Technological Advancement

The rapid industrialization and innovation of the 19th century manifested in technological advances that made warfare more effective and destructive than ever before. These advancements can be placed into three broad categories: transportation, weaponry, and communication.


Although horses were still used on a large scale (WWI being the last war to utilize them), breakthroughs in transportation were developed during the war that have come to shape modern perceptions of warfare. Steam engines and railroads become the most reliable way to travel long distances. Germany began to build up their railroad system for years prior to the war in order to ensure for quick mobilization when war did inevitably break out. Although not used widespread, automobiles also provided limited transportation, especially in the case of mobile ambulances.

1915 volume, pg. 109; “A British armored automobile.”

Between Transportation and Weaponry

Somewhat in between the categories of transportation and weaponry lie three key developments: airplanes, submarines, and tanks. The airplane and the invention of aerial warfare became key to the war effort. Although early in the war primitive planes were used primarily for reconnaissance, combat during these reconnaissance missions evolved into complete warfare in the skies, with mounted machine guns and strategic bombing being honed over the course of the war. The Collier volumes include a large number of airplanes—this is not surprising, as at the time it was of great public fascination and interest. Related, zeppelins are also prominent in the Collier volumes. German U-boats, or submarines, were also key to the German war effort and their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Late in the war, hydrophones (which measure the distance and direction of an underwater object) were developed to combat this. Finally, tanks were a key development of the war which helped forces overcome the stalemate of the trenches. Although earlier tank models were very cumbersome, they would be refined for further use in WWII. 

Images of aerial warfare can be found in the gallery for Aviation, and more images of naval warfare during WWI can be found in the gallery for Maritime.

1917 volume, pg. 41; “A new French dirigible.”


The introduction of powerful machine guns and rapid-fire field artillery guns characterized the war. When paired with newly invented barbed wire and mines, what was supposed to be a quick war became a true war of attrition—trench warfare developed as offensive assaults over “No Man’s Land” became suicidal. This stalemate inspired the invention of novel ways to break through this standstill; for example, chemical warfare and the usage of chlorine gas. First developed by Germans but quickly adopted by the Allies, chemical warfare was often unreliable as a weapon; however, it was an incredibly effective psychological weapon. In addition to this, early flamethrowers and trace bullets (which made night combat easier) were developed in response to trench warfare. In the Collier volumes, the devastating effects of trench warfare and these new weapons are shown. 

More images of weapons can be found in the gallery for Weaponry.

1918 volume, pg. 88; “Clearing the captured trenches.”


Early electrical communications, such as field telephones and switchboards continually improved as the war progressed and coordination demanded a farther reach. Many countries were unmatched when it came to the quality of their communication technologies; for example, Russia was particularly ill-equipped. Additionally, the cables to support these telephones were often cut by enemy forces, meaning that improvements in wireless communication, or radios, were also critical. However, these radio signals were also often unreliable as they could be easily intercepted by enemies. Two way radios for airplanes became extremely important in coordinating aerial attacks. Messenger services and visual signals—such as pyrotechnics and flares—were still widely used.

1919 volume, pg. 77; “A movable telephone.”


It is also important to note the many advances in medicinal technology for field medics and nurses that were often not stationary. One key advancement here was the invention of the first mobile x-ray machines, developed by French-Polish physicist Marie Curie for the war effort. See more images of how medicine evolved in the gallery for Medicine.

1915 volume, pg. 38; “Waiting for the wounded.”


Barnard, Nancy, et al. World War I: Crisis and Change in Europe. Hunt, Hexco, 2015.