The History of Sicily

The Earthquake at Messina and the First World War

On December 28, 1908, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale struck Messina, killing as many as 100,000. It was the single worst natural disaster ever to hit Europe, and the poverty that resulted significantly increased the rate of emigration, with Sicilians going to French Africa, South America, and especially the United States. By the outbreak of World War I, approximately 1.5 million Sicilians had emigrated.

When Italy entered World War I, Sicily was cut off from many European and world markets to which it had sold both agricultural and manufactured goods. As a consequence, agricultural production plummeted, and the black market expanded. At war’s end, however, many conscripts returned to Sicily demanding that the government of the island be reformed. In addition, many who had left during the first wave of emigration came back to Sicily to retire, bringing with them new ideas and much needed cash.


Nineteenth-century Sharecropper’s Home