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100 Years Ago: March 1917


Note: This is my 27th entry in my series of short reviews of National Geographic issues as they reach their centennial.



As you can see by the cover, there are six articles in this issue.  Each of them is related, directly or indirectly, to World War I.


The first article is entitled “What Great Britain is Doing”.  It was written by Sydney Brooks and has seven black-and-white photographs.  The article discusses England’s war effort and starts with how the Brits’ tendency toward self-deprecation has led to them losing the propaganda war while, in fact, winning the actual one.

Mr. Brooks makes a pitch directly to the American people (via National Geographic) to side with the Allies and not the Central Powers.  He goes on to explain how victory is inevitable due to the British Navy, the contributions from the rest of the empire, and the massive industrialization of a nation that is now on a war footing.


The second article, “Russia’s Democrats”, was written by Montgomery Schuyler and has twenty-four black-and-white photos interspersed throughout, many of them full-page.  The article lays out the history of the country and how its people gave power to Norse Princes to rule them, thus creating a ruling class with no ties to the people.  It describes the agrarian nature of its people and their communal system of farming and living which he ironically labels “communism”.

The article goes on to discusses the recent overthrow of the Tsar, and optimistically, but cautiously, predicts a new republic as long as “the more radical elements” can be kept in check.  Of course, by November those hopes were dashed.


The third article is more of a “big picture” look at the march towards democracy throughout the world.  It is entitled “Republics – the Ladder to Liberty” and was written by David Jayne Hill, the former U.S. Ambassador to Germany.   It has five black-and-white photographs and two sketch maps of the world.

Photos courtesy of Philip Riviere

As the maps on pages 242 and 243 show, in less than 150 years the globe has shifted from one ruled by despots to one that, for the most part, is self-ruled by the people.  The glaring exceptions on the second map are the Central Powers upon whom we are about to declare war.

The article discusses the early republics of Switzerland, the Netherlands, Venice, and Genoa; and then the United States and France.  The difficulties and missteps are laid out, but the trend is clearly on the side of freedom.


The fourth article is entitled “War, Patriotism, and the Food Supply” and was written by Frederick V. Coville, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This short article (just over two pages) has no photos and requests that all Americans who are able plant gardens to help feed themselves so that farm grown food can be shipped to the allies in the war effort.


Between the fourth and fifth articles are “16 Pages in Four Colors”.  These are full-page black-and-white photographs that have been painstakingly colorized to make them appear (almost) natural.  The photos are from Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East and show the readers an exotic world that only color can bring out.

I suspected that they were not true color photographs but the proof hit me when I saw the image on page 263.  (Note: These images are not page numbered.)  I immediately recognized it as a black-and-white photo from page 11 of the January 1914 issue of National Geographic.  I know this image because the colorized version was used as the back cover of the 1920 “Specimen in Miniature” promotional brochure.  I thought it was colorized for this pamphlet but I obviously was incorrect.


The fifth article has a very similar theme as the fourth.  It is entitled “Soldiers of the Soil” and was written by David F. Houston, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  It is also very short and has four full-page black-and-white photographs that are not documented on the cover.  This article is directed to the farmers and is a plea to increase output as much as possible due to the war.  Even if the war ended, the need would be still great because it would take years for Europe to become self-sufficient again.


The final article, “The Ties That Bind” is a transcript of a speech given on April 4th by Senator John Sharp Williams during the debate on a declaration of war.  (War was declared the next day.)  It has four black-and-white photographs.  His speech is pro-English and he takes umbrage at another, unnamed Senator’s implication that we should side with Germany because England has always been our enemy.   He goes on to quote George Washington as warning against an infuriate and insensate hatred of some particular people – because a man with that poison in his blood is incapable of being a real, good American citizen in a country where the melting pot will finally operate.

Tom Wilson

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Enjoy these entries very much - well done guys!



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