Year
1914

First World War erupts

Four days after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany and Russia declare war against each other, France orders a general mobilization, and the first German army units cross into Luxembourg in preparation for the German invasion of France. During the next three days, Russia, France, Belgium, and Great Britain all lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and the German army invaded Belgium. The “Great War” that ensued was one of unprecedented destruction and loss of life, resulting in the deaths of some 20 million soldiers and civilians.

On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle’s imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austria-Hungary declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital of Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the “Schlieffen Plan,” which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.

The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies nor the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front–the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium–the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition.

In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, but after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies’ favor. Bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with an imminent invasion, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in November 1918.

World War I was known as the “war to end all wars” because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict–the Treaty of Versailles of 1919–forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Columbus lands in South America

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sets foot on the American mainland for the first time, at the Paria Peninsula in present-day Venezuela. Thinking it an island, he christened it Isla Santa and claimed it for Spain.Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of ...read more

Warsaw Revolt begins

During World War II, an advance Soviet armored column under General Konstantin Rokossovski reaches the Vistula River along the eastern suburb of Warsaw, prompting Poles in the city to launch a major uprising against the Nazi occupation. The revolt was spearheaded by Polish ...read more

Texans head for the thrills at Six Flags

On this day in 1961, amusement park lovers “head for the thrills” as Six Flags Over Texas, the first park in the Six Flags chain, opens. Located on 212 acres in Arlington, Texas, the park was the first to feature log flume and mine train rides and later, the first 360-degree ...read more

Michael Johnson brings home second gold

On this day in 1996, sprinter Michael Johnson breaks the world record in the 200 meters to win gold at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Three days earlier, Johnson had also won the 400 meters, making him the first man in history to win both events at the Olympics.Four years ...read more

Shane released by Paramount

Shane, considered by many critics to be the greatest western movie, is released by Paramount Pictures.Based on Jack Schaefer’s 1949 novel of the same name, Shane was a new type of western. After World War II, Americans began to crave books and ...read more

MTV makes its maiden broadcast

“If advertisers make the video disco channel a success, the implications for cable television and the recording industry could be far reaching,” wrote a New York Times business columnist in the summer of 1981 about the upcoming premiere of a new cable television network dedicated ...read more

MTV launches

On this day in 1981, MTV: Music Television goes on the air for the first time ever, with the words (spoken by one of MTV’s creators, John Lack): “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll.” The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video to air on the new cable ...read more

Mysterious flood strikes North Vietnam

A severe flood of the Red River in North Vietnam kills an estimated 100,000 people on this day in 1971. This remarkable flood was one of the century’s most serious weather events, but because the Vietnam War was going on at the time, relatively few details about the disaster are ...read more

Helsinki Final Act signed

The United States, the Soviet Union, Canada and every European nation (except Albania) sign the Helsinki Final Act on the last day of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The act was intended to revive the sagging spirit of detente between the Soviet Union ...read more

First drive-through ATM opens in China

On this day in 2007, Citibank opens China’s first drive-through automated teller machine (ATM) at the Upper East Side Central Plaza in Beijing. Like those of drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies, the origins of drive-through banking can be traced to the United States. ...read more

Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen

On this day in 1774, dissenting British minister Joseph Priestly, author of Observations on Civil Liberty and the Nature and Justice of the War with America, discovers oxygen while serving as a tutor to the sons of American sympathizer William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, at ...read more