United States and American History: 1915

About the history of the United States in 1915, first taxicab, first transcontinental telephone service, sinking of the Lusitania, peace ship sails.


--The taxicab appeared. For a short ride, drivers charged a nickel, or a "jitney," and the word became a synonym for the vehicle.

Jan. 25 Alexander Graham Bell, speaking into a New York City telephone which was an exact copy of his 1876 invention, said to his assistant, Dr. Thomas A. Watson: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." Watson, in his reply, said it would probably take him 4 days by fast train. He was then in San Francisco, helping to inaugurate the U.S. transcontinental telephone service.

May 7 The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine, the Unterseeboot 20, off the Irish coast. (See: Man-Made Disaster, Chap. 9.)

Nov. Poet, songwriter, and labor leader Joe Hill was executed in Utah despite the pleas of President Wilson, the Swedish Government, and thousands of others. He had been convicted of murdering an ex-policeman. His last words were "Don't mourn for me-organize!" Dec. 4 Henry Ford's chartered "Peace Ship," Oscar II, sailed from Hoboken, N.J. Ford had seen a newspaper account that reported the senseless death, within a 24-hour period, of 20,000 soldiers in the trenches. They had been slaughtered "...without shifting the position of the armies." Sickened, he publicly avowed to spend half of his fortune if it would cut the war by a single day. His impulsive statement attracted the attention of the pacifist group which included welfare workers Jane Addams and Mme. Rosika Schwimmer. Mme. Schwimmer had just returned from Europe with a "little black bag" bulging with statements allegedly made to the pacifist group by foreign ministers of the warring powers. She convinced Ford that he could personally mediate and stop the war.

Sailing aboard the ship: 54 newspaper and magazine correspondents, some 60 peace delegates, 3 men from the newsreels, and Ford's personal staff of 20.

After 2 days at sea, the reporters organized their own group, called "The Friendly Sons of St. Vitus," with a motto, "Skoal!," and club headquarters were located in the ship's bar. Their daily dispatches from this "wet" pressroom noted that fighting had broken out among the pacifists as well. Six days after leaving Hoboken, magazine publisher Samuel McClure read to those aboard President Wilson's speech on preparedness, delivered to Congress on December 10. The next morning, the pacifists' Committee on Resolution offered a declaration for signatures, flatly rejecting Wilson's pleas. McClure and others, objecting vociferously, refused to sign. The correspondents promptly sent stories to their papers of "mutiny aboard Oscar II," and the British went so far as to send out a party of marines to check on the uprising.

The ship docked at Christiania, Norway, on December 19. Ford, ill and homesick, left secretly for the U.S. on Christmas Eve, remarking that he had not seen much peace during the crossing, and he had learned only that "Russia is going to be a great market for tractors." His departure crippled the mission. Some delegates quit at once. A few others continued to tour through the neutral countries in 1916, giving speeches intended to end the war. The Peace Expedition, ridiculed on all sides, hamstrung other pacifist causes in the U.S.

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