August 1914: World War I Breaks Out

A look at military science from the first year of the war that engulfed Europe
machine gun from 1914

Machine Guns: A vital necessity for armies fighting in World War I. This version is an older French St. Etienne model 1907. 39,000 were manufactured before factories could produce more of the newer and better Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine gun.
Image: Scientific American, September 12, 1914

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On August 4, German troops invaded Belgium, Britain had declared war on Germany and the fighting had started in earnest. There was a widespread feeling that the war would be short and decisive, despite the size of the armies involved. New weapons, it was thought, might provide a quick way to overcome any perceived advantage an enemy might have. Casualties in this modern war would not be excessive. By the end of the year, however, it was clear that not only would massive numbers of men need to fight but casualties would be immense. At least 300,000 Allied and 200,000 Central Powers soldiers were killed in five months, and there was a dawning realization that victory would come only after vast numbers of men and equipment had been thrown into the fray.

The images from this slide show depict a mix of old and new technologies and tactics vying for a place on the battlefields of 1914 as well as a look at some of the signal events of the early months of the war.

>> View the slide show: World War I Breaks Out

For a more comprehensive look at all the aspects of World War I—military, economic, social, technological—view our archive package, Scientific American Chronicles: World War I, at

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