16.1 World War I Begins

By 1914, Europe had enjoyed a century of relative peace. Idealists hoped for a permanent end to the scourge of war. International events, such as the first modern Olympic games in 1896 and the First Universal Peace Conference in 1899, were steps toward keeping the peace. “The future belongs to peace,” said French economist Frédéric Passy (pa SEE).

Photo of a man in a military uniform and coat seated in a carriage, shaking a standing man’s hand.

Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated on June 28, 1914, just one hour after this photograph was taken.


  • Describe how imperialism, nationalism, and militarism pushed Europe closer to war.
  • Identify the key event that sparked World War I.
  • Trace how the alliance system drew nations into the war.

Key Terms

  • entente
  • militarism
  • Alsace and Lorraine
  • ultimatum
  • mobilize
  • neutrality

European Powers Form Alliances

Not everyone was so hopeful. “I shall not live to see the Great War,” warned German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, “but you will see it, and it will start in the east.” It was Bismarck's prediction, rather than Passy's, that came true.

Nations Form Alliances

Despite efforts to ensure peace, the late 1800s saw growing rivalries among the great powers of Europe, including Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia. In an atmosphere of fear and distrust, the great powers set out to protect themselves by forming alliances. Nations signed treaties pledging to defend each other. These alliances were intended to create powerful combinations that no one would dare attack. Gradually, two rival alliances evolved.

The Triple Alliance

The first major alliance had its origins in Bismarck's day. He knew that France longed to avenge its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Sure that France would not attack Germany without help, Bismarck signed treaties with other powers. By 1882, Germany had formed the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria-Hungary. Although Bismarck had previously signed an alliance with Russia, Kaiser William II did not preserve that alliance, leaving Russia free to seek other allies.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments