Category Archives: World War 1

Old Glory: Banned in Boston


We recently carried an image , a smaller version of which is shown at the right above, of the SS Kansan, illustrating how the U.S. flag was illuminated to make abundantly clear that the ship was a neutral vessel.  The image appeared on the cover of the January 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter.

Newsstand readers in Boston, however, didn’t see the flag.  Instead, some of them saw a sticker of Santa Claus.  Massachusetts law forbade the sale of goods displaying the flag, so news dealers were forced to obscure it.  In this case, Santa Claus got the honors of being the censor.  The image above is taken from the magazine’s March issue, which explained the odd juxtaposition.

Abdication of Czar Nicolas, 1917

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Czar Nicolas II. Wikipedia photo.

On this day a hundred years ago, March 15, 1917, Czar Nicolas II of Russia abdicated the throne. Although his government continued for a time to tenuously hold power, he and his family were eventually executed in 1918.

Sinking of the California, 1917

A hundred years ago today, the U.S. was clearly getting closer to war.

On February 1, Germany had announced unrestricted submarine warfare, and on February 3, the American freighter Housatonic was boarded and sunk. And a hundred years ago today, the British passenger ship SS California, en route from New York to Glascow, was attacked by a German U-Boat near the Irish coast, with the loss of 41 lives.

With the subsequent publication of the Zimmermann telegram, U.S. involvement in the war was becoming inevitable, with the declaration of war coming on April 6.

SS Kansan, 1917


Within a few months, America would be at war, but a hundred years ago this month, the country was still neutral, and the cover of the January 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine showed how electricity was helping to preserve that neutrality.

The ship depicted is the steamer Kansan, of the Hawaiian-American line. The flag was painted on both sides of the ship, and powerful electric lights were employed to cast their rays on the flag at night.

There had been cases of neutral vessels being sunk by submarine commanders not wanting to get close enough to a ship to make a positive identification of its nationality. The immense flag “would seem to be a very sure manner of indicating to any submarine commander as to just what ship he was dealing with.”

While the illuminated flag apparently protected the Kansan during American neutrality, she did not fare well after the country’s entry into the war.  On July 10, 1917, she was sunk without warning by a submarine or mine two miles east of Kardonis Point (Belle Isle), France.  Four men died in the attack.


Zimmermann Telegram, 1917

Zimmermann Telegram, as sent from Washington to Mexico City. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Zimmermann Telegram, which played a key role in the entry of the United States into the First World War.  The message was originally sent from Germany on January 11, and on January 19, 1917, it made the final leg of its circuitous route to Mexico City.

Interestingly, the telegram was routed through Britain, which allowed the British to intercept and decode it.  Because the Germans had no wire communications with America, President Wilson allowed them to send diplomatic cables courtesy of the American embassy in Copenhagen.  That was routed through Britain, where the British were able to intercept it.

From the German embassy in Washington, the cable was sent to Mexico City by Western Union.  The telegram instructed the German ambassador to Mexico to propose, if hostilities appeared imminent, an alliance between Germany and Mexico.

USS Arizona, 1917

1917janpmShown here in Popular Mechanics, January 1917, is the recently launched USS Arizona passing down the East River from the New York Navy Yard on her first voyage into the Atlantic. The ship had been launched in June 1915 and christened with a bottle of water taken from the first to flow through the spillway of the Roosevelt Dam.

The 608 foot long ship remained stateside during the First World War. She was sent to Turkey in 1919 at the beginning of the Greco-Turkish war, and transferred to the Pacific Fleet for the rest of her career.

It was regularly used for training between the wars, and after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the ship’s crew provided aid to the survivors. In April 1940, she was transferred to Pearl Harbor with the rest of the Pacific Fleet.

Arizona sunk and burning, December 7, 1941. Wikipedia photo.

During the attack of December 7, 1941, a bomb detonated in a powder magazine, causing the ship to explode violently and sink, with the loss of 1177 lives.

The ship remains a permanent memorial to “be maintained in honor and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.”

Armistice Day: America’s Obligation and Opportunity To Serve Stricken Humanity

free-vector-poppy-remembrance-day-clip-art_106032_Poppy_Remembrance_Day_clip_art_smallNinety-eight years ago today, the First World War ended with the signing of the Armistice, with hostilities to cease at 11:00 AM, November 11, 1918.

The next day’s newspaper carried the plea of Food Administrator Herbert Hoover with respect to America’s duty: “The nation’s obligation and opportunity to serve stricken humanity in war-torn Europe by helping to provide sustenance until the next harvest will demand further sacrifices of the American people.” He pointed out that North America would need to furnish 60% of the world’s supply of food, and to forestall starvation, would need to export 20 million tons, as compared with the prewar normal of 5 million.

“The group of gamblers in human life who have done this thing are now in cowardly flight, leaving anarchy and famine to millions of helpless people.”

Cpl. Maurice Masterson, 1895-1918

During the centennial of World War 1, this page periodically remembers American servicemen who gave their lives in that war.

Corporal Maurice Masterson, the son of Edward J. Masterson and Florence Dalton, was killed in action on this day 98 years ago.  He was born on August 8, 1895, in Pomeroy, Iowa. The family moved to Barnesville, Minnesota, in 1905, where he and his brothers excelled in school. In 1917, the three brothers dropped out of college to join the Army. Maurice served in the 151st Field Artillery, Rainbow Division.

On September 18, 1918, Cpl. Masterson was severely wounded or gassed.  He was killed in an artillery barrage in France on November 1, 1918.  He is buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Barnesville, Minnesota.  American Legion Post 153, Barnesville, Minnesota, is named in his memory.

The photo here is from Soldiers of the Great War, Volume 2, Page 114.


Execution of Capt. Charles Fryatt, 1916

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Capt. Fryatt. Wikipedia photo.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the execution of Captain Charles Fryatt, a British mariner. He was executed by the Germans for attempting to ram a U-boat which was attacking his ship, the SS Brussels, in 1915.

Fryatt’s first encounter with a U-boat came in March 1915 when his command, the SS Wrexham, was under attack. Even though the ship’s normal top speed was 14 knots, with deckhands assisting the stokers, he managed to make 16 knots and arrive safely at port.

On March 28, he was in command of the Brussels, and was ordered to stop by U-boat U-33. When the U-boat surfaced to torpedo the ship, he ordered full steam ahead in an attempt to ram the U-boat. The incident received some notariety in England, and Fryatt was awarded a gold watch by the admiralty.

On June 25, 1916, the Brussels left Holland for England. A passenger on deck reportedly signaled to shore, and the ship was soon surrounded by five German destroyers. The ship was seized, its radio destroyed, and the crew was arrested.

Fryatt was tried by a German court martial on charges of sinking a submarine as a non-combatant (even though the submarine had not really been sunk). He was tried on July 27, 1916, the inscription on the watch serving as evidence of the charges. He was found guilty and executed by firing squad that same evening at Bruges, Belgium.

Whatever warning the execution might have given mariners was overshadowed by the reaction in neutral America. The New York Times called the execution “a deliberate murder,” and the New York Herald called it “the crowning German atrocity.”

The Swiss Journal de Genève opined, “it is monstrous to maintain that armed forces have a right to murder civilians but that civilians are guilty of a crime in defending themselves”.

The November, 1916, issue of Wireless World carried the following note which underscores Capt. Fryatt’s bravery:

A very touching little posthumous incident connected with Captain Fryatt, the gallant Commander of the Brussels, so infamously done to death by the Germans, was recently chronicled by the daily Press. The English stewardesses who, after a great deal of diplomatic pourparlers, were at length released in the beginning of October, narrated that Captain Fryatt was warned by the Germans that if he employed his wireless equipment his vessel and all on board would be sent to the bottom.

Therefore when the wireless operator asked, as the Germans clambered on board, whether be should summon aid the chivalrous seaman answered,” No, I don’t care “what they do with me, but I must think of the lives of the women I carry.” In view of the recent haul of German and Dutch spies made by the Netherlands Government, the further statement of the stewardesses that movements of the Brussels were signalled by flashlight to a German submarine lurking in Dutch waters, and retransmitted by wireless to the German torpedo boat, assumes an air of verisimilitude.

Mount Fryatt, Alberta. By chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mount Fryatt, Alberta. By chensiyuan (chensiyuan) [GFDL  or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The 11,027 foot Mount Fryatt, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, was named in honor of Captain Fryatt in 1922. The nearby Brussels Peak is named in honor of his ship.

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1916 Preparedness Day Bombing

Newspaper images of the injured and dead. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Preparedness Day Bombing of July 22 1916.

During San Francisco’s Preparedness Day parade, a suitcase bomb exploded, killing ten and wounding 40. Two labor leaders, Thomas Mooney and Warren K. Billings were convicted and sentenced to death, their sentences later commuted to life. Later investigations found that the convictions had been obtained by false testimony, and the men were released in 1939 and later pardoned. The identity of the bombers has never been determined.

The parade followed the Washington preparedness parade of June 14, and had been targeted by radicals. One unsigned pamphlet had been circulated which read, “we are going to use a little direct action on the 22nd to show that militarism can’t be forced on us and our children without a violent protest.”

The three and a half hour parade had over 50,000 marchers and 52 bands. At 2:06 PM, the cast steel pipe bomb exploded on the west side of Steuart Street, just south of Market Street.

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