1919 – When It Felt Like the World Was Ending

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This weekend my wife and I enjoyed the opportunity of visiting the World War I Museum in Kansas City along with some friends. I was expecting a small affair but was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent and elaborate layout that does a fine job of capturing the enormity of World War I.

At the center of the museum was a wall that held the following stats to demonstrate how huge this war was:

  • 1 out of three French men between the ages of 18 and 30 died by 1917.
  • 33 German cities broke out in food riots in 1918 to protest food rationing.
  • 600 Parisian taxicabs that transported over 6,000 army reservists 18 miles to the Ourcq River in the First Battle of the Marne September 7 and 8, 1914.
  • 654 new German companies entered gun and ammunition production by November 1918.
  • 2,000 German periodicals ceased publication by February 13, 1916, due to a shortage of paper.
  • 15,000 bombs a week produced by one British explosives factory in March 1916 by 175 women workers.
  • 35,000 miles of trenches crisscrossed the Western Front by 1917.

  • 55,397 German prisoners of war held in Great Britain in March 1917.
  • 116,233 French daily production of 75mm shells January 1916.
  • 157,300 gardens planted in Vienna Austria for supplemental food in 1918. This was up from 34,000 the year before.
  • 600,000 Armenian men, women and children who died during Turkish removals.
  • 1,163,500 tons of new ships built in Great Britain in 1917, up from 542,000 in 1916.
  • 2,000,000 Russian workers employed in war industries in 1916.

  • 3,500,000 estimated number of prisoners of war held by both the Allies and the Central Powers in 1917.
  • 65,000,000 artillery shells produced in Canada for the British Empire during the war.
  • $4,000,000,000 Russian War debt in 1917 dollars when Russia withdrew from the war in 1917.
  • $96,000,000 daily cost (in 1918 dollars) of waging war by European nations in 1918.

This war was unlike ANYTHING the world ever experienced before this time. People showed up to fight on horses and with swords (because that was the type of warfare they were accustomed to) and they were met with tanks, machine guns, airplanes and chemical weapons.

I have often thought about what it must have been like to live through such shocking trauma. For many, it must have felt like the end of the world. When the survivors returned from the fighting they were met with the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918. After losing 16 million people to death in the war, another estimated 50 million people around the world died of the flu in the immediate years after the war.

It must have looked like the apocalypse if you were alive at the time. The entire world order was collapsing, and death was at every turn. In fact, many preachers and writers were talking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse (death, famine, war and conquest).

This perspective is at the heart of a podcast episode I released some time back called “Apocalypse – A Historical Account Based Upon a True Story.” While I don’t focus exclusively on World War I in this podcast episode it occupies a large part of what is discussed.

We look back at different points in history when people thought the world was coming to an end.