This article was originally posted at ActiveHistory.ca on Friday December 20, 2013.
By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham
Each year, websites and magazines come out with year in review articles that attempt to summarize the year and highlight the major events of the previous 12 months. While these can be entertaining, they are fraught with peril as it is difficult to determine what, moving forward, will prove to be influential. If you look back at some of these articles, things that were thought to be significant fade into oblivion while lesser known events or people end up being the most memorable.
With the perspective of 100 years, however, determining the significant events of a given year becomes a little easier. That is why we are inaugurating our First (Annual?) Year in Review (100 Years Later) Bracket. We compiled the major events of 1913, ranked them, and put them into a ‘March Madness’ style bracket. The four ‘regions’ are the Humanist Region, the International Region, the Innovation Region, and the Potpourri Region.
The results of the first two rounds can be seen in the bracket here with the primary factor being the long-term significance of the event. For the final sixteen, we decided to engage in a back and forth debate to determine the biggest event of 1913.
Sweet Sixteen (seeds in brackets)
(1) Gandhi Arrested in South Africa Protest v. (13) Rosa Parks Born
Sean: I guess the first thing we should do is specify which arrest we’re talking about – Gandhi was arrested on November 6, 8, and 9 – but since they were all for the same thing, we’ll treat them as a single event. The arrests came from Gandhi’s leading of a march to protest South Africa’s Indian Relief Bill, which taxed all former indentured labourers. This is well deserving of a #1 seed in the tournament as its effects are far reaching: it is part of South Africa’s checkered racial history, it further popularized Gandhi’s non-violent methods, and contributed to Gandhi’s status as a crusader. With influential figures like Kwame Nkrumah and Martin Luther King Jr. using similar methods to great success in the second half of the 20th century, it would appear as though Gandhi had a greater impact globally.
This is not to diminish what Rosa Parks did – it was incredibly significant, heroic, and iconic, but the international significance is not the same as Gandhi.
Aaron: We’re talking here of two iconic “heavy-weights” and it is quite fitting that they should go head-to-head in the Sweet Sixteen. Both Gandhi and Rosa Parks are massively influential figures in the civil and political rights movements and whoever wins this round is deserving of it. That being said, my vote is for Rosa Parks. If Parks did not “start” the Civil Rights movement in the United States, she certainly placed it in the mainstream by refusing to give up her seat – as required by a Montgomery city ordinance – on 1 December 1955. Her subsequent arrest helped inspire hundreds of thousands of black Americans to rise up and demand the same equal rights as every other American citizen, eventually leading to the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr., as the leader of the movement. Parks may not have had the same global impact as Gandhi, but she became one of the more celebrated figures of the twentieth century.
Sean: One of the most celebrated in North America – I’m not sure how much attention she gets in Asia. Even if you wanted to equate the accomplishments – which I’m not sure you can – perhaps the tie-breaker for the purposes of the bracket would then be that Gandhi’s arrest actually happened in 1913, while it would be another 42 years before the bus boycott.
Result: Gandhi Arrested in South Africa Advances (77-72)
(6) Richard Nixon Born v. (7) Woodrow Wilson Inaugurated 28th President of the United States
Aaron: Richard Nixon remains one of the more (in)famous Presidents in the history of the United States. His legacy will always be tied to the Watergate Scandal, an event that not only cost him the presidency – he remains to this day the only President to resign – but also severely damaged the reputation and prestige of the Office. But Nixon was also very important for ending the Vietnam War – a military quagmire that seemed like it would never end – and for opening up relations with the People’s Republic of China during the early 1970s, ushering in a new era of Sino-American relations. Unfortunately, he will always be remembered for Watergate and so his lasting impact in history will forever be negative.
The other President in this match-up, however, is remembered for more positive reasons. Woodrow Wilson, unlike Nixon, is one of the more “forgotten” Presidents in American history, despite the fact that he led the United States through the First World War and was monumental in constructing the Versailles Peace Treaty. Wilson was at first adamant that the United States would not get involved in the European conflict that erupted in 1914, although he offered on several occasions to act as a mediator to end the carnage. Although the American entry into the war in 1917 and the subsequent peace negotiations occurred in Wilson’s second term, his first term was heavily influenced by his “neutral” stance toward the First World War – it was clear that he sympathized with the British and their allies. Wilson’s desire to create the League of Nations came about following the war, although he was unable to convince the United States Senate to ratify American entry into the international organization, and as a consequence the Republic slunk back into isolationism. Overall, Wilson’s positive impacts on history far outweigh the negative ones associated with Nixon.
Sean: I agree that Wilson is the more positive of the two choices, plus he has one of the better presidential names. (He is also featured in my favourite political cartoon of all time, which features Wilson in heaven as God asks him, “Woodrow Wilson, what happened to your Fourteen Points?” To which Wilson responds, “don’t worry God, we didn’t follow your Ten Commandments either.”)
The thing to bear in mind though, is that we are doing this in 2013, and what makes somebody more relevant in 2013 – sound, rationale judgment or scandalous back-room dealings? We live in a world where Rob Ford gets more attention than Malcolm Gladwell. We also can’t forget that Nixon, despite his failings, has given us hours and hours of entertainment. From terrible impressions to pretty terrific movies, the ghost of Nixon continues to haunt North American life.
Aaron: You’re right that in 2013 we prefer to hear about shady dealings in smoke-filled rooms rather than a positive influence on society. However, in 1913 society Nixon’s shady dealings would have been seriously frowned upon considering the values placed on honour, sobriety, and good morals. Sensationalism simply would not fly in 1913.
Result: Wilson Inaugurated advances (78-64)
(1) Elastic Bra Patented v. (4) Zipper Patented
Sean: While the elastic bra may have fundamentally changed the garment, women had been wearing upper-body undergarments for centuries. The change in structure was certainly significant – and perhaps the design lent itself to being seen as a sign of a patriarchal society – but I don’t think it was as revolutionary as the zipper. I realize that calling the humble zipper revolutionary may seem strange, but ask yourself this question: is there a day in your life that goes by without encountering a zipper? I think that that on its own is enough to advance.
Aaron: I completely agree with you on this one. The elastic bra may have forever changed the comfort level for women with its new design, ushering in a new era of women’s clothing, but the zipper has impacted billions of people, and it is no hyperbole to say so. The zipper is used worldwide and will continue to be a force in clothing for centuries.
Result: Zipper Patent advances (88-60)
(14) First Crossword Puzzle Printed in New York World v. (10) First small claims court opens in Cleveland
Aaron: I am totally biased on this one. I love crossword puzzles. I especially love crossword puzzles as I make my commute home in the evenings as I ride the bus. Millions of people love to do the weekly crossword puzzles that appear in the thousands of newspapers worldwide. It is an excellent way to pass the time while still exercising your brain – seniors will tell you that doing a crossword puzzle helps keep your find sharp! Besides, too many people are suing others nowadays, and the first small claims court in Cleveland likely helped to make it more prevalent. Ever the optimist, I like to think the crossword has had more of an impact on the world.
Sean: I too love a good crossword puzzle – although the death of 24 Hours Ottawa has had a negative effect on that part of my life – but I’m pretty dubious about the notion that crosswords are more influential than American small claims courts. The United States is arguably the most litigious country in the world and if the roots of that can be traced back to Cleveland, that’s pretty substantial. Not to mention that small claims court now represents a good chunk of daytime television, which produces moments like this.
Aaron: There is no doubt that the small claims court has had a substantial impact on people – and not just on daytime television. However, the number of crossword puzzles that are created each day and printed in hundreds of publications around the world, I think, outweighs the influence of the courts. No one looks forward to a day at the small claims court, whereas more people enjoy a good crossword puzzle while sipping on a nice hot beverage.
Sean: But small claims court also gave us this documentary.
Result: First Crossword Puzzle Advances (62-58)
(1) First Balkan War ends v. (4) Arabs Attack Jewish settlements in Palestine
Aaron: European history is full of large- and small-scale conflicts, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as competing nations vied for more land/resources and prestige on the international stage. In 1912, the Ottoman Empire – the precursor to Turkey and a myriad of other nations – was, so to speak, on its last legs. Its influence in the Balkans, one that had been quite strong for several centuries, was collapsing and the states of the Balkan League (Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria) quickly defeated the Ottomans in only seven months. The end of the war caused the Ottoman Empire to lose almost all its remaining territorial possessions in Europe. This may seem like a localized affair, but the First Balkan War actually had important repercussions for the future, especially on the First World War. The Great European Powers carefully watched the war unfold, and the Ottomans were severely weakened so that they played a relatively minor role from 1914-1918. That is why I think the end of the First Balkan War wins here.
Sean: I have to agree with you on this – the moving parts in Europe leading up to the First World War are important, even if the countries here weren’t principal participants. Of course it should be noted that the weakening of the Ottoman Empire significantly contributed to the internal violence in Palestine. With a weakened Ottoman Empire, the British took control of Palestine following the war and their conflicting promises of establishing independent Arab and Jewish states on the same land served to increase tension between the local Arab and Jewish populations. Ironically, you could make the argument that the origins of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War can be traced back to the weakening of the Ottomans in 1913. Add that to the wider ramifications associated with the heightened tensions in Europe, and I think this is a clear choice.
Result: First Balkans War Ends Advances (96-69)
(6) José Victoriano Huerta assumes Mexican Presidency v. (2) Mexican Vice-President José Maria Pino Suarez assassinated in coup
Sean: This one is tough because they are so closely related. It is generally assumed that Suarez was killed by police operating on orders from Huerta, who had taken control of Mexico in a violent coup. His reign was quite short, however, as he resigned and went into exile just over a year later.
How the two men are remembered is the determining factor for me. Huerta remains an unpopular figure in Mexico, receiving the ‘delightful’ moniker of The Jackel, while Suarez was posthumously awarded the Belisario Dominguez Medal of Honour, the highest honour bestowed by the Mexican government. On that scale, I think it’s pretty clear.
Aaron: In light of the events of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent turmoil in the area involving military dictatorships, I feel as though one has to give the nod to the man who fought for democracy and against social injustices (Saurez) compared to a military officer (Huerta) who maintains the moniker “The Usurper.”
Result: Suarez Assassination Advances (80-44)
(8) Jesse Owens Born v. (5) First Four-Engine Plane Built and Flown
Sean: Jesse Owens may be the greatest Olympian of all time. Forget about total medal counts and world records, what he did in the 1936 Berlin Olympics is truly unique (His medals just sold at auction for $1.4 million). An African American dominating the Olympics (4 Gold Medals) as Adolf Hitler watched lends itself to mythology and is a story that continues to be told. Of course, the fact that he could stay in the same hotel as white athletes in Germany, but not in certain states at home, helps to shed light on the extent to which Jim Crow segregation was practiced in the United States.
On this one I’m biased, however, because I find aviation incredibly fascinating. The first four-engine plane being built is the predecessor of wide body, long haul planes that have fundamentally altered modern transportation. It is possible to fly non-stop from Toronto to Tokyo – TOKYO! – in 13 hours. And we don’t think anything of it. People get on planes every day. The phrase “I’m flying” doesn’t seem strange despite the fact that human beings – last time I checked – don’t have wings. That we’ve come so far in aviation in a century – to the point of being cavalier about heading 40,000 feet in the air – makes my vote in this to the first four-engine plane.
Aaron: The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are remembered for many reasons, but none more so than the feats accomplished by Jesse Owens. Almost everyone has heard of Owens’ amazing performance for the United States in Berlin, a city that was heavily under Nazi-influence and a country that had passed the Nuremberg Laws a year before, and how the Führer, Adolf Hitler, had to present a black athlete with a gold medal. Indeed, Owens became a global celebrity for his athleticism, while back home he was still considered, at best, a second-class citizen because of his skin colour.
On a global scale, however, my vote goes to the first four-engine plane built and flown. Without this monumental step forward in aviation technology, it is unlikely that airplanes would be as necessary and essential to our day-to-day lives. Crossing an ocean was a feat that took months – shortened to weeks and then days – but to do so in less than half a day is something pretty incredible. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to get from Toronto to Tokyo in 13 hours than however long a ground/sea crossing would take.
Result: First Four-Engine Plane advances (64-50)
(6) U.S. Transcontinental Highway Completed v. (2) Ford Assembly Line Introduced
Aaron: The completion of the Lincoln Highway in 1913 ushered in a new era in transportation in human history. At a time when some countries were still building railroads as the major source of transcontinental travel – such as Canada – the United States was moving further ahead by literally paving the way. For the first time in history, someone could drive their automobile from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco – although no one actually could since the trek of more than 3,000 miles was far beyond what the first cars could do. But the Lincoln Highway set the stage for more highways to be constructed around the world. Sure, rail is still an excellent way to cross large distances, but most people would prefer to hop in their car.
But despite this new and innovative highway, it would not have been possible had it not been for Henry Ford’s use of the assembly line. Contrary to popular myth, Ford did not “invent” the assembly line – in fact, assembly lines have been used throughout history, especially after the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century. However, what makes Ford’s assembly line so important was that the Ford Motor Company was able to churn out a brand new Ford Model T in just 93 minutes – down from a staggering 12.5 hours! With this, the price of the vehicle began to drop and more and more people were able to afford cars – although it still remained somewhat of a luxury item. Without this innovation, the Lincoln Highway would not have had been able to welcome many cars.
Sean: The monumental changes brought in by the assembly line are undeniable, but I think you touched on something pretty important in the first part of your answer. Without roads, a car is rather useless. It’s like having a fork when you order soup. Or having a drawer full of pennies. Or trying to pick up women at a bar by saying you’re doing a PhD in history. The completion of a trans-continental highway provided the opportunity for people to travel by car, which I think is much more important than a change in the way cars are manufactured. I realize that the Eisenhower Interstate system gets all the glory in the 1950s, but the completion of a trans-continental highway in 1913 cannot be overlooked.
Aaron: Your argument kinda sounds like chicken vs. the egg. Without more people owning cars, you’d have no need for a highway. And maybe you’re not talking to the right women?
Result: Ford Advances (98-90 OT)
(1) Gandhi Arrested in South Africa Protest vs. (7) Woodrow Wilson Inaugurated 28th President of the United States
Aaron: There’s no doubt that Gandhi being arrested caused an international stir, but to be the President of the United States during the (up to that time) largest military conflict in human history is a pretty significant variable. Wilson’s dedication of keeping the US out of the war, and then his subsequent shaping of international politics and relations in the post-war world outweighs Gandhi’s arrests.
Sean: But here’s another one that comes down to overall global influence. Wilson played a prominent role in the United States, while Gandhi’s influence was global – including the United States. And besides, Wilson eventually took the United States into the war despite running his 1916 campaign on the platform that he had kept the country out of the war.
Aaron: Wilson was also influential outside of the United States; ever hear of a thing called the League of Nations? And you’re honestly telling me you wouldn’t have joined the war in 1917?
Sean: I understand that situations change and the decision to enter the war is understandable, but that doesn’t change the optics. And hanging your hat on the League of Nations, talk about a sinking ship. Too soon?
Result: Gandhi Arrested in South Africa Advances (81-79)
(4) Zipper Patented vs. (14) First Crossword Puzzle Printed in New York World
Sean: I suppose that the ‘use one everyday’ argument for the zipper somewhat goes out the window on this round, because there are a lot of people whose daily lives include crossword puzzles. Of course, that number is completely dwarfed by the daily use of zippers. I guess the one thing that the humble crossword puzzle has going for itself in this round is that the zipper is a potentially dangerous – catching skin in a zipper is a rather painful experience. Plus, is there anything more frustrating than having a zipper catch on something and suddenly you need the jaws of life to get your jacket off? Oh right, there is something more frustrating – being one word away from completing a crossword puzzle but not being able to figure it out.
Aaron: There’s no question that the zipper wins here. Although, like you, I am a daily crossword puzzler, I think I use the zipper far more on an average day. Given the choice, however, I would pick not finishing a crossword than having my zipper get caught on any part of my skin.
Sean: Plus it’s a 14 seed.
Result: Zipper Patented Advances (76-42)
(1) First Balkans War Ends vs. (2) Mexican Vice-President José Maria Pino Suarez assassinated in coup
Sean: This might be the first real mismatch we’ve had in terms of trying to compare completely unrelated things. Here we have a person being assassinated against an entire war. It seems pretty straight forward that the war would be the more substantive of the two, but here’s the case for Suarez: you can argue that his death had more long-term ramifications. The dictatorship that followed his death was so unpopular that Mexico has lived in a democracy ever since. It may not even be a stretch to say that the 1917 Constitution is the direct result of the assassination. Yes the Balkan War was important – and worthy of a #1 seed – but it didn’t have the same long-term effects on how a nation is governed
Aaron: This may be a mismatch, but on a grander scale the Balkans War ending had more long-term implications than the assassination of Suarez. Yes, Mexico has been a democracy ever since, but the Balkans War changed the face of Southern Europe with the new balance of power, and thus how the region was governed. Besides, the #1 seed has momentum behind it!
Sean: But it’s like Duke: everyone thinks that it’s going to win going in but it can never get past the Elite Eight.
Aaron: I think your reasoning is silly.
Sean: Sillier than this?
Aaron: Ok, fine.
Result: Suarez Assassination Wins (119-118 3OT)
(2) Ford Assembly Line Introduced vs. (5) First Four-Engine Plane Built and Flown
Aaron: Here’s where this bracket gets a little trickier, as both modes of transportation being discussed here influence our daily lives. However, for my money it’s still got to be Ford’s Assembly line. My reason is that the assembly line made the cost of a car drop dramatically, almost universalizing its utility. Sure, thousands of planes are taking off every day, but millions of cars are being driven.
Sean: Because of the plane, YOU COULD BE IN AUSTRALIA IN 21 HOURS. It continues to amaze me how un-amazed people seem to be about air travel. The fact that you can hop into a giant metal tube, complain about how the tray table isn’t big enough, and end up on the other side of the world in a relatively short amount of time, is pretty incredible. In terms of the transportation revolution, perhaps more people use cars on a daily basis than fly, but the simple act of humans taking flight is much more revolutionary. After all, Fred Flintstone had a car, but he never drove it to the airport.
Aaron: So long as you don’t mind kayaking across the Pacific Ocean, you can drive to Japan.
Result: Ford Assembly Line Introduced Advances (76-74)
Humanist Region winner: (1) Gandhi Arrested in South Africa Protest vs. Potpourri Region winner: (4) Zipper Patented
Sean: I think this is by far the most difficult match-up we’ve had so far, but I think I would have to give the edge to the zipper on this one. Gandhi was one of the most influential people of all time, but if we distill it down to 1913, I think the argument can be made that the zipper was more significant. It fundamentally changed clothing and has quickly become a staple of daily life. Not only that, but most people aren’t conscious of how often they interact with zippers.
Aaron: I can’t believe a #1 seed has been upset by a #4 seed! But, I agree.
Result: Zipper Advances (66-60)
International Region winner: (2) Mexican Vice-President José Maria Pino Suarez assassinated in coup vs. Innovation Region winner: (2) Ford Assembly Line Introduced
Aaron: I’m sticking with this one as I have throughout the tournament: the Ford Assembly line to me is more important. The assassination of Suarez certainly had major ramifications for Mexico and the Mexican people, but the way that Ford reinvigorated the assembly line influenced other car manufacturers the world over. I am, though, quite impressed with this battle of the #2 seeds.
Result: Ford Assembly Line Introduced Advances (100-86)
The Enrico Palazzo Championship Game
(4) Zipper Patented vs. (2) Ford Assembly Line Introduced
Aaron: So it comes down to this, the battle for innovative supremacy. Indeed, we have concluded that both zippers and cars factor into our daily lives, but when a person is asked what is a thing they can’t live without, I think most would say their car before their zipper. Everyone wants that new, luxury vehicle rolling off the assembly line; no one lines up for that new zipper – even it comes with a new hat.
Sean: People might say that they can’t live without their cars, but have everyone walk around with open flies and things falling out of their backpacks and the answer might change. The question here comes down to practicality – the zipper is the much more practical device out of the two. In addition, the debate here is about the Ford Assembly Line, not the car in general. Cars already existed, Ford just developed a more efficient manufacturing method.
Aaron: Sure, practicality is important. But Ford’s revamping of the assembly line has impacted manufacturing in other industries, showing how important this was overall.
Sean: Sure, but the zipper had an incredibly wide influence too – including in manufacturing. Plus, what if we think about it in terms of longevity. There is a good chance that in 100 years, zippers are more commonplace than cars. It’s a design that’s nearly perfect – except of course when your suitcase zipper breaks on your luggage at the airport – whereas cars and assembly lines have continued to evolve and improve. The zipper hasn’t had to. The 1913 patent is essentially what we still have today. That’s a remarkable feat and, as far as I’m concerned, makes it the most important development of 1913.
Result: Zipper Patent Wins (49-46)
Aaron Boyes is a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa who is currently working on his dissertation about the importance of ideas in the political union movement in Canada and the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. He previously completed his MA in history at the University of Ottawa and his BA at Trent University in Peterborough.
Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is also the host and producer of the History Slam Podcast.