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July 10: A Remarkable Journalistic Achievement

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On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the battlefields of Europe fell silent as the Armistice went into effect. After the fighting ended, it took several months to hash out a final treaty. The Allies presented their version to Germany on May 7, but Germany rejected the harsh terms. On June 17, the Allies gave Germany an ultimatum: accept the treaty as written or the war would resume. Germany had little choice. On June 28, 1919, a solemn delegation gathered at the Palace of Versailles. On one side of the table were representatives of France, the United States, Great Britain, and Italy. The German delegation consisted of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and one assistant.

Today we are accustomed to instant communication and are able to watch live coverage of momentous events. That was not the case in 1919. While articles could be speedily transmitted by telegraph, sending pictures was another matter.

On this date in 1919, a front-page article in the Bismarck Tribune explained how the newspaper scored a scoop and obtained a photograph of the treaty signing, calling it “the most remarkable achievement of modern journalism.” The Tribune was a member of the Newspaper Enterprise Association. That organization had obtained the photograph and distributed it to its members. It was a major undertaking.

A British Royal Air Force plane flew the photograph from Paris to London at what the newspaper noted was the blazing speed of 130 miles per hour. A courier met the plane in London and took the photograph to Edinburgh, Scotland by train. There the courier turned the photograph over to Commander Lansdowne of the United States Navy. Lansdowne took the photograph to the United States on a dirigible! A Newspaper Enterprise Association representative met the airship the moment it landed and drove the photograph to New York.

The photograph then had to be engraved so it was in a printable form. From there, the Association rushed the picture to members by a process called photo telegraphy. The Tribune bragged that the picture was in the possession of the newspaper before it reached officials in Washington, and that was how North Dakotans got their first glimpse of the momentous event.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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