1914 Seventy-five Years Ago

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Woodrow Wilson was pacing the empty corridors of the White House, agonizing over his wife’s deepening illness, when war broke out in Europe during the first week of August. Wilson immediately offered to mediate any differences between the European powers but received only complaints from the belligerents about the way the other side was conducting the war.

George Harvey defined the impossible situation Wilson faced in the North American Review : “Europe has long been sick—perhaps sick unto death. The forty years’ peace has been no peace, only a feverish truce wherein national rivalries and racial hatreds have intensified and deepened until the day of reckoning was bound to come.” Helpless to alter the nationalist hysteria that drove the overarmed nations of Europe to war, Wilson would urge Americans to remain neutral in thought as well as in name. Though almost all Americans agreed that the United States should remain neutral, public sentiment generally agreed with the New York World that “the Kaiser has plunged his sword into the heart of civilization.”

On August 6, the day Wilson issued the formal proclamation of American neutrality, his wife Ellen died. It is impossible to say what effect Wilson’s personal tragedy had on his unsuccessful effort to mediate an end to the war.

On August 5 the American Traffic Signal Company installed a fifteen-foot device that used red and green lights and a buzzer to control traffic at the corner of Euclid Avenue and 105th Street in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the first appearance of the electric traffic light on American roads.