It was 90 years ago today that the fighting of World War I between the Allies and Germany ceased, on 11 a.m. on 11 Nov. 1918 — now variously commemorated as Veteran’s Day (U.S. only), Armistice Day, Poppy Day, and Remembrance Day. The Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war (and some would say laid the ground for the next one) when it was signed the next year in June.

I started thinking about what else was going on in 1918.


The Spanish Flu epidemic, coming in waves from 4 March 1918 to June 1920, infecting from 500 to 950 million people worldwide and killing 20 to 100 million people,  likely quite a bit more than the number of people killed in World War I (8.5-10 million combatants plus about 10 million civilians, mainly of famine and illness other than the flu). The Spanish Flu was unusual in that it killed healthy adults (average age: 33) and spread even to the Arctic. It seems to have started in the U.S. state of Kansas.

The Sedition Act was passed in the U.S. at the behest of Pres. Woodrow Wilson and “forbade Americans to use ‘disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language’ about the United States government, flag, or armed forces during war.” Under the act, members of the Industrial Workers of the World union (U.S. citizens) were imprisoned during World War I. Wikipedia says that in his book The Great Influenza, John Barry claims “that the reason there is so little information available today about the 1918 influenza pandemic is that the newspapers supported the act. The information might have lowered the morale of the civilians supporting the war effort and the morale of the troops fighting the war.” The Sedition Act was repealed by Congress in 1920.

The UK allowed women over age 30 to vote and widened suffrage generally in Feb. 1918 “by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men [over 21] and by enfranchising women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications.” The tripled the electorate from 7.7 million people to over 21 million. In December, Constance Markiewicz was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. Women under 30 were not allowed to vote until 1928. (U.S. women gained the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, ratified in Aug. 1920.)

The Russian royal Romanov family was shot to death on 16 July at Yekaterinburg by order of the Bolsheviks. This included Nicholas II and Aleksandra, their daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, and their son Alexis.

Lynching of black Americans continued in the U.S. South. In May, 8-months-pregnant Mary Turner was horrifically killed for opposing her husband’s lynching: “She was taken from her home by a mob of several hundred, had her ankles tied, was hung upside down from a tree, doused in gasoline and motor oil and set on fire.  Whilst still alive, a member of the mob split her abdomen open with a knife, and the unborn child fell to ground, where it was repeatedly stomped on and crushed. Finally, Turner’s body was riddled with bullets. After the incident, the Associated Press wrote that Mary Turner had made unwise remarks about the execution of her husband.”

At the time of Finland’s independence from Russian in late 1917, that country passed its Mosaic Confessors act, which went into effect in Jan. 1918 and which for the first time allowed Jews living in Finland to become Finnish nationals with full rights of citizens, and Jews who weren’t Finns were to be treated like any other foreigner. Finland was engaged in civil war for the first part of 1918, between the socialists Reds (supported by Bolshevist Russia) and the non-socialist whites (supported by Germany); and when the Finnish Air Force was founded in March, the “blue swastika is adopted as its symbol as a tribute to the Swedish explorer and aviator Eric von Rosen, who donated the first plane. Von Rosen had painted the Buddhist symbol on the plane as his personal lucky insignia.”

In Feb. 1918, Russia switched from the Julian calendar (which had essentially been in force since 45 B.C.) to the Gregorian calendar, and 1 Feb suddenly became 14 Feb.  Even stranger than daylight savings time, though only a one-time event. Speaking of DST, it first went into effect in the U.S. in March 1918, as did U.S. time zones!

Max Planck of Germany won the Nobel Prize for physics for his quantum theory of light.

Regular U.S. airmail service started in May 1918, among New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Forbes magazine produced its first Richest Americans list. The combined wealth of the 30 richest Americans was $3.7 billion. In 2007, the top 30 of the Forbes 400 were worth about $541 billlion.

The Raggedy Ann doll was introduced for sale in the U.S., based on a prototype produced to promote sales of the first book of Raggedy Ann stories, written by Johnny Gruelle.

Rinso, the world’s first granulated laundry soap, was introduced by Lever Brothers.

On 11 Sept 1918, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs for the World Series championship, their last World Series win until 2004.

U.S. Disasters:

  • 9 July: The great train wreck of 1918 (two trains collided) in Nashville, Tennessee kills 101. (Other reports say 99 killed and 171 injured)
  • 12 Oct.: The Cloquet Fire killed 453 people in the city of Cloquet, Minnesota and nearby.
  • 25 Oct.: The Princess Sophia sank on a reef near Juneau, Alaska and 353 people died in the “greatest maritime disaster in the Pacific Northwest.”
  • 1 Nov.: The Malbone Street Wreck, which was “the worst rapid transit accident in world history,” occured in Brooklyn approaching the new Prospect Park subway station, killing 97 and injuring 100 people.


Jan: Gamal Abdel Nasser, pres. of Egypt 1956-1970; Oral Roberts, evangelist; Nicolae Ceauşescu, Romanian dictator

Feb: Muriel Spark, Scottish novelist (Prime of Miss Jean Brodie); Joey Bishop, American entertainer; Don Pardo (SNL announcer); Bobby Riggs, tennis player

March: Mickey Spillane, American writer; Howard Cosell, sports journalist; Pearl Bailey, singer and actress; Sam Walton of Wal-Mart

April: Betty Ford, first lady; William Holden, actor.

May: Jack Paar, American TV host; Mike Wallace (60 Minutes); Julius Rosenberg, American-born Soviet spy


July: Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren, advice columnists; Ingmar Bergman, Swedish film director; Nelson Mandela, pres. South Africa

August: Leonard Bernstein, American composer and conductor; Ted Williams, American baseball player

Sept.: Paul Harvey, American radio broadcaster

Oct.: Rita Hayworth, American actress

Nov.: Art Carney, American actor (The Honeymooners); Billy Graham, American evangelist; Spiro Agnew, American VP

Dec.: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer; Kurt Waldheim, Austrian president and Secretary-General of the UN; Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt; Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of Germany 1974-1982


Gustav Klimt, Austrian painter (b. 1862); Claude Debussy, French composer (b. 1862); Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron), German World War I pilot (b. 1892); Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (b. 1868) and his family, in the Russian Revolution; Stanley Steamer co-inventor Francis E. Stanley (in an auto accident) (b.1849); Joyce Kilmer poet (Trees) (b. 1886); tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds (b.1850); Wilfred Owen, English poet (killed in action) (b. 1893); Edmond Rostand, playwright (Cyrano de Bergerac) (b.1868);  Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet (b. 1880)


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