Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Mobility in film: conquering new spaces

Railways and steamships offered people greater mobility in the nineteenth century, boosted around 1900 by bicycles, automobiles and aeroplanes and also shown in films. Mobility became a visual experience.

The experience of individual mobility was accessible to the general public through the velocipede. It gave a sense of freedom, permitting people to quit the everyday world and discover the surrounding area. For women, the bicycle was a form of emancipation, despite the dire warnings by some of the moral degeneracy that these vehicles were supposed to represent. At the turn of the century there were between 300,000 and 400,000 bicycles in the Monarchy, and in Austria-Hungary some 60,000 were manufactured annually in 25 factories.

The invention and use of electric motors enlarged transport possibilities. The most important means of transport for persons and goods was the railway. Its important was emphasized in the Austrian half of the Danube Monarchy through the establishment of a dedicated ministry in 1896. Steam-driven locomotives meant that even remote regions were made accessible. The development of the railway network in mountainous areas in particular was a remarkable feat of engineering. As the main railway lines was gradually nationalized, the rail network had grown by 1913 to 46,000 km. The crossing of mountainous terrain gave a great boost to tourism. Affluent citizens could be transported to the spas in Gastein and Karlsbad [Karlovy Vary], the pilgrimage centre Mariazell, the Salzkammergut, Semmering and Arlberg. The first electrified section between Mödling and Hinterbrühl opened in October 1883, and the network was further extended up until the outbreak of the First World War. The opening of new electrified sections was always an occasion for a special ceremony. Camera teams immortalized these historic technical moments, such as the opening of the new Vienna – Pressburg [Bratislava] line (Opening of the Vienna-Pressburg Electric Railway, A/F 1914).

Tram lines were also electrified. The first attempts to operate an electric tramway in Vienna were undertaken around 1880. In 1883 Siemens & Halske operated an electric tram in the Prater between Schwimmschulallee (Lassallestrasse) and the Rotunde (length 1.5 km). In May 1896 the Wiener Tramway-Gesellschaft carried out its first trials with electric trams. When the power utility was taken over by the city in 1897, the trams were also electrified, and the appearance of the city changed accordingly. Pictures of the increasingly dense traffic on Opernring in 1908 show not only horse-drawn trams and carriages but also electric trams and automobiles (Vienna c. 1908, A/F 1908).

Translation: Nick Somers


Czeike, Felix: Historisches Lexikon Wien, Band 5, Wien 1997

Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896–1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Sandgruber, Roman: Ökonomie und Politik. Österreichische Wirtschaftsgeschichte vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Wien 1995

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.


  • Development

    Gender roles: change/no change?

    It is a widely held view that the First World War revolutionised the traditional roles of men and women in society. Photos of tram conductresses, female coach drivers and postwomen would appear to confirm this, as does the assumption by women of the traditional male role as providers for the family. But did things change that much, and what was left of the supposed changes after 1918?