintain their imperial control over the Indian subcontinent, which resulted in oppressive policies. One such policy was the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, also known as the Rowlatt Act.
During the First World War, the Governor-General of India enacted the Defence of India Act 1915, which sought to curtail nationalist and revolutionary activities. The Act provided a wide array of discretionary powers to the Executive – i.e., the British – including arresting and detaining anyone without trial, as well as restricting freedom of speech and movement. When the 1915 Act was set to expire, the Rowlatt Commission – named after its chairman, Sidney Arthur Taylor Rowlatt – was appointed to review the revolutionary situation in India and make recommendations. The result was the Rowlatt Act, which indefinitely extended the 1915 Act. Not surprisingly, the act was extremely unpopular among the people of India. In response to the Rowlatt Act, Mahatma Gandhi, after issuing a warning to the Viceroy of India, led the people of India in acts of civil disobedience in protest. Gandhi’s well-known edict of non-violence was once again utilized as protests erupted in India. In April 1919, Gandhi was arrested, which led to more riots, which resulted in British troops firing on a crowd (see the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre). Despite these actions, Gandhi maintained his stance of non-violent resistance, and his leadership during the opposition to the Rowlatt Act was influential in ending the rioting that had consumed the country.
The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was established in July 1917 following the United States’ entry into the First World War. In time, approximately two million men served in the AEF on the western front; approximately 320,000 were casualties, including 53,402 battle deaths and 204,000 wounded. In March 1919, following the end of the war, thousands of officers convened in Paris and created the first American Legion caucus – the name “The American Legion” was officially adopted in May 1919 and chartered by the US Congress in September, 1919. In November the Legion voted to establish its headquarters in Indianapolis. In its hundred-year existence, the Legion has become one of the most influential non-profit organizations in the US and is active in the promotion of the well-being of American veterans. The Legion was instrumental in the drafting and passage of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly called the G.I. Bill, which provided a range of benefits to veterans in the aftermath of the Second World War. Its membership included many notable figures from ten US Presidents, famed military commanders, and prominent celebrities like Humphrey Bogarts and Clark Gable.
This is another tough match up, and whoever wins will be deserving. After some serious deliberation, I think the winner is Gandhi’s opposition to the Rowlatt Act. The protests and riots in 1919 in India are more examples of Gandhi’s leadership in India’s eventual separation from British rule. Despite the abuse of power – indeed, indefinitely wartime measures in peacetime is a serious abuse of power – Gandhi was able to rally the people and oppose what they considered a Black Act. And throughout, Gandhi maintained his stance on peaceful, non-violent protest. The creation of the American Legion in 1919 is vital for US veterans, but on a world-wide scale it doesn’t match up with the actions of Gandhi.
Sean: This is indeed a difficult match up of two very worthy competitors for this year’s title. While I agree that Gandhi’s opposition to the Rowlatt Act was indeed a significant moment in anti-imperialism, I do wonder about its overall significance to his life. In assessing this opposition, it is consistent with his beliefs and does not stand out as a singularly important moment as much as it is another chapter in his long fight for freedom. The founding of the Legion, on the other hand, stands out as a major moment for veterans. The work of the Legion, particularly in the face of significant government funding shortfalls, has become an irreplaceable asset for millions of service members in the United States and around the world. For that reason, I have to give a small edge to the Legion on this one.
Aaron: I don’t disagree with the impact of the Legion, but I feel like more people were impacted by the Treaty of Rawalpindi and Gandhi’s leadership, and thus it played a more important role in world history. The Legion serves an excellent purpose, and I do not want to take anything away from it. Can we at least agree Gandhi won on a buzzer-beater? You know, like some guy from the Toronto Raptors did. What was his name again?
Gandhi Announces Resistance to Rowlatt Act Wins (88-87 OT)
1) Winnipeg General Strike
4) RCA Founded
Aaron: Our good friend Eric MacDonald would never speak to us again if I we did not include the Winnipeg General Strike in this year’s version of the 100 Years in Review. Thankfully for us, we decided to include it!
The Winnipeg General Strike, which lasted between May 15 and June 26, is one of the more well-known strikes in Canadian history, both for the events that transpired during the Strike and the long-term social impact it had along Canada’s road to becoming a more social democratic society. The direct causes of the Strike are numerous, and we cannot do it justice with the space available in this piece; that being said, here are the highlights. Winnipeg in 1919 was an ideal spot to have the General Strike: the city faced social inequalities, poverty was high among the working class, wages were low, prices were on the rise, work was scarce, discrimination towards immigrants was rampant, and unions were not prevalent. In May 1919, several workers’ groups decided to go on strike, which gradually spread among more groups, until, at 11:00 AM on May 15, almost the entire working class in Winnipeg went on strike. It is estimated that close to 30,000 workers walked off the job! For the next month, work in Winnipeg among labourers essentially stopped. In mid-June, several of the strike organizers were arrested; in protest, thousands of people demonstrated in front of City Hall, which resulted in the Mayor calling out the Northwest Mounted Police (precursor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to dissipate the crowds. In the ensuing mayhem, several Mounties fired their weapons into the crowd; 1 person was killed immediately, while another died from wounds sustained. All in, about 30 people were wounded. June 21 has since been known as Bloody Saturday in Canadian history. On June 25, after losing the confidence of the strike, the organizers called for it to end at 11:00 AM the following morning, June 26. Workers went back to their jobs, but the impact of the strike would follow.
The legacy of the Winnipeg General Strike in Canadian history is immense. Following the Strike, a provincial royal commission was called, which concluded that the strike was not a criminal conspiracy and that the government may have to play a role if businesses did not provide workers “a contented existence.” Several of the strike organizers were elected to the Manitoba Legislature, while another was elected mayor of Winnipeg. One of the more famous Canadian figures of the 20th century also emerged as a strong leader of the worker’s movement: J.S. Woodsworth – our above mentioned good friend Eric wrote a thesis about Woodsworth. Check it out! Woodsworth, who was arrested in June 1919, was eventually elected to the House of Commons in 1921, and in 1932 he came the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to today’s New Democratic Party. The Strike was another example of workers fighting for job security, better wages, and safer working conditions, a hallmark of the early 20th century.
When it comes to electronics, there is one name in the 20th century that is ubiquitous: Radio Corporation of America (RCA). It is a safe bet that if you were born before 1986 – the year RCA became defunct – you owned at least one piece of electronics made by RCA. The Radio Corporation of America dominated the market for close to five decades, mostly in the United States.
RCA’s origins date back to the early years of radio. In the late 19th century, the US and Britain were experimenting more with radio communication and trying to devise the most powerful equipment to send and receive signals. In 1899, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, named for Guglielmo Marconi, who is credited with inventing the radio, held the rights to use Marconi’s patents in the United States and Cuba. Following WWI, the US Navy wanted an “all-American” company that would dominate radio in the United States. In 1919, General Electric (GE) created RCA as a subsidiary of the company. During the 1920s, RCA was instrumental in expanding radio programming in the United States, and in 1926 created the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). In 1930, RCA agreed to occupy the soon-to-be-completed building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
With the invention of television, and the resulting expansion of this new medium, RCA once again played an important role, largely through NBC. In 1954, NBC was the first network to air a television program in colour, The Marriage. Yet, RCA remained involved with numerous other projects: phonographs, motion pictures, computers, and a slue of other electronics. In 1930, RCA separated from GE, but was reacquired in 1985 before being sold off once again, signalling the end of the original RCA.
This is yet another excellent match up for the first round, and it’s a shame that one of these has to be eliminated so early. But that’s why we’re here, and it’s no time to get hesitant. The winner here is the Winnipeg General Strike. Sean is going to disagree with me, because I’m eliminating something to do with radio and without radio he doesn’t write a doctoral thesis, and without a doctoral thesis he doesn’t live the dream of being a PhD student, and without being a PhD student he doesn’t meet me, and without meeting me we don’t write this 100-years in review bracket every year, and without this bracket each year you, the devoted readers, don’t waste an hour of your life annually. Wait. Did I just contradict my winner? Thankfully, I have no one to challenge me (take that producer!) and so I will continue with the General Strike. In Canada, the Winnipeg General Strike remains an important event in our history, especially for its role in transforming the country in a more social-democratic society. Many of today’s gains for workers can trace their origins to the fight for improved working conditions, wages, and securities, and I think that we are all much better off in 2019 for the struggles that these men and women endured and their courage to fight for a better society.
Sean: This is a sham bracket! The RCA communications were perfect! Read the transcripts!! #SAD
While I do realize that the Winnipeg General Strike was a seminal moment in Canadian history, I can’t help but wonder if its place in our collective memories perhaps outshines its real-world impact. RCA, on the other hand, was one of the major players in an industry that fundamentally changed communications. Think about it, we went from having to wait a day to get election results to being able to listen to them live. Political leaders could more easily reach their constituents (for both good and bad). Sports started its shift away from the in-person experience towards what it is today – governed entirely by television demands. All of these critical and long-lasting changes were initiated by commercial radio, and RCA was essential to its growth. In terms of its universal influence, I think this is easily RCA.
Aaron: According to the Constitution, my job is to hold you in check. I am not undoing the results of your argument; rather, I am simple maintaining an impartial, dare I say bipartisan, approach to governing this bracket.
Sean: Impartial? If you stack the committee with a bunch of never-radioers, that makes it a fake, totally illegitimate, bracket. I will be totally vindicated in 2020.
Aaron: Just like the workers of Winnipeg in 1919 when J.S. Woodsworth was elected as an MP in 1921!
Winnipeg General Strike Wins (120-110)
3) 1st Regularly Scheduled International Passenger Air Service
Sean: We finally did it – an all aeroplane matchup! This is why we lift all those weights in the off-season.
On August 25, 1919, Air Transport & Travel Ltd., a predecessor of British Airways – inaugurated the first regularly scheduled international air service. The London-Paris route, which, despite significant declines in traffic since the introduction of the Eurostar in the 1990s, is expected to carry 2.7 million passengers in 2019, was the first commercial foray into international passenger service. Royal Air Force veteran Lt. E.H. ‘Bill’ Lawford piloted the flight from the De Havilland DH4A G-EAJC open air cockpit, taking his one passenger, Evening Standard journalist George Stevenson-Reece, who had paid the £21 fare (around £1,000 today) across the English Channel to Paris, which took about two-and-a-half hours (more than twice as long as it take today). At the time, it was difficult to convince people to fly, so marketing campaigns for the route focused not on the in-flight experience, but rather the wonders that awaited passengers once they arrived. Soon, the route was carrying 14 passengers per flight and set a precedent for international air travel which today includes glamorous and not-so-glamorous options.
In 1913, the Daily Mail offered up a £10,000 (the equivalent of just over £1 million today) as a prize for anyone who could fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. While planes of the era were not yet equipped for the journey, the First World War, despite putting the contest on hiatus, did increase military investment in aircraft. With the war’s conclusion, aviators began to revisit the seemingly impossible task of transatlantic flight. This meant that in the spring and early summer of 1919, several teams made their way to the east coast of Newfoundland in order to embark of a potentially life-changing (or life-threatening) journey.
One such team consisted of John Alcock, an English military pilot who had been taken prisoner in Turkey after his engines failed over the Gulf of Xeros, and Arthur Whitten Brown, a Scottish engineer. In the midst of heavy competition, the two had modified a Vickers Vimy aircraft, which had been developed for the war but never saw action, for their attempt by removing the bomb rack from the twin-engine, open-cockpit plane in favour of additional fuel tanks. The two Rolls-Royce engines each produced 360 horsepower, which was enough for the 67-foot wingspan to provide sufficient lift. Taking off on the afternoon of June 14, the pair flew east through fog, snow, and rain over 16 hours, a perilous journey that almost ended in disaster when Alcock briefly lost control over the Atlantic. When they were again over land, they identified what they thought was a clear field where they landed. The result was a nose rollover on Derrygimlagh Bog at Clifden, Ireland – not really fitting of the grand significance of this historic flight.
Between the two, I lean more towards transatlantic flight. The Atlantic Ocean is big – lots of water, big water – and the monumental step of being able to fly between North America and Europe was a major step in aviation history. Regularly scheduled flights were not new – St. Pete to Tampa Bay takes that award – so the Paris to London flight added the crossing an international border, but in the grand scheme of travel, I’ve got to give the nod to Alcock and Brown’s feat.
Aaron: How did you manage to rig the bracket to get TWO planes pieces in here, AND have them match up against one another?? Who did you collude with? I need names! Where is that whistleblower!
Sean: No collusion! No obstruction! Fake whistleblower! Total exoneration!
Aaron: Oh. Ok. I’m persuaded. Just so you stop, planes win.
First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight Wins (74-68)
1) Treaty of Rawalpindi Ratified
4) Finland Adopts Constitution
Aaron: The Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919 was the armistice agreement between the United Kingdom and the Emirate of Afghanistan that ended the Third Anglo-Afghan War. It was signed in Rawalpindi, British India (now in Punjab, Pakistan), which is why it is also known as the Treaty of Rawalpindi. The Treaty ended armed hostilities between British India and Afghanistan, it recognized Afghanistan’s independence, and agreed on the border at the Khyber Pass, creating the Durand Line.
British interest in Afghanistan dates back to the early 19th century, when it was in direct competition with the Russian Empire to expand control in the region – known in the Anglosphere as “The Great Game”. The result was three wars between the British and the Afghanis: The First (1839-1842), which resulted in an Afghan victory; the Second (1878-1880), which was a British victory, resulting in Afghanistan becoming a British protectorate; and the Third (1919), which resulted in Afghan independence. The security of British India relied on controlling the region, and thus the British government was committed to exerting influence in the area so as to not allow the Russians to grow their own sphere of influence. The Treaty of Rawalpindi is significant as it achieved a win-win for both Britain and Afghanistan: the Afghanis achieved independence, while the British received assurances that Afghanistan would not cause trouble in the Raj. Considering how Afghanistan has played a major role in international politics since the start of the 21st century – and its exact role is still very much debated – it shows how crucial this area of the world has been and continues to be.
Political control over the territory of Finland has changed hands several times. In the 13th century, it became a part of the Kingdom of Sweden, where it remained until the early 19th century. In 1809, Sweden and Russia went to war, which resulted in Sweden ceding a third of its territory, which became the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, due to the ongoing troubles caused by the First World War and subsequent revolution, Finland declared its independence from Russia. Two years later, in 1919, the first Finnish Constitution was approved, which established the newly independent nation as a Republic.
For me, the winner of this match up is the Treaty of Rawalpindi. While Finland finally achieving independence and adopting its first national constitution is important, the Treaty of Rawalpindi had far greater impacts on world history. Without the Treaty, who knows what the British would have done in order to protect its interests in India. What is obvious is that Afghanistan was, and remains, a highly contentious area that world powers are willing to fight over to gain even the slightest advantage.
Sean: It is your latter point that makes me think that the Finnish Constitution should take this match up. The Treaty certainly did have a significant short-term influence on British imperial efforts in the region, but, as you mention, continued fighting demonstrates that it was not successful in quelling tensions. Finland, on the other hand, remains one of the most prosperous (and the happiest) countries in the world. Despite the fact that there have been some changes to the Finnish Constitution, the general principles are still there. So again, I am going to lean towards to longevity on this one and support the Finnish Constitution in this close match up.
Aaron: Afghanistan is indeed a quagmire, but I think you’re putting too much stock into the most recent war that is still ongoing. But you’re overlooking the importance of ending British imperial actions within the embattled country. Ending a series of wars and determining a border is a pretty big deal.
Sean: That’s part of the problem, though, isn’t it? When we place artificial borders in territories with longstanding tensions, how does that resolve the underlying issues? Remember, it’s not just the current war as Afghanistan has seen multiple outbreaks of armed conflict in the past 100 years.
Aaron: Just because another war erupted doesn’t diminish the importance of ending a previous one. Besides, the war in 1979 was a Soviet invasion, not a British one. The British kept to the Treaty; the Great Game of the 18th century was long over by then.
Treaty of Rawalpindi Ratified Wins (78-77 8OT)
2) Nancy Astor Becomes 1st Female Member of British House of Commons
3) Prohibition Ratified in United States
Aaron: As a wise man once said, “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!”
Alcohol is an essential element of human life: we use it for religious, cultural, and recreational purposes. But just because alcohol is everywhere in human society, that doesn’t mean that everyone approves of it. Indeed, temperance movements have existed in numerous countries; one of the more notable, of course, was the temperance movement in the United States of the 19th and 20th centuries. The American Temperance Society (ATS) was formed in 1826, and throughout the nineteenth century it led the fight against the brewing, selling, and consumption of alcohol. Its belief was that by stopping the production of alcohol society as a whole would greatly improve.
On December 28, 1917 – almost 100 years after the formation of ATS – the prohibition of “intoxicating liquors” was proposed in Congress as the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment declared the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors was illegal – although nothing was said about the consumption of alcohol. On January 16, 1919, the requisite number of states ratified the Amendment, and one year later in January 1920, the United States officially became a dry country. But for anyone that has ever visited the United States, or watched an American TV show or movie, or read an American novel, or watched American commercials, will know that the prohibition is no longer in effect. In fact, the Twenty First Amendment to the US Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in December 1933.
Why? Well, one easy answer is crime. I recognize that this is a gross simplification, and many other elements were at play that caused the demise of prohibition, but the illegal alcohol trade during the 1920s and early 1930s is arguably the best-remembered aspect. Indeed, cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles experienced a booming underground liquor “industry”. If one looked hard enough, one could find an establishment that had “intoxicating liquors”. Homemade alcohol skyrocketed, and the importation of illegal booze from Canada and Mexico was a real problem. The term “Speakeasy”, one that is still in our lexicon today, found its origins. You could argue that ATS’s attempts of prohibiting alcohol consumption were admirable, but it didn’t take into account just how popular beer, wine, and spirits are. I’ll end with probably the best advice ever given regarding alcohol consumption: “Baby turtles and alligators may seem like a good idea as pets, but they grow up!”
Since 2013, when we first started this 100 Years Later Year in Review bracket, there have been many memorable moments in the history of women’s suffrage; and 2019 is no exception. That’s because in November 1919, Nancy Astor became the first women to sit as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons. Astor was born in 1879 in Danville, Virginia, the eighth of 11 children, as Nancy Witcher Langhorne. Following her divorce from her first husband in 1903, Nancy moved to England in 1905 after falling in love with the country. In 1906, she married Waldorf Astor, the American-born English politician and newspaper proprietor, and member of the renowned Astor family. Waldorf was elected to Parliament as a member for Plymouth Sutton in 1918; following his father’s death in 1919, he was elevated to the title of 2nd Viscount Astor, which included his elevation to the House of Lords. Now a member of the House of Lords, Waldorf was forced to resign his seat in the House of Commons. Nancy contested her husband’s vacant seat in the resulting by-election, despite not having any noticeable connections to the suffrage movement in Britain. She won the election and on December 1, 1919, she took her seat in the House of Commons, a seat she held until 1945.
Although a momentous occasion, Astor was not the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament. That honour belongs to Constance Markievicz, a member of the Sinn Féin Party, a left-wing republican party in Ireland. However, due to her party’s republican stance, she refused to take her seat in the House of Commons, which is why Astor is the first woman to take her seat as an MP and not the first woman to be elected.
In terms of who wins this match up, it’s a tough one. However, when the long-term historical implications are considered Prohibition emerges victorious. The impact of prohibition and the resulting illegal liquor trade in the United States during the 1920s and early 1930s is widespread, mostly in the form of the “gangster” genre in literature, film, and television. Astor taking her seat in the House of Commons is important, as it finally broke the male-dominated Parliament, and should not be overlooked. But the long-term impact of prohibition, including the fact that there was not one but two constitutional amendments, gives it the edge.
Sean: I think I agree with you on this one. In addition to its legal significance, the cultural significance of Prohibition is still felt today. While Astor rightfully holds a major place in British history, Markievicz’s election is arguably more significant, furthering prohibition’s case.
Prohibition Ratified in United States Wins (58-56)
1) 8-Hour Workdays Implemented
4) Mount Kelud Erupts in Indonesia
Aaron: Most of us take for granted the 8-hour work day, largely because that’s all we’ve known. Much has been written about the fight for the 8-hour work day and how it was achieved thanks to the tireless efforts of individuals and unions, and so I will not even attempt to replicate that here. Suffice to highlight some of the most important aspects.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries radically altered human working life forever, bringing millions of people into the cities to perform tasks in a factory instead of toiling on the land. A working day in the early 19th century could range from 10 to 16 hours, and often a work week was 6 days. That’s between 60 and 96 hours! (I’m retroactively quitting – storming into my boss’s office and telling him that he can take this job and cram it!) [Editor’s note: Aaron did not, in fact, storm into his fictional boss’s office and quit. Rather, he remained in his job and continued to work 96 hours a week] As the 19th century progressed, workers were slowly allowed to work less hours – in 1847, women and children (yes, children) in Britain were granted a 10-hour working day, and French workers were granted a 12-hour work day following the 1848 Revolution.
The modern 8-hour work day – although in the works for several decades – was first mentioned in an international context in the Treaty of Versailles, the same document that formally ended the First World War between the Allies and Germany. The Treaty established the International Labour Office, now the International Labour Organization. In October 1919, the first International Labour Conference was held in Washington, D.C., under the auspices of the newly created League of Nations. At the conference, the delegates discussed many aspects of post-War work, such as working hours, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age, and night work for young persons. Finally, in November 1919, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919, was established, which adopted the principle of the 8-hour work day – Canada signed on in 1935.
Volcanoes are fascinating. The size and power of them are awe-inspiring, even though they can cause catastrophic damage. The recent eruption on White Island in New Zealand, which, at the time of writing, has left 14 people dead, is a reminder of just how scary volcanoes are and how we need to understand them more. Human history is full of similar tragedies in which a volcanic eruption left a wake of death and destruction, and the year 1919 is no exception.
Indonesia is a massive island-chain country in the South Pacific and is home to over one-hundred volcanoes. Kelud, located on the island of East Java, is one of the active volcanoes in Indonesia. It is a stratovolcano – one that is formed due to lava flows that eventually form a large mountain with a crater in the centre – and has erupted several times over the past 1,000 years. On May 19, 1919, Kelud erupted. The explosion spewed lava, mud, and boiling water from a lake near the summit up to 25 miles away, causing massive damage to the surrounding countryside, and to the hundreds of villages on the island. As a result, approximately 5,000 people were killed, mostly due to the massive mudflows. In the aftermath, Indonesian officials undertook a large project to divert some of the water near Kelud’s summit in order to avoid another tragedy. Kelud erupted three more times in the 20th century, in 1951, 1966, and 1990, which resulted in the deaths of 250 people.
I really think the winner of this match up is the 8-hour work day. The international adoption of the 8-hour work day is monumental in human labour history, as it transformed how we view our working responsibilities. No longer were workers expected to work 10 or more hours a day, which, as we know, is both hazardous to human physical health and detrimental to human mental health. Many still complain about the length of the work day – I know that I am guilty of this sentiment – and many businesses are experimenting with flexible work arrangements and hours. Some companies don’t have explicit working hours; rather, they simply expect their employees to complete all of their weekly tasks before the weekend. Others have flex-weeks, in which employees work four 10-hour days and have one “extra” day off each week. Most importantly, the discussion about what is best for productivity and human health is being had. However, we wouldn’t be here now unless workers had fought for the right for an 8-hour day over a hundred years ago.
Sean: The volcano story is surprisingly timely given the unfortunate situation in New Zealand last week. And while you can’t have anything by the utmost sympathy and respect for the folks in Indonesia, the 8-hour workday is more universal given how many countries implemented it in 1919. It takes the win here.
8-Hour Workdays Implemented Wins (75-50)
2) Great Molasses Flood in Boston
3) Babe Ruth Transferred from Red Sox to Yankees
Sean: Babe Ruth made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox in 1914. Exclusively a starting pitcher early in his career, Ruth led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 1915 and 1916. In 1918 the Red Sox sought to take advantage of Ruth’s proficiency as a hitter and starting playing him in the outfield on days he wasn’t pitching, a move that helped the franchise win its third championship in 4 years. The following year, however, the Sox fell to a 6th place finish and the team was starting to get disenchanted with its best player. Ruth was known for his temper, both on and off the field, and was prone to get into fights. He was also out of shape and regularly smoked and drank. As George Steinbrenner (Larry David) put it, he “was nothing more than a fat old man with little girl legs.” At the same time, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, who doubled as a Broadway producer, needed money for a new production, so when the New York Yankees offered $100,000 for Ruth, a deal that would live in infamy was consummated.
The trade’s aftermath has been well documented. In 15 seasons with New York, Ruth hit 659 home runs, including a then-record 60 in 1927, won the 1923 Most Valuable Player Award, and led the Yankees to championships in 1923, 1927, 1928, and 1932. The Red Sox, on the other hand, did not win another World Series until 2004 and suffered through some of the most heartbreaking losses in sports history. Other than that, Mr. Frazee, how was the play?
Earlier that year, Boston had suffered through one of the strangest tragedies in the city’s history. On January 15, 1919, a molasses truck burst in the North End, releasing more than 2 million gallons of molasses. Despite its reputation, molasses can move, with some reports that it reached speeds of 35 miles per hour as it flooded the city. By the time it settled, buildings were destroyed, horses were trapped, and 21 people were killed while another 150 were injured. And despite the massive cleanup, the smell of molasses lingered in the city for years afterwards. There have been many theories for what caused the great molasses flood, but more recent investigations have suggested that the tank was not strong enough to support the amount of molasses it housed.
This is a tougher match up than I initially thought. The Babe Ruth trade is by far the more famous event, but it is, after all, only sports. The molasses flood led to a lot more tangible damage and, to a certain extent, has lived on in the local folklore and become a somewhat quirky part of Boston’s colourful past. I might lean a little more towards the real-world damage of the flood, but the intangible damage of ‘The Curse of the Bambino’ had a greater influence on the psyche of millions of disaffected Sox fans. I’m also super-biased towards all things baseball, so…
Aaron: I agree with you. Both of these events impacted the City of Boston, and in terms of the lasting legacy, I tend to think that Bostonians were more angry with the babe Ruth trade. Any time there are deaths involved, I don’t want to sound insensitive, and that is why I hesitate in jumping to conclusions. But the fact that the Red Sox did not another World Series in 84 seasons was a sore spot amongst Boston sports fans. Luckily for them, they have not had to wait very long for a championship to come back to their city:
New England Patriots: 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016, 2018
Boston Red Sox: 2004,2007, 2013, 2018
Boston Bruins: 2011
Boston Celtics: 2008
Babe Ruth Transferred From Red Sox to Yankees Wins (71-62)
1) Fascist Party Formed by Benito Mussolini
2) Gandhi Announces Resistance Against Rowlatt Act
Sean: This is a particularly difficult match up as it pits two very different historical events against each other. In its simplest form, in both cases we have a battle against oppression. For Gandhi, that may be a little more in the forefront of the story, but let’s not forget the thousands of Italians who fought against the Fascist Party at great personal risk. In comparing the two, though, it just feels better to argue in favour of Gandhi and his fight against the British government. In terms of long-term significance, though, the seemingly legitimization of fascism in Italy continues to shape far right groups around the world. Plus, as mentioned in the first round, the resistance to the Rowlatt Act does not account for the totality of Gandhi’s efforts, whereas the Fascist Party is such a powerful force through the end of the Second World War. For those reasons, and with a lot of hesitation, I have to lean towards the Fascist Party being the more influential event.
Aaron: This is what, our 7th year of doing this? And yet you continue to surprise me. You actually picked FASCISM over GANDHI?!? Fascism…over Gandhi…wow. The opposition to the Rowlatt Act is more significant. The Act did, in short, what the Fascist party did in time: it curtailed freedoms in order to beef up an autocratic state (even though Britain itself was a constitutional democracy). Any opposition to these sorts of things immediately has an edge, as it required the mobilization of thousands of people to collectively stand up to abuses of power, often at great personal risk. For that reason, I think Gandhi is the winner.
Sean: I’m not picking fascism over Gandhi, I’m suggesting that the formation of the party was of greater international, long-term, significance than the opposition to the act. I’m not privileging one over the other, just posing an intellectual question.
Aaron: I have thought long and hard on this one…and you’re wrong.
Gandhi Announces Resistance Against Rowlatt Act Wins (42-40)
1) Winnipeg General Strike
2) First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight
Sean: This isn’t even close. With all due respect to Eric Macdonald, the ability to fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean has a global significance that surpasses that of the Winnipeg General Strike. The advancements to aviation technology over the past 100 years have been remarkable – even if they are a major contributor to climate change. But the massive movement of people and goods, all done quickly, is a total game-changer. Forget just the economic significance and the changes to human geography, flying has become a major part of global culture. In this one, there is zero doubt in my mind that, when taking a holistic approach, non-stop transatlantic flying wins this match up.
Aaron: This is nothing to with my quest to deny you a planes victory (mostly). The Winnipeg General Strike is more significant, especially since we’re writing this in Canada. In Canadian labour history, this is a seminal event. A strike of this size, and severity, is so rare in Canadian history, which makes it all the more interesting and important. A transatlantic flight, although cool, was perilous and not very practical in 1919. It won’t be for many years until a reliable cross-ocean aircraft is developed, by which point the push for better rights and wages for workers was being promulgated in Canada.
Sean: Of course it wasn’t practical in 1919, but that’s why it was so important. We needed people like Alcock and Brown to push the limits of what was possible in aviation, which is actually quite similar to what happened with the labour movement. People keep advocating and innovating and great things can happen. In this case, it’s just a matter of its significance – local or national – which gives a definite edge to the transatlantic flight.
Aaron: Ok, now it’s ALL about denying your dream of having a plane event possibly reaching the finals. As a Canadian historian I have to push back on the transatlantic flight and have you at least consider the importance of the Winnipeg General Strike.
First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight Wins (90-88)
1) Treaty of Rawalpindi
3) Prohibition Ratified in United States
Aaron: Two tired opponents are facing off here in round 2. The Treaty of Rawalpindi escaped after an 8OT thriller against the Fininish Constitution, while Prohibition squeaked out a win against Nancy Astor. This match up, however, is not close. In terms of its legacy, Prohibition in the United States wins. As alluded to in the previous round, the Treaty of Rawalpindi, although significant, was also problematic as it did not secure the region from future conflict. Prohibition, on the other hand, while also problematic in that it was repealed, had a more immediate impact on the US. The temperance movement’s quest to eliminate alcohol was finally achieved with the 18th Amendment. The problem, of course, was people; people simply were not willing to give up booze. The illegal trade lives on in our collective memory. Now, who wants a bathtub mint julep?
Sean: This one is tough, though, as the localized reality of American prohibition goes up against the arguably more internationally significant Treaty of Rawalpindi. The quagmire of Afghanistan and its borders have been a focal point of international relations for a century, whereas outside of North America does anybody truly care about prohibition? I mean, Mae West was cool and all, but on a global scale?
Aaron: I feel that Prohibition is more widely known, and thus its legacy is stronger than the Treaty of Rawalpindi. Besides, you just referenced a Flapper, which shows your own knowledge or Prohibition. Don’t make me send you away on a catapult.
Sean: More known than Afghanistan? That is a scorching hot take Dr. Boyes. Where you have a case is on the cultural side – the general prohibition era has a broader audience than a specific treaty, even if the ramifications of that treaty of probably more widely known. So if we lean on a North American-centric cultural approach, then I could be persuaded.
Prohibition Ratified in United States Wins (28-27)
1) 8-Hour Workdays Around the World
3) Babe Ruth Transferred from Red Sox to Yankees
Aaron: I like this match up a lot. We’ve got work versus leisure. We do the one to enjoy the other – unless you’re the athlete, in which case your leisure is your work. When it comes to significance, however, it’s the 8-hour work day. We continue to work an 8-hour day, thanks to the changes made in 1919. Babe Ruth’s trade impacted two teams in one sport. Although I supported its win in the first round, I can’t get behind it again. Oh, and also, the Yankees are involved (boo!).
Also, you work an 8-hour day?
Babe Ruth Transferred from Red Sox to Yankees (71-68)
Prohibition Ratified in United States
Gandhi Announces Opposition to Rowlatt Act
Aaron: Here we go, folks! The Final Four. We have two strong, deserving events here. After a 5-year absence, Gandhi makes his triumphant return to the bracket [cheers!]. However, he is up against a significant challenger. And although it is a delight to see Gandhi back, especially in the Final Four, US Prohibition, in my opinion, wins. Gandhi did so many incredible things in his life; his opposition to the Rowlatt Act, however, is not his most memorable. I will never take anything away from Gandhi’s actions, but I just don’t see this beating Prohibition.
As I have stated many times throughout this Bracket, the cultural impact of Prohibition is immense. Gangsters, flappers (by association), speakeasies, the Roaring 20s, all of these come to mind when we think about Prohibition. Besides, as Rex Banner said, the idea of anything beating Prohibition is laughable.
Sean: The great Del Barber has a song in which Gandhi is at a party and has a couple too many drinks – that that is the first thing I thought of in this match up is mildly troubling. I still have to question prohibition’s global significance. Put it this way – would Gandhi have cared about prohibition? Did people involved in prohibition care about Gandhi? I think the two answers to those questions lead us to the correct answer here.
Prohibition Ratified in United States Wins (100-96)
Babe Ruth Transferred from Red Sox to Yankees
First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight
Sean: How is this not the final!?!?!
Despite this poor planning, this may be my favourite match up in all the years we’ve done this bracket.
I love baseball! And I hate the Red Sox! But I also hate the Yankees! So the Babe Ruth trade is tough for me as it led to the Yankees dynasty of the 1920s, which included the great Damn Yankees! And at the same time, Ruth in New York had significant cultural relevance, from the stadium (the House that Ruth built) to the nickname (the Bronx Bombers) to his last name becoming an adjective (Ruthian). Plus, in New England, the book about the Curse of the Bambino became required reading in schools. It’s too bad those Boston teams won all those championships this century, as that reduces the book’s significance to the local community.
But that’s where this match up falls apart for the trade. Yes, the Yankees are a strong international brand, but the Red Sox story is heavily localized. The first transatlantic flight, on the other hand, is by its very nature international. Because of that – and the fact that I’m constantly amazed by the fact that we can climb in metal tubes and go anywhere in the world – I have to give the edge to transatlantic flight.
Aaron: This bracket is rigged. How did you manage to get baseball and planes in the Final Four? Where’s that no-good producer?
Seeing as no matter what I pick Sean wins, I am going to support the transatlantic flight.
Ok, I’m alright. I think I’ll be ok. As I was saying, I support the transatlantic flight….
Sorry. Sorry. I agree with Sean only because it denies Boston another Championship – yeah that’s right, BRUINS!
First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight Wins (88-80)
Enrico Palazzo Championship Game
Prohibition Ratified in the United States
First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight
Aaron: He did it. He actually did it. Planes is in the final.
[At this point, Aaron stormed out of the room. He refused to participate in this sham of a Bracket any longer]
Sean: Well, that was much easier than I thought it would be! #Winning. I’m so sick of winning. All the winning is truly getting tiresome.
Nearly live look at Aaron re-entering the room:
Aaron: In all seriousness, I agree with this result. Our dependence on air travel is astonishing, and the fact that humans were able to cross the Atlantic using a technology that was essentially only 16 years old is incredible. This is a deserving winner and I applaud my good friend, Sean, for never losing the faith, for always pushing to be the best, and never settling for second place.
Sean: Many thanks Dr. Boyes! In all seriousness, I do truly believe that the first nonstop transatlantic flight is a worthy choice as the most important event of 1919. Flight has become so commonplace, but in the grand scheme of history is so recent. And we keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible, with a new 19-hour flight from New York to Sydney in the works. The movement of people and goods around the world – June 29, 2018 set a record with over 200,000 flights in a single day – has a massive influence on global economies and cultures. When compared with American prohibition, it’s not really a fair fight: a quirky, localized moment in the history of the United States or a foundational moment in global transportation. So with that, there no surprise which way I am leaning here.
It was a long and arduous journey, but we made it. After 16-hours of perilously overseeing this bracket, we have landed in what we thought was a field, but instead was a bog. And just like Alcock and Brown 100 years ago, we will gladly accept our substantial financial prize for successfully navigating this treacherous route, on which so many others have crashed.
First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight Wins (55-31)
Nearly Live Look at Sean:
And with that, the First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight wins and is the most important event of 1919.
1918: Spanish Flu Pandemic
1917: Russian Revolution
1916: Margaret Sanger Opens First American Birth Control Clinic in Brooklyn
1915: Women’s Suffrage Legalized in Kingdom of Denmark
1914: First Successful Non-Direct Blood Transfusion
1913: Zipper Patent
Have a safe and happy holiday! See you in 2020!
Aaron Boyes is a historical researcher with a PhD from the University of Ottawa.
Sean Graham is an editor with Activehistory.ca and host of the History Slam Podcast.