NPR logo

A Farewell To Carrot Cake (And Other Things Lost Without World War I)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Farewell To Carrot Cake (And Other Things Lost Without World War I)


A Farewell To Carrot Cake (And Other Things Lost Without World War I)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This week, we've been reminding you that 100 years ago, the First World War began. We've been underscoring its historical importance by imagining the world if it had never happened. How would politics, science, literature, music have been different without that conflict?


We tossed this counterfactual conceit to you. And many of you came up with fascinating ideas. Heather McMahon of Charlottesville, Va., suggests that had Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife not been assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, by a Serbian nationalist...

HEATHER MCMAHON: Then the archduke and archduchess would have returned to Vienna chastened by their near-death experience; encouraged the emperor to enact more enlightened reforms to quell nationalist separatism in the Balkans and eventually, when they assumed the throne, quietly converge the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a parliamentary based union of equal states with a monarchical figurehead.

As a global leader, rather than an assemblage of oft-forgotten Central European nations, the United Kingdom of Middle Europa would set cultural tastes.

BLOCK: Waltzing would be popular well into the 1990s, and sachertorte would be commonly found on menus throughout the world.

SIEGEL: Mussolini eschews politics, choosing instead to open up a small coffee and pastry shop in Switzerland called Bene Bene, predicts Charles Foerster, who continues: Benito goes on to write several dessert cookbooks, which become very popular in Spain and Italy. And while on a book-signing tour he is given the nickname Il Dolce by his fans.

BLOCK: Science comes in for a retro-reshaping without a great war in 1914. Many of you point out how much slower the advance of technology would have been, including this program's very existence. Chuck Howell of College Park, Md., says that radio technology improved exponentially during the Great War. He writes: The radio boom of the 1920s was fueled by a flood of returning service men newly trained in the art of wireless by the Army and Navy. Without the war, radio may not have moved to the nation's living rooms until years later.

SIEGEL: Absent World War I, says Fernie Reyes of Austin, Texas, airplanes wouldn't have developed so quickly. She suggests: Meanwhile, zeppelins establish a monopoly in luxury, trans-Atlantic crossing. This is due to Germany remaining friendly to the U.S. and its ability to obtain large quantities of helium to use in their airships. Of course, it was the use of highly inflammable hydrogen that led to the demise of the Hindenburg.

BLOCK: No war in 1914, no Hobbits, writes Steve Shea. Tolkien does not fight in the trenches in France and is not exposed to the horrors of war. Thus, Shea imagines: The tales of magic, heroism and suffering in "The Lord of the Rings" would never have been written.

SIEGEL: Another casualty of a no First World War from Dan Lovelady of Orlando, Fla.


DAN LOVELADY: I'm going to go out on a limb here - No World War I, no Mickey Mouse.


WALT DISNEY: (As Mickey Mouse) Want some candy? (Laughter)

SIEGEL: Walt Disney, too young to join the military, experienced action as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Walt came out of the war creating patriotic political cartoons for a local paper in Missouri, leading to the creation of the animated rodent. Mr. Lovelady, in full disclosure, mentions that he works for the Walt Disney Co.

And then, there's this from...

KEITH OSTERBERG: Keith Osterberg from Herculaneum, Mo. Baron von Richtofen would not have become a flying ace and folk legend, leaving Charles M. Schultz at a loss for what to do with his Snoopy character. We would have been spared bad novelty songs by The Royal Guardsmen and at least one frozen pizza company.


THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN: (Singing) Up in the sky, a man in a plane, Baron von Richtofen was his name. Eighty men tried, and 80 men died. Now they're buried together on the countryside...

BLOCK: And there were further culinary consequences of peace. Katherine Lynch of Westbrook, Conn., claims potato bread and carrot cake would not be common if World War I did not happen because they were popularized as K bread - or Kriegsbrot, war bread.

SIEGEL: We had some letters disputing the story that the assassin Gavrilo Princip was eating a sandwich as his target approached. Some people say that is as fictional as our counterfactual histories, but that didn't stop Robert Tobey of Cohasset, Mass., from imaging Princip getting hooked on sandwiches as he puts it, landing a lucrative endorsement deal advertising Subway sandwiches.


BLOCK: Please let us know what you like about the program, and what you don't. You can write to us. Just go to and click on the word contact. It's at the very bottom of the page. We may read your comments on the air.

SIEGEL: You can also follow us on Twitter. I'm Robert Siegel @RSiegel47.

BLOCK: I'm Melissa Block @NPRMelissaBlock, and you can follow our co-host Audie Cornish @NPRAudie. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, known in the Twitterverse as @NPRATC.


Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.