Skip to main content

1915 Seventy-five Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

After celebrating the building of his one-millionth automobile earlier in the year, Henry Ford sailed for Norway on December 4 aboard his “peace ship,” the Oscar II . His mission, said Ford, was “to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas.” Ford’s proposal for a general strike Christmas Day by the armies dug in along the Western Front could “best be described as piffle,” wrote The New York Times that week, but Ford would not be swayed. “I have faith in the people,” he declared.

In a Presbyterian ceremony performed by her minister in Mrs. Gait’s Washington home, President Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Edith Boiling Gait married on December 18. The President and Mrs. Gait had met in March. She had worried during their encounter over her muddy shoes, but Wilson, whose wife had died less than a year before, was not put off. A few months later, he wrote a friend about the widowed Mrs. Gait: “You would think that it was only love that was speaking if I were to tell you what she is like, how endowed and made distinguished in her loveliness. …” Wilson never discovered the movement among his advisers to postpone his remarriage until after the 1916 election. The idea died when Josephus Daniels, his Secretary of the Navy, wisely turned down the job of proposing it to the President.

On December 8 the The New York Times and World carried the story that the State Department had declared the operators of a German spy ring personae non gratae . The master plot was first uncovered by the Secret Service in July, when one of the Germans left his briefcase behind on a New York City subway car. The agent following Heinrich Albert claimed the abandoned case, and its contents revealed a network of spies and saboteurs.

The star of the German agents, Franz von Rintelen, had spent twelve million dollars stirring up revolution in Mexico, hoping the United States would be drawn in and its export of munitions to Europe slowed down. A most effective and clever agent, von Rintelen gave himself away by falling in love. While vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, he met and unburdened himself to a young woman named Anne Seward, even telling her of all his plans for sabotage. Anne Seward wrote to Secretary of State Robert Lansing, who quickly sent his assistant to Maine to see her. This, together with the earlier evidence in Albert’s briefcase, eventually gave the government what it needed to act against the German ring.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1990"

Authored by: Tom Carter


Authored by: Richard Brophy

Like any other popular art, jigsaw puzzles can tell us a lot about pieces of the past

Authored by: The Editors

The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

Authored by: The Editors

The Story of the United States Portrayed on its Postage Stamps

Authored by: The Editors

We asked dozens of historians to play detective and tell us what case in all of American history they would most like to see cracked

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Authored by: Judith Dunford

Fewer than half of O. Henry’s short stories actually take place in New York, but we still see the city through his eyes

Authored by: Jeffrey W. Miller

In the early sixties it was going to revolutionize American education. By the early seventies it had confounded a generation of schoolchildren. Today it is virtually forgotten. But as we head toward another round of educational reforms, we should recall why it went wrong.

Authored by: Carmine Prioli

Giving the men who died aboard America’s first battleship a decent funeral took fourteen years, three-quarters of a million dollars, and some hair-raising engineering. But in the end, they did it right.

Featured Articles

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

Often thought to have been a weak President, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or political fallout.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.