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100 Years Ago: August 1922


This is the ninety-first entry in a series of illustrated reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they reach one hundred years of age.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Denmark and the Danes” and was written by Maurice Francis Egan, Litt. D., American Minister to Denmark, 1907-1918.  It contains thirty-eight black-and-white photographs, of which twenty-four are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of Denmark, with a small inset of Bornholm Island at the same scale, on page 124.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, rather prided itself on being the “Paris of Scandinavia”, largely because of its architecture and its modernness; but the Danes, admitting with pride that Copenhagen was not altogether a modern city, rather claimed that they were more like the Parisians than their neighbors in Sweden.  There was no question that the street life of Copenhagen was extremely gay.  The Danes liked to dine in cafes, or, when the weather was pleasant, in the open street.  The amiable Dane was very fond of his food.  The author overheard a discussion at a café that became animated.  It was before the war, and he thought it was political; but it wound up being about the origin of Cumberland sauce, and the opinion of the Kaiser had been invoked.  The Danes looked on amusement as a very serious and necessary part of life.  One of the charms of Copenhagen, and of all the other Danish towns, was that business was carried on with cheerfulness.  Work for work’s sake was not the aim of the Dane.  Work for him was not the end of life, but a means of living; and the Dane, as a rule, enjoyed his work.  If the Danes ate a great deal, they did not drink more than other people, and they seldom drank without eating.  Although Demark had not made prohibition a law, the government had raised the price of alcohol.  While beer was looked on as a necessary article of diet, it was consumed in moderation.  The Danes looked down on the Swedes.  One was informed that there were no drunkards in Denmark, and when one was pointed out, it was said, “Oh, he’s a Swede!”  There was a general impression that divorce and remarriage were very easy in Denmark.  But there was no reason to belief that, in proportion, there were more divorces and remarriages in Denmark than in the U. S., among the radicals, marriage was not looked on as a serious matter; and Americans were regarded as entirely too conservative in regard to marriage.

The Danes brooked no corruption in their government.  They were extremely jealous of the national honor; no political power would save a man in office from punishment if he had betrayed his trust.  It was regrettable that in none of the three Scandinavian countries was the Constitution of the United States and its workings, or the social basis of our life, well understood.  The American-Scandinavian Foundation, for fifteen years, had done much to make the culture and the point of view of the U.S. known in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; but, unfortunately, only the sensational articles in our newspapers were reproduced in the Danish press.  Our cultural life was scarcely known at all by the body of the people.  When former President Roosevelt visited Denmark, the radicals expected him to give opinions that were socialistic, communistic, or destructive to their conservative social system.  They were deeply disappointed.  He was neither in sympathy with communism, destructive socialism, not harming the well-to-do for the benefit of the idle.  Scandinavia was made up of a people thinking alike, believing alike – politically and socially – practically one, and with similar national aspirations.  Many Americans think of Scandinavia’s three countries – Sweden Denmark, and Norway, as we would think of three New England States.  It came as a shock to many that those three Scandinavian countries had not very much in common, except their ancestry.  The bases of their languages were similar, but the Dane didn’t find it always easy to read Swedish, while he did find it easy to read Norwegian.  A party in Norway was trying substitute the ancient tongue of the Vikings for modern Norwegian.  For many years, there was no love lost among the three countries.  In 1397 they were united for a brief period by Queen Margaret.  The union was dissolved after her death.

In Sweden, women enjoyed voting privileges earlier than in any other country.  Sweden and Denmark were, until recently [in 1921], hereditary enemies.  Sweden and Norway were alternately friendly and unfriendly.  They almost went to war in 1905 when Norway seceded from Sweden.  Norway chose, as king, the son of Frederick VIII of Denmark.  He took the name Haakon.  That outraged the Swedes.  The dislike of the three countries for one another awoke again, but a common need for safety during the World War induced them to join in certain agreements, both military and commercial.  The present King of Denmark, Christian X, was related to nearly every crowned and uncrowned monarch in Europe except the Pope and the Sultan.  It was no wonder that Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, had been known as the royalest [sic] court in Europe.  Despite living in a monarch, the Danes were much less aristocratic than the Swedes, and almost as democratic as the Norwegians.  Denmark was, above all, a land of cooperation and a land whose people were very highly civilized.  No people in 1922 were more literate, more into science, and more advanced socially than the Danes.  It seemed strange that the farmers of Denmark, who were the most influential part of the population, took to socialistic methods.  It did not follow, as it did elsewhere, that socialists in Denmark should hate a king.  Sometimes there were conflicts, but they felt it was their government.  The more conservative Danes saw some disadvantages in 1922, as the government of the time existed mainly for the poor.  Socialism in Denmark was not just the Socialist Party.  What was called the Socialist-Radical Party was second in numbers; but the moment a party stopped working for the general good of the farmer, the electors acted at once to vote them out.

There was one especially admirable quality that struck the observer in Denmark – that was the capacity of the Danes for “team-work”.  To think, among Danish folk, was to act.  In that they were unlike their favorite hero of tragedy, Hamlet.  King Christian X was a Dane of the Danes, and yet sympathetic and tolerant of legitimate claims of other nations; and in Denmark one saw a constitutional monarchy at its best.  A constitutional monarchy was an ideal institution, especially for a small state.  The population of Denmark was around 3,049,000.  That total did not include North Schleswig, recently returned by Germany.  The area of Denmark was 15,586 square miles; it was one-twentieth the size of Texas and about one-third the size of New York.  North Schleswig contained 1,507 square miles, and its addition made the population about 3,220,000.  The Faroe Islands were part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  Iceland belonged to Denmark but became a free state in 1847.  The Danish West Indies, now the Virgin Islands, were bought by the U. S. in 1916, for strategic purposes.  They were an important part of the defense of the Panama Canal.  Greenland was the only colony that Denmark possessed in 1922.  Denmark was almost exclusively devoted to agriculture; but not many more than 1,000,000 people followed the pursuits of agriculture, forestry, and fishing.  That was shown by the statistics of 1911.  The capital, Copenhagen, was a city too large in proportion to the population of the country; it contained 575,000 persons.  Aarhus came next, with 65,000; Aalborg had 35,000, and Odense, 40,000.  There were 250,000 farmers in the country, formed into 4,000 cooperative societies, which permeated all the economic relations of life.  Those societies owned all the machinery, bought what the farmer needed, and distributed all he produced and not consumed by himself.

There was no graft; no middleman could “corner” any article of necessity; there were no multi-millionaires.  In fact, the Dane who declared that capital was the enemy of labor was looked on as an economic idiot, just as it was equally stupid to assume that labor existed for the piling up of capital.  In Denmark, money was not an end; it was an instrument, a medium of circulation.  A conservative there would have been looked on as a radical in the U.S.  Money was not for luxuries, but for necessities.  Other countries, including Ireland, had adopted the admirable system of farmers’ banks.  Prussia despoiled Denmark in 1864; and while Imperial Germany grew more threatening to the liberty of Denmark every year until the close of the World War, the Danes were not hampered by foreign control; consequently, the had not the same temptation to emigrate.  With some exceptions, the Danes remained in their own country.  If it weren’t for love of country, the Danes would have fled in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Everything was stacked against them – the British had destroyed their fleet, and Prussia had torn away their most cherished province, Schleswig-Holstein.  The Danes had no desire for conquest, they just wanted to retain their own language, their own literature, their own music and art – in a word, their national “culture”.  Their religion was never in danger.  The Lutheran Church in Denmark was less rigid than the same church in Prussia.  Until the mid-nineteenth century, their system of agriculture – growing the same crops thus depleting the soil – almost led them to ruin.  Scientific agriculture was unknown to them.

Denmark was at its lowest in 1870.  Then Bishop Nikolai Grundtvig became the economic and social savior of Denmark.  Religion in Denmark had become too formal.  It had little vitality and very little connection with the national life.  The education system, geared towards the aristocrats, was very much Germanized.  The Lutheran Church had been Germanized as well.  Grundtvig developed a system of education to teach the poor self-control, patriotism, and practicality; and the ability to use their knowledge for the betterment of their country and themself.  By 1880, his design had so much matured that the Danes were beginning to be a self-respecting, hopeful, and prosperous people.  That was eight years after his death.  The work was mostly done through a system of high schools he had founded.  The Lutherans in Denmark were more independent than those in the U. S., even though they had the same doctrine.  This was due to the fact that there were no bishops in Denmark.  Denmark was by no means an earthly Eden.  Poverty and industrial unrest existed, but democracy flourished through a combination of sanity, patriotism, and religion.  The suicide rate in Denmark was at one time very great, and a Dane would have agreed that he had much of Hamlet in his composition.  When the author came to Denmark, he soon realized that Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a Dane; Shakespeare understood very clearly the conditions of Denmark and the Danes in the sixteenth century.  The theater was more of a Danish institution than the opera.  Both plays and operas were given at the Royal Opera House in Copenhagen. 

The four palaces of the Amalienborg were the royal residences until recently [in 1922], but not long before, the palace of Christianborg, in another part of the city, was restore.  It had almost been ruined in a fire. The Royal Opera House was an imposing building.  It was the home of the Danish Conservatory, where the ballet dancers were trained from youth up.  The Danish ballet was different from all other ballets.  It was an exquisite mingling of the art of pantomime and the art of the dancer.  It always told a continuous story.  The Danes were very fond of open-air performances.  But for the weather, which had bad days and good, those performances would have become a tourist attraction.  The Danish theater was part of the national life, and it was taken very seriously.  The Lutheran Church in Denmark was not at all antagonistic to the theater.  The Danes had operas in their own language.  They had created song music which gave melodies to every Danish home.  Jazz had been imported, of course.  It was heard in the hotels and cafes.  Every Danish child had a solid musical education.  There was practically no illiteracy in Denmark, due to the people’s high schools founded by Bishop Grundtvig.  Before 1844, the Danish system of education was formal, dully classical, and intended only for the well-to-do.  The bishop knew that no country could exist on bread alone; but also, that no country could exist without softening the arduous work with something that was spiritual and stimulating.  He believed that no man in Denmark was too poor, or too lowly, to grasp the glory of patriotism, or to understand the difference between right and wrong.

The ideal of Grundtvig was different from the ideals of Luther; the God of Grundtvig was a shepherd rather than the keeper of a mighty fortress.  Luther was not exactly a man of peace; nor was he particularly anxious that the peasants should be educated.  Grungtvig broke away from the essentially Teutonic teachings of Luther in regard to the leveling education of the poor; but it was the high school’s first teacher that its success would be accredited, Kristen Kold.  Kristen Kold was the son of a not so prosperous shoemaker.  He detested the traditional system of education.  He was forced to give up his intellectual ambitions, and to be content in being a bookbinder.  He was good at his trade, and it was there that he became acquainted with the writings of Bishop Grundtvig.  He took courage and founded, at Rodding, in 1844, the first people’s high school.  At the time, such a cultural school could not expect state aid.  It wasn’t an academic or bookish school.  It was intended for all who could listen and understand.  Its whole power depended on the personality of the teacher.  Its appeal was solely through the spoken word.  It was a courageous experiment, for its success depended entirely on the support of the people.  In a short time, a hundred men, old and young, applied for admission.  But women did not desire to be left out.  Coeducation was looked on throughout the Western World as a dangerous innovation.  The pupils at Kristen Kold’s first school were almost entirely farmers and couldn’t attend his lectures in the summer.  But in the summer, some women were free, so he began giving summer and spring courses for the women.  From that beginning grew the great system of Danish high schools, which it was said were the models on which our Chautauqua was founded.

It was understood that these schools were not like our high schools, either college prep or finishing schools.  No requirement was necessary for the student except a desire to learn.  There were no degrees, no examinations, and no fixed standards of scholarship.  The teachers in Denmark had an acknowledged social position.  At the University of Copenhagen, for example, houses and pensions were provided for the professors; and teachers in the upper schools had a comfortable life, with a house, tenure, and a pension at a certain age.  The duties of the government inspector of schools were very narrow in scope.  He reported, but neither he nor the government could dictate to the teachers or parents of school children.  In Denmark, it was the parents, through the teachers, who controlled the school.  No newspaper would dare to assume that an examination was necessary in those high schools for adults.  Those schools were able to support themselves, even without grants from the communes.  It was understood that the teacher would say what he pleased in his lectures; and, as the older students choose these schools themselves, they looked on it as a degradation if an arbitrary examination or standard were imposed on them.  The foundation of all these schools was religion and nationality.  Simplicity was not only a rule because it was economical, but because simplicity of life was one of the virtues most inoculated in the system of Grundtvig and Kold.  The students in the people’s high schools, men and women, were generally from eighteen to thirty years of age, and it was considered derogatory for a farmer’s son or daughter not to have had the advantage of at least some courses in one of these schools.  The primary aim of these schools was to inform, rather than impart information.  That is, the teachers believed it their duty to increase the desire for information in the minds of the student; to broaden, to simulate them, to divert them from the drudgery of farm life, and to induce them, through an appeal to religion and nationality, to feel that their work was noble.

The men showed, as a rule, little interest in the relations of nations to one another – that is, political relations.  That, and the neglect of the serious study of finance were the only defects in the system of the high schools.  The author felt that, since the World War, it was probable that the close connection of political with economic life outside of Denmark might be realized.  That lack of attention given to international economics and the workers belief in certain privileges had much to do with the present [in 1922] financial crisis in Denmark.  That was, however, being addressed.  As to internal politics, the interest of the students was shown by the fact that 30% of the members of parliament had been pupils of the high schools.  In Denmark, politics and the welfare of the people were one in the same.  The Dane knew what he wanted and would not endure a merely personally ambitious leader.  If any politician attempted to interfere with a cooperative movement in the country, he was doomed at once to political extinction.  Teamwork was at the very heart of the success of the high schools. Men were taught from November to March, and the women in the summer months; each period being five months long.  Some schools had only ten pupils; others four hundred.  Attendance was made up of middle-class farmers and small landholders.  The schools were not, as a rule, coeducational, though there were two or three exceptions.  The school day was very long.  The state or commune had nothing to do with the appointment of the teachers.  They were chosen by the principal of the school.  The teachers needed the power of stimulating and the gift of imparting information effectively.  Students were not obliged to listen to lectures that did not interest him.  There were nearly fifty “folk-schools” which were purely cultural and did not offer courses in agriculture, cabinet-work, horticulture, or masonry.  In 1914, the state contributed more than $160,000 for the support of those schools.

The agricultural schools were generally attended by farmers with from fifteen to fifty acres.  Smaller holders, who supplemented their income by laboring on other holding, had their own schools in which their practical problems were considered.  One of the most interesting of the “folk-schools’ was that for girls and women who were wives and daughters of small farmers.  They learned the secret of leading a simple life cheerfully.  She was taught not to waste anything, and to be proud of not wasting anything.  She understood that no girl should marry until she could keep house and tend a garden.  The daughters of royalty and the wealth often attended those schools once betrothed to learn housekeeping.  The effects of those folk schools were apparent: in the thirty years from 1881 to 1912, the value of Denmark’s agricultural exports increased from $12,000,000 to $125,000,000.  Waste and worn-out lands had been reclaimed and renewed.  Cooperation in production and marketing was common, and Landlordism had almost disappeared.  Rural social life had become intelligent, organic, and attractive.  A high form of idealism had been fostered among the people, and a real democracy had been established.  The main purpose of those schools was not to impart useful knowledge – that was only secondary.  The principal aim was to impart a spiritual view of life, a sense of existence, and connection to all that happened, in little as in great events.  A typical school day looked like this: the bell rang a 7:00 AM; coffee at 7:30; at 7:45 the principal had morning prayers; at 8:00 a lecture on geography or church history was given; breakfast came at 9:15, a couple of sandwiches and a glass of ale; 9:30 breakout sessions for various trades were given; 1:30 came dinner; 2:30 the artisans and fishermen went to their own departments while the farmers were taught accounts and arithmetic; 3:30 gym for farmers; 5:00 various classes for farmers only, including physics, geography, hygiene, and history; 6:00 supper; 7:30 the history of Danish literature; 8:30 gym for artisans; 10:30 lights out.

Teachers were well provided for.  Married male teachers were given seven or eight rooms and a garden very near the schoolhouse.  Unmarried women teachers were given two or three rooms with a private entrance.  After twenty years of service, teachers were entitled to a pension, roughly $1,200 to $1,900.  The amount of pension depended on the length of service, and sick and disabled teachers were looked after.  Tuberculosis was one of the scourges of Denmark.  Teachers who had been afflicted with it during their service received a pension of two-thirds of their salary.  The government provided for the meeting of a growing cost of living by a rule automatically.  Denmark was abrogating landlordism without destroying the legitimate right to property, as the tendency of the cooperative movement destroyed the inefficient and profiteering middleman.  During the war, the decrease of Danish emigration to the U. S. gave the government the pretext to provide more land available for farming.  The new [in 1922] election law, which included suffrage for women, increased the number of voters and, likewise, the number of those who had the right to own land.  Under the law, no money was required to acquire a piece of land; good character, a certificate of energy, and the right to vote were all that was required.  The landowner was required to pay interest of 4% on the fixed value of the land.  The evolution of the farmer was easily traced in Denmark as the democratic spirit grew.  The constitution of 1848 brought about the gradual transfer of power from the king to the aristocratic landowners, thus destroying the ideals of the Middle Ages.  The landowning aristocracy was disappearing as large estates were being cut up into small holdings.

There was still an aristocracy, a very high class, but it had lost its privileges.  Its titles had even less value than in France, which was a republic.  For a long time, the aristocracy controlled the Upper House.  They fought hard against the subdivision of land, just as they had opposed educating the poor.  They were not sympathetic with the Danish system of credit banks, by which any man of good character, with a little money, was able to own a farm.  The would-be farmer needed to be 25 and under 50 years of age, and he must have worked in agriculture for four years.  Two reputable citizens were required to sign for his standing in the community and his honesty.  The farmer paid 10% of the farms value, including livestock, the state provided the other nine-tenths of the cost.  In 1850, the total number of small farms was 180,090; by 1905 there were over 289,000.  During that period, the number of men who rented farms declined from 42.5% to 10.1%.  Of the total population engaged in agriculture in 1911, 535,758 were employers and their dependents and 399,534 were employees and their dependents.  As a rule, the system seemed to have worked well.  If it continued to do well, the vast majority of Danes would be masters of their own soil.  Share cropping was not common in Denmark.  Every man worked his own farm.  In the summer months, however, over 20,000 Galicians and other immigrants came into Denmark to dig beet roots and do other jobs the farmer preferred not to do.  The large estate owners were obliged to provide facilities for those alien laborers, who went home in the autumn.  Denmark was not an industrial country in the sense of manufacturing.  The scientific treatment of one of the worst soils for agriculture in Europe, joined with the system of cooperation, enabled it to monopolize the export of butter, bacon, and eggs to England and Germany.  Before the war, the export of milk, cream, beef and hogs into Germany taxed the Danes capacity.

Danish butter had the deserved reputation of being the best in the world.  It was a paradox that in that country of butter, the majority of people ate a very high-grade margarine.  Every Danish egg was dated, but the Danish egg did not enjoy the great reputation of the butter and the bacon.  In spite of pensions and unemployment insurance, the industrial class in Copenhagen indulged frequently in strikes.  The American-Scandinavian Line had been put to a great disadvantage because of those recurring strikes.  During the shortage of butter in the U. S., cargo was sent to America, but the strikers delayed shipment.  When the butter arrived, it was below Denmark’s high standard in quality.  Employers in Denmark were responsible for hospital care for their workers.  Six months’ notice was required before dismissal (one month in the city).  The cultivated Dane had very esthetic tastes, and the author was sorry to see the Danish aristocracy disappearing as their lands were divided.  A typical Danish castle was that of the Count and Countess Raben-Levitzau.  In those country houses, the old Danish traditions were still kept.  At Christmas, for example, when the tree was lighted on the sacred eve, the master and mistress of the house joined hand with the servants and sang Danish hymns around the tree.  In 1922, owing to the proximity of a struggling Germany, to the unrest in Russia, to the financial difficulties in England, and its own need to readjust, Denmark was not as prosperous as usual.  At the same time, it had great resiliency.  Wealth was equally distributed, and the fortunes of war profiteers had disappeared.  The Danes took measures early to prevent the dumping of cheap German goods.  Denmark had gained one advantage from the war – the return of a part of Schleswig stolen by Prussia in 1864.  Denmark was intensely interesting to the student of social reforms, because it had put most of them into practice.  Even the most liberal of its Liberals was constructive.  There was no anarchy in Denmark, and little chance for the progress – much less than in Sweden – of the Bolsheviks.  The U. S. could learn much from the example of that little country.

In the art of painting and sculpture, in literature, in science, Denmark had no mean place.  A Danish lady, as a rule, did not care to wear a piece of jewelry unless it was especially made for her.  No matter how simple the buckle, bracelet, or necklace, a Danish woman would not wear it if it resembled the ornaments worn by another woman.  That spirit assisted very greatly in production of artistic handicraft.  Thorvaldsen was the most famous sculptor.  Of all the Danish authors, Georg Brandes had the greatest international reputation.  Next to him came Harald Hoffding.  Johannes Jorgensen was the most exquisite poet in Denmark.  Johannes V. Jensen was a novelist who deserved his great literary reputation.  Of the painters, Kroyer was the most lucid, the most luminous. And probably the one who would be better known and long remembered.  One of the most beautiful buildings in Europe was the new [in 1922] Town Hall in Copenhagen, created by Martin Nyrop.  It was a worthy companion of the Bourse, which dated back from the reign of Christian IV.  The saving quality of Danish art was that not even its minor productions were commercialized.  The royal Copenhagen pottery would have been popular in the U. S. if our absurd tariff hadn’t made it cost prohibitive.  As enthusiastic the author was about Denmark, he regretted the decline of the sturdy religious spirit; the increase in the laxity of sex relations; the decay of Christianity, and the growing tendency of the new paganism.  However, if the Danes loved Denmark, it was because their country and its institutions were worthy of love.  The Author felt that the burden of taxation on the well-to-do in Denmark was almost intolerable.  Legislation favored the laboring man, making him feel that the state owed him a living, whether he worked or not.  The financial crisis was made worse by the lockout of the employers in February.  Strikes followed, and during the winter over one hundred thousand men were thrown out of work.  The farmers suffer due to dock workers impeding shipments.  In consequence, the banks suffered.  If capital was taxed above its earning capacity, it ceased to function normally.  But the Danes were quick to learning by experience.


At the bottom of the last page of the first article in this issue (Page 164) there is a notice regarding change of address.  If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month.  If a member wanted the October issue redirected, the Society needed to know by September first.


The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Fight at the Timber-Line and was written by John Oliver La Gorce, author of “Warfare on Our Eastern Coast”, “A Battleground of Nature”, “Roumania [sic] and Its Rubicon”, “Devil-Fishing in the Gulf Stream”, “Pennsylvania, the Industrial Titan of America”, etc. in the National Geographic Magazine.  The article contains thirty-two black-and-white photographs, of which eighteen are full-page in size.  Sixteen of the eighteen full-page photos are sequential from page 169 to page 184 as if they were a set of engravings.

During the war the author wrote of the changing Eastern Coast as a war between the sea and the land – waves eroding cliff while barrier islands and river deltas extending into the waters.  He continued that battle analogy in this article about forest boundaries – the trees trying to extend their range while “King Frost” was holding them back.  A far-flung line was that forest frontier.  There were three principal battle areas where frost was entrenched against the trees – the Arctic citadel, the Western American line, and the Himalaya-Alps front.  On the Arctic front, the contending forces were drawn up in battle array at sea-level.  In the Western American theater, the war zone climbed higher and higher until, at the Equator, the pitiless strife was waged in the rarefied air of twelve thousand feet or more.  Then it swept down again until reaching sea-level at the Straits of Magellan.  In the hostile area that stretched from western China to eastern France there were numerous quite sectors, but a strategically continuous front.  Hardy as trained men were the tree soldier that stood the awful grind of the unceasing campaign.  Tropical trees were too soft of fiber for aught but home-guard duty and last-ditch reserve support.  After a few hundred miles poleward, or twice as many feet skyward, they gradually dropped out, and hardier substitutes filled their place, until none of the topical trees were left.  Where the last palm dropped out, a third type began to fall in line.  By the time the broad-leaved troopers began to grow jaded, the needle-leaved legions from the pine woods were ready to fill the places of the stragglers, in order that the ranks were kept full.  The author referred to the 629 types of trees between sea-level Florida and the timberline in the Colorado Mountains as divisions.  Gradually, the divisions were reduced, by desertion and straggling, to brigades, regiments, battalions, companies, and squads and at length, formations disappeared.  When the battlefield itself was reached, all but a beggarly score was left, and even those survivors had been decimated.

In the Rockies, the author envisioned divisions of pine, supported by birch divisions, advancing in great, dark columns, bearing the brunt of the enemy’s artillery fire of hail and sleet.  The front-line trenches were thinly held by those who made up in courage and tenacity what they lacked in number.  However furious the conflict, there was no such thing as retreat.  Every tree soldier stood rooted to the terrain it had taken, dying, if need be, but never falling back.  The thousands of mangled and maimed who fought on so long as there was a spark of life remaining, showed what courage the tree troops possessed.  Everywhere, the whitened corpses of the unburied dead were to be seen.  The hardships endured by the tree soldiers could be appreciated only by those who had observed the battle at close range.  John Muir told of finding a pine warrior whose trunk was only four inches in diameter and whose topmost tassels reached a bare three feet from the ground; yet when he counted the rings that constituted its service stripes, he found it to be a veteran of 255 years of duty on the firing line.  The fortunes of battle and the terrain both tended to make the timberline as irregular and sinuous as was ever the battle line that stretched from Switzerland to the sea during the World War.  The power of the trees to adapt themselves to their environment was amazing.  In the tropics and the temperate zones, vegetation was killed by freezing; but in the timber-line districts, it was not the sudden frost that injured vegetation.  Plant life there could stand freezing without difficulty.  It was rather the thawing process that hurt in such regions.

The character of the warfare on the sea-level polar timberline differed from that of the tropical mountain heights.  On the former there was a homogeneity of forces not encountered in the latter.  Everywhere on the polar treeline, without exception, became stunted and dwarfed – gnarled growths that little resembled their stately brethren of milder regions.  The mountain treeline had higher interest to most people, since it was accessible to any hardy mountain-climber.  A hundred romances were concentrated in the story of the march of the trees up the mountain side towards the battlefront.  Using Orizaba, a tropical mountain in Mexico, the author documented that march.  Palms and bananas were the characteristic trees of the first two thousand feet.  There, they gave way to tree-ferns and figs which, together with allied species, carried on to 4,000 feet.  At that height, laurels, myrtles, and related species replaced them.  Another 2,000 feet up, the broad-leaved evergreens marched from 6,000 to 8,000 feet.  Gradually, their ranks thinned, filled in by summer-green broad-leaved trees.  At 10,000 feet, the conifers filled up the gaps and finally arrived at the trenches.  The vertical distances the different trees climbed varied from mountain to mountain.  As a rule, the treeline was higher on long ranges than on short ones.

The author changed topics here and began writing about John Muir, comparing him to a war correspondent.  His love of Nature was an inspiration to everyone who had read his book.  The best-loved part of Nature was the Sierra region of the Pacific Coast.  Like the true war observer, he wrote with equal charm of the larger strategy of the big drive and the brave deeds of a single warrior.  For him, the white-bark pine had a particular interest, both in its method of fighting and for the unwonted heights to which it bravely climbed.  In the Yosemite Mountain forests, he found it always in the front-line trenches.  Where he first encountered it, on its march up the mountain, it was an upstanding tree of some forty feet.  Following its footsteps up the rocky, windswept slopes, it grew shaggy and squat, crowding close to its fellows, forming a crinkled mass so dense and flat that one could easily walk on their bowed heads.  In spite of the limb-to-limb struggles with gale and snow, it clung earnestly to life.  When the short springtime finally came to its aid, it put on a new uniform of fresh leaves and bedecked itself in emblems of courage and victory – red and purple flowers.  Not only did the white-bark pine fight well, it fought long.  One splendid veteran was only three feet high, yet when Muir interrogated it, it replied that it held its outpost for 426 years.  It had been campaigning eighteen years before Columbus discovered America.  As Muir climbed to the battle area, he gave detailed accounts of the training camps and rest depots he passed enroute.  He described at which elevation a species reached its finest development.  Another excellent war correspondent of the timber-line struggle was Clarence King.  In his book “Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada” he told of the great forest areas that stretched along the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska.  He related how trees arranged themselves with military precision, each species in strict accord with the laws of altitude and climate.

The military highways by which the trees advanced to the timberline usually followed the hollows that reached up toward the heights.  Here, however, the Frost King turned loose his bombing squadrons, which drove down those mountain hollows with disastrous effect.  Irresistible avalanches made mass assaults, crushing everything within their paths and gathering momentum as they went.  They ground down every tree, often leaving their trunks to decay, half buried in the debris.  Yet, undeterred by the vengeance wrought on their elders, young trees sprang up, took the place made vacant, and began afresh the struggle for possession of terrain claimed by the snow.  Conditions in the Rocky Mountain theater of war differed little from that of the Sierra, except some tree types were missing – for instance, the Sequoia.  One found that on the north side of Longs Peak, the tree host had not been able to press the enemy as closely as on the south side.  With the force of the wind somewhat broken and the support of the sun more pronounced, the trees on the south side were able to scale thousands of feet higher than those on the north side.  On Mummy Mountain, one found at the timberline that black spruces were holding the redoubts.  Many distinguished writers had visited the Selkirk theater of war in Canada.  In height, the prevalence of glaciers, and the existence of perpetual snowfields, the Selkirks resembled the Alps.  In ascending beyond 5,000 feet, the balsams and spruces – the dominant species of the sub-alpine forest – began to break up into little groups, separated by shrubs.  At 7,500 feet, there were still small groups holding the first-line trenches.  Frequently, at the center of the group was a strong and sturdy spruce – the “noncom” of the little group.

Some conditions obtained on the Andes battlefront did not apply elsewhere.  In the topical Andes one found the cinchona trees, from which quinine was derived.  From their southern range to their northern limit, those trees covered thirty degrees of latitude, approximately eighteen hundred miles.  They never ventured lower than 2,500 feet, though they frequently climbed as high as 9,000 feet, where they dropped out, leaving to the elfin trees and shrub wood the march to the higher reaches.  In no other theater of war where the trees and the frost met in death grapple on the eerie slopes of high mountains did the trees have to make their last stand so far from the summits that were their objectives as in the Himalayan warzone.  Mr. and Mrs. Workman gave some interesting picture of the marching hosts that carried the warfare of the trees into the clouds.  At Kapaln, a rajah showed them a walnut tree, only two feet high, already bearing fruit.  That year’s crop was three walnuts.  At another place they found evergreen trees, mostly cedars, clinging to niches in the vertical or nearly vertical rock faces of mountains where there seemed to be no soil and where it seemed to be impossible for water to remain.  And yet, they were luxuriant; and that was at an elevation of 13,000 feet.  There were also deciduous trees, resembling mulberries, clinging to similar positions.  Even willows continued in ranks up to 11,500 feet, and at 14,400 feet, the last struggling bush held the most advanced outpost in the whole line.  One might have found thrilling stories of the truceless war on the timberline in many another isolated area.  In the mountains of Java, on the slopes of the Ruwenzori of Africa, in the Alps of Europe, in the mountains of New Zealand, in a hundred areas, the age-long struggle went on.  Every species of tree pushed just as far skyward and poleward as it could live.  Each species found its place in the general scheme.

It appeared true that during generations past the forces of Frost had won some ground from those of trees.  From many regions came reports of the dead bodies of trees that held positions in advance of any that were now living.  How that ground was taken, no one may ever know.  Sometimes, man proved an ally to the forces that try to limit the boundaries for the trees.  The so-called Alpine pastures of the Cevennes, in France, were not above the timberline at all.  They were merely grass-covered clearings, where the trees were destroyed so long ago that the memories of the natives ran not to the contrary. In many parts of the world, woodland and grassland opposed one another as rigorously as two hostile nations of equal strength, locked in a stalemate.  Trees did thier best to expand their kingdom at the expense of the grass, but the grass held its front-line trenches in a way that was wonderful to behold.  Whoever had seen the treeline the prairies of North America, the pampas of South America, the steppes of Asia, the veldt of Africa, or the plains of Australia must have been impressed by the hardihood of the grassy Davids that laid low the tree kingdoms Goliaths.  No one could follow the armies of the trees around the world without gathering the impression of them as soldiers.  So well were the different classes of troops trained that there were forces for every front.  Whether in the cold of Siberia or in the tropics, whether on polar plains or mountain summits, whether on the edge of the desert or the rim of the world, they showed an adaptability to environment and circumstance that made no mean contrast with the gifts of man himself to carry war where he will.


At the bottom of the last page of this two-page editorial (page 86) is a notice with the heading “INDEX FOR JANUARY-JUNE, 1922, VOLUME READY”.  The one-line text of the notice states “Index for Volume XLI (January-June, 1922) will be mailed to members upon request.”


The third item listed on this month’s cover is entitled “Views of the Lincoln Memorial” and has no byline.  It is not an article, but a set of “Eight Full-page Engravings” on pages 197 through 204.  These engravings use special ink and paper with acid-etched metal plates to transfer these images.

A list of the caption titles is as follows:

  • “The Lincoln Memorial and Its Reflecting Pool, Seen from the Top of the Washington Monument”
  • “The Lincoln Memorial Dedication Exercises, May 30, 1922”
  • “The Lincoln Memorial in Winter”
  • “The Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument, and the Capitol and National Museum Domes in the Distance”
  • “Here is an Altar Upon Which the Sacrifice Was Made in the Cause of Liberty”
  • “The Interior of the Memorial and “The Colossal Figure of the Beloved in Georgia Marble””
  • “The Lincoln Memorial, at the End of the Axis of the Mall, Reflected in the waters of the Tidal Basin”
  • “The Lincoln Memorial in Cherry-Blossom Season”


The fourth item listed on the cover (the third and last article) is entitled “The Arctic as an Air Route of the Future” and was written by Vilhjalmur Stefansson.  The article contains eight black-and-white photographs; five of which are full-page in size.  The article also contains a full-page sketch map, on page 206, of the Northern Hemisphere showing the proposed air routes.  The map is very British-centric, showing, among the other routes, two air routes from London to Tokyo of 6,300 and 6,528 miles. The map shows the three main existing routes from Great Britain to Yokohama.  The first, from Plymouth to Yokohama is entirely by sea – Atlantic, Mediterranean, Suez Canal, Rea Sea, Indian, and Pacific (13,033 miles); the second and third each combine sea and rail travel, the former, from London to Petrograd by the North Sea, by rail from Petrograd to Vladivostok, and then by sea again, the Pacific from Vladivostok to Yokohama (8,557 miles); the later goes from Liverpool to Montreal across the Atlantic and up the St. Lawrence, then by rail from Montreal to Vancouver, and finally across the Pacific from Vancouver to Yokohama (11,236 miles).  The map demonstrates the shortening of the travel distance, the speed of air travel shortened the time exponentially.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

The map of the Northern Hemisphere showed the Arctic Ocean was a huge Mediterranean.  It lied between the continents somewhat as the Mediterranean lied between Europe and Africa.  In the near future [of 1922], it would not only become passable, but would become a favorite air route between the continents, at least at certain seasons – safer, more comfortable, and consisting of much shorter “hops” than any other air route across the ocean.  The author envisioned booking passage from New York to Liverpool, or London to Tokyo, by dirigible or plane.  “When?” was the question.  When Tennyson spoke of the “aerial navies grappling in the central blue”, he was a poet and a prophet, for no inventions were then available the mere development of which could make such dreams a reality.  In 1922, the instruments existed and where being increasingly perfected.  The estimates of when transoceanic air service would be no longer a novelty differed.  They were measured in years according to the optimist, and in decades in the gloomier view of the pessimist.  Whenever regular transoceanic air commerce arrived, the author knew there would be those in England who would have pressing affairs in Tokyo.  Instead of going by way of New York or Montreal, they would, at least in the summer season, fly by way of the North Cape of Norway and Novaya Zemlya.  Since the days of Magellan, it had been commonplace that you could go east by sailing west.  It was about to become an equally commonplace that you could go east by flying north.  In the days of Columbus and Magellan, it was known that the shortest route from Europe to China was by sailing north.  In navigation, it was called great-circle sailing.  But the “frozen ocean” hindered their way.  Although the northwest passage was possible, it was not a practical route.  Before the days of the Suez and Panama canals, it was cheaper and safer to sail around the Horn or the Cape of Good Hope than to navigate the northwest passage around America or the northeast passage between the Pole and Asia.

Aircraft had been used in commerce and warfare at our own latitudes, but it was just being realized that they solved the four-hundred-year-old problem of the northwest passage, and gave, at last, the shortest route from Europe to the Far East.  The author believed that in five to fifty years, air travel in the arctic would become as common as air travel in the tropics or temperate latitudes, at least in the summer months.  At present [in 1922], passenger liners had winter routes that differed, sometimes by hundreds of miles, from their summer routes.  Aircraft would doubtlessly be even more free in their variations of route according to season.  The author predicted that the importance weather bureau to commerce would soon increase by a factor of ten, publishing forecasts daily, or even several times a day.  The information would be conveyed by wireless messages to the pilots, enabling them to vary their courses from hour to hour, as needed.  It was accidental whether the sailor on the ocean had fair or foul winds for sailing; but the pilot might have fair wind at one altitude but have a head wind either higher or lower.  Without knowing the wind patterns, it was impossible to predict where the transpolar air routes would lie.  They would probably vary from day to day.  There were four reasons for the anticipated popularity of the air routes from northern Europe to eastern Asia and from North America to northern Asia.  The author uses the England to Japan route as an example.  The most practical route from England, until 1922, was by ocean steamer to Montreal, Then by Canadian railways to Vancouver, and then by steamer on a northerly route, past the Aleutian Islands to Japan.  That route took approximately 11,000 miles from Liverpool to Yokohama.  But the distance from a railway terminus at the north of Great Britain to the northern end of Japan proper, where railway travel could be again resumed, was by air route only 4,960 miles, or about half the present route.

While half the distance meant half the time in transit, there were other economic factors that were advantageous for transpolar flight.  The second important economic advantage was savings in hydrogen.  Helium was the preferred gas for dirigibles, but it was rare.  In the sun’s rays, hydrogen expanded, so a loss of some gas was expected during the day, with ballast being tossed to compensate at night.  At far northern latitudes, that alteration was not a factor, either in winter, when it was always dark, or in the summer when it was always light.  The author discussed the summer example.  The speed of the dirigible that had crossed the Atlantic was great enough so that, stating north from Scotland on a spring daybreak, it would have reached Iceland in fifteen or twenty hours, and not see its first sunset until it was well into Asia on its way to Japan.  With no great expansion or contraction, there was less loss of gas; buoyancy was maintained, reducing the need for ballast, increasing its cruise range, and also allowing for more freight.  In air voyages no less than sea voyages, things will occasionally go wrong.  That brought the author to the third advantage of the northern route.  If you got into trouble, you would rather it happen in daylight than in darkness.  Under the perpetual sun of the polar summer, they were free from that attribute of southern tragedies.  The fourth advantage of polar air travel was the ice.  Even if the airship went down in open water, it would probably be only a few miles from the nearest icefloe, which could be reached by raft.  Those icefloes were solid, and warm enough in summer to serve as safe havens while awaiting rescue.  SOS calls would have given longitude and latitude of the crash site.  The ice-rafts were far more stable than any artificial raft could ever be.  If not a fifth great advantage, at least of contributing merit of the polar route would be “The Midnight Sun”, which could be exploited from the tourist point of view by airlines no less than it was by the tourist boat of 1922.

The transpolar route would become more important decade by decade.  In Siberia, there was only one great trunk railway.  It did, however, make accessible many of the mighty rivers that flowed north.  Those rivers were served by great steamers, making the Arctic locally accessible.   The Trans-Siberian Railway ran in large part through the wheat belt of Asia, and the potential cereal belt extended far north of it.  The author envisioned additional great east-west railways with many spurs running north and south.  He believed that the centers of civilized populations in Siberia and in Canada would continually move northward, thus an increasing need for the polar routes.  Many arguments against the polar routes were based on misinformation; difficulties were imagined where advantages could be found.  Take, for instance, the matter of summer temperatures.  There was more heat received by the sun at the Equator than anywhere else, but, in the summer, the daylight heat decreased by moving north was more than compensated by the increased length of day.  That is why Winnipeg was often warmer than New Orleans in July.  For five weeks every summer, more heat per day was received from the sun on a square mile in the Arctic than at the Equator.  In July, the air was around 50- or 55-degrees F, somewhat warmer higher up.  Flying conditions, at least temperature-wise, would be about the same in polar regions in summer as France of England in early spring.  Greenland was peculiar among the polar islands in that its great altitude enabled it to store up a large amount of “cold”.  A few other northern islands had glaciers, but there were vast areas of polar lowlands were the little snow that fell in winter disappeared quickly in spring.  There were ice-free lowlands in Arctic Canada everywhere except the Yukon.  It was expected that large regions of Siberia were also ice-free in summer.  The air was insulated from the frozen subsoil by a cloak of vegetation.

It was true that parts of the polar regions were given to summer fogs, but fogs lied low over the ocean and dirigibles and airplanes would navigate in the clear sunshine above them.  To make transpolar commerce work, base stations were needed.  They would have food and fuel, as well as rescue aircraft at the ready.  Those bases would be supplied by railways, by ocean steamers, or by river steamers.  The polar air routes had few long jumps between places that were [in 1922] reached with fair regularity by ocean or river steamer.  Those seemingly remote fur-trading post were more accessible than most people realized.  It took only about 25 days to reach the mouth of the Mackenzie, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in Canada by railway and steamboat.  The Trans-Siberian Railway and the great north-flowing Asiatic rivers meant the north coast of Siberia was also easily reached.  The islands that dot the polar ocean would become relay stations on various polar routes.  Accessibility should improve with air travel.  Planes could pick out ice-free routes for ships to follow.  It would be easy for ships to supply those strategic points so few airways would have to be far diverted from the shortest route.  As the cereal belts of middle Canada and middle Siberia were increasingly cultivated, great city would grow up nearer and nearer to the Arctic.  It had already started.  Thirty years prior, Edmonton was a village, in 1922, it was a city of 60,000 inhabitants.  An air route from the northern railway terminus, north of Edmonton, to Archangel in northern Russia, was only 3,946 miles.  As the railway continued to push northward, that distance would only grow shorter.  The journey from the northern railway terminus to the mouth of the Mackenzie took only fifteen days by steamer.  From there to the mouth the Kolyma River in Siberia was only 1,541 miles by way of Point Barrow and Wrangel Island.  The longest hop, from Point Barrow to Wrangel Island was about 450 miles.

By branching off at Wrangel, one could reach the mouth of the Lena in a total distance from the Mackenzie of 2,208, with the longest hop being 750 miles from Wrangel Island to Holy Cape.  An air route without any jumps longer than 555 miles ran from the mouth of the Mackenzie by way of Prince Patrick Island, Borden Island, Grant Land, Greenland, and Spitzbergen to North Cape, Norway, a total distance of 2,745 miles.  From North Cape, Petrograd overland was 788 miles away.  Those were just a small fraction of the distances traveled using the current [in 1922] methods of ship and rail.  The shortest air route from Great Britain to Japan was 4,960 miles, as opposed to the 8,542 miles for the present rail and steamer route through Siberia.  The disadvantage of that shorter route was that it was not sufficiently north to get maximum daylight, with only half of the journey lying north of the Arctic Circle.  To take advantage of the perpetual daylight of the polar summer, the author plotted a route from Scotland to Iceland, then Jan Mayan Island, Spitzbergen, Franz Josef Land, Cape Chelyuskin, and thence overland to Japan.  That route only added a few hours more flight time, but the daylight more than compensated.  Air travel was rapidly advancing – the British biplane that crossed the Atlantic made a single “hop” of 1,960 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland; the N-C4 made a hop of 1,240 miles from Newfoundland to the Azores; and Sir Ross Smith, in 27 days 20 hours elapsed time, flew 11,500 miles from England to Australia, with the longest single hop being 712 mile, and average hops of 412 miles.  For comparison, the longest hop on the London-Tokyo polar route would be 976 miles.  Sir Ross Smith’s plane had been, and would be further, improved upon.  As the centers of population continued to move north in Canada and Siberia, the importance of the transpolar air routes would correspondingly increase.  Transarctic air routes were destined to come into everyday use whenever air travel, in general, became commonplace.



Tom Wilson

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