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1904 - Native American life

Native American Life - photographer Edward Curtis spent more than 20 years crisscrossing North America, recording the histories, legends, songs and language, of 80 different tribes

Native Americans were the great casualty of the U.S.’s grand westward advance. As settlers tamed the seemingly boundless stretches of the young nation, they evicted Indians from their ancestral lands, shoving them into impoverished reservations and forcing them to assimilate.

Fearing the imminent disappearance of America’s first inhabitants, Edward Curtis sought to document the assorted tribes, to show them as a noble people—“the old time Indian, his dress, his ceremonies, his life and manners.” No single image embodied the project better than The Vanishing Race, his picture of Navajo riding off into the dusty distance. To Curtis the photo epitomized the plight of the Indians, who were “passing into the darkness of an unknown future.”


Further Reading


Mashable - The North American Indian (1904-1924)

National Humanities Center - American Indians: The Image of the Indian

1904 - Russo-Japanese war

Russo-Japanese War - fought during 1904-1905 between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over rival imperial ambitions in Manchuria and Korea

The Russo-Japanese War was a brief conflict but created significant problems for the tsarist regime. It was triggered by Nicholas II and his wish to expand the Russian empire in Asia.


Nicholas entered the war overconfident and haughty. He viewed Japan an easy foe, a semi-feudal nation of barefooted samurai and daimyo, incapable of matching Russia’s military might. This was a gross underestimation of the Japanese and their industrial and military development, which for several decades had outpaced Russia’s own.

Japanese culture at the time was intensely militaristic. Its generals and admirals were trained in both ancient and modern Western strategy and tactics; they were promoted on merit and achievement rather than social status. Unlike the Russians, the Japanese respected the enemy and were acutely aware of his strengths and weaknesses.

By August 1904, the Japanese had encircled and laid siege to Port Arthur. More than 100,000 Japanese soldiers surrounded the port city, digging kilometres of trenches and attacking the city’s fortifications with gunfire, artillery, mortars, mines and tunnels.

When Russian ships arrived in the Straits of Tsushima in May 1905, they were ambushed by a smaller but faster Japanese fleet. Almost the entire Russian fleet was either sunk or captured.

The embarrassments of Port Arthur and Tsushima, along with the growing domestic unrest of 1905, forced Nicholas II’s government to seek peace terms from the Japanese.  Within 18 months, Russian forces had been besieged and defeated, her ageing Baltic navy humiliated and the prestige of the empire humiliated on the world stage. The Russo-Japanese War also sharpened the impact of the economic recession gripping Russia. The tsar’s government increased military spending by 50 per cent at a time when production levels and government revenues were both falling. Military-related industries also increased pressure on their workers, which heightened discontents that had been festering for some years.

Japan on the other hand become the first Asian power in modern times to defeat a European power, and victory fueled the Rising Sun's own expansionist ambitions and martial pride.


Further Reading


MIT Visualizing Cultures - A Photographic Record of the Russo-Japanese War

HistoryNet - Russo-Japanese War: Japan's First Big Surprise 

1904 - Panama Canal

Construction of Panama Canal - massive engineering work begins to create a water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

By the late nineteenth century, technological advances and commercial pressure allowed construction to begin in earnest. An initial attempt by France to build a sea-level canal failed after a great deal of excavation. This enabled the United States to complete the present canal in 1913 and open it to shipping the following year. The state of Panama was created with its 1903 emancipation from Colombia due to a US-backed revolt, so the US could control the canal-project area.

French canal engineer Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla influenced a change in its proposed location, from Nicaragua (the original US choice) to Panama because of his concern about Nicaraguan volcanism. During the late 1890s Bunaua-Varilla convinced US lawmakers to buy the rights to build the French canal in Panama, sending each senator Nicaragua postage stamps with a smoking volcano. In 1903, Colombia (which controlled Panama) refused to allow the United States to build the canal. The people of Panama, with help from Bunaua-Varilla, then overthrew their Colombian government and became independent (which made construction of the canal possible).


Further Reading


MonoVisions - Panama Canal Construction (1904-1914)

Genie Belt - How They Built the Panama Canal

Chimu Blog - The Construction of the Panama Canal

1904 - Baltimore fire

Great Baltimore Fire - destroyed most of the city and caused an estimated $200 million in property damage

In Baltimore, Maryland, a small fire that started in the business district was wind-whipped into an uncontrollable conflagration that engulfed a large portion of the city by evening. The fire is believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the basement of the Hurst Building. When the blaze finally burned down after 31 hours, an 80-block area of the downtown area, stretching from the waterfront to Mount Vernon on Charles Street, had been destroyed.


More than 1,500 buildings were completely leveled, and some 1,000 severely damaged, bringing property loss from the disaster to an estimated $100 million. 1,231 firefighters helped bring the blaze under control.  Miraculously, official reports said no homes or lives were lost—although some reports did say one African American man perished—and Baltimore’s domed City Hall, built in 1867, was preserved.


Further Reading


Owlcation - Baltimore's Great Fire of 1904 and its Legacy - Photos of the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904

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