Script No. 72
In 1915 the U. S. was still several years away from active participation
in the war in Europe. Production lines here were turning out automobiles,
not rifles and gunboats. The Ford Motor Company would send its one millionth
car off the factory conveyor belt by year's end. Out on the Wyoming-Montana
border, Yellowstone National Park officially opened its gates to the family
car. Even further west Oregon's Columbia Gorge Highway opened to traffic.
Commercial vehicles were on the rise. Here in Rochester, New York, privately
owned automobiles were authorized to carry paying passengers, for a five-cent
fare. Borrowing a French word referring to a small coin, they were nicknamed
jitneys. In Detroit another breakthrough, as a blacksmith named August Fruehof
invented a truck with a detachable cab, the tractor trailer. Auto racing
was also coming into its own. At the end of May race driver Ralph DePalma
won the Indianapolis 500. The following September a Peugot set a speed record
of 108 mph at New York's Sheepshead Bay Speedway.
Innovators in Europe were looking skyward. In July, off the coast of Zanzibar,
the German battleship Königsberg was fighting for its existence,
as it engaged the British gunships Severn and Mersey in an artillery duel.
Aircraft above were watching the results and signaling to the gunships,
the first use of spotter aircraft to call firing corrections to naval vessels.
The Königsberg went to the bottom.
The major focus of the science of killing your fellow human beings was on
the dirigibles or zeppelins. On January 19th the first German dirigible
attack on England was carried out. Bombs were dropped on Yarmouth and King's
Lynn, causing some minor casualties. On March 22nd a German zeppelin bombarded
railway stations in Paris. The night of May 31st saw a zeppelin attack on
London, again causing just a few casualties. Six days later British aviator
Lieutenant Warneford shot down a German zeppelin over Gand, Belgium. September
9th brought more zeppelins to the skies over London. Still there was little
damage. Such British luck, of course, would not last forever.
In London another machine of war was being hatched, with the First Lord
of the Admiralty as midwife. The story circulated that the new device was
being designed as a method of transporting large quantities of drinking
water to Czar Nicholas's troops on the front line. Instead of rubber tires,
caterpillar treads would carry the huge vehicles across the fields of battle.
Actually this story was concocted to throw the Germans off the scent. Water
was not the intended cargo. It was troops. The First Lord was Winston Churchill.
And as part of the campaign of dis-information, or perhaps just for the
ironic joke of it all, the clanking monster was called a tank.