When WWI broke out in August 1914 it was decided to change the name of the Russian capital from St. Petersburg to Petrograd. The old name sounded too German for contemporary Russians. Germany was now the enemy of Russia and all the forces had to be employed to ensure her defeat. Most of the city's industry began to work to support the war effort and many of Petrograd's buildings, including a large portion of the Winter Palace, were turned into hospitals. Most construction work in the city stopped.

Workers DemonstrationThe war did not go too well for Russia. The Tzar's government discredited itself and political tensions started rising. To make things worse, the food supply of the Russian capital deteriorated significantly towards the end of 1916. (Located at the north-western edge of the Russian Empire, Petrograd was supplied with food via the railway network. With the transportation breakdown caused by the war it became very difficult to supply such a metropolis). Petrograd stepped into the New Year with its inhabitants infuriated by the long lines in front of food shops. The combination of social unrest and the people's wartime grievances brought about the February revolution of 1917 and the abdication of Nicholas II. At the time of the revolution the tzar was in Mogilev at the army headquarters and his family at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin).

The political and economic crisis continued all through 1917 and in the fall the Bolshevik party led by Vladimir Lenin had captured political power. On October 25 (November 7), 1917 the blank shot of the cruiser "Aurora" gave workers and soldiers the signal to storm the Winter Palace, which was then the residence of the democratic, but largely inefficient Provisional Government. Most of the ministers were arrested and 73 years long Communist rule began.

At the beginning of 1918 the Civil War (1918-1921) broke out and the revolutionary soldiers and workers of Petrograd became the core of the Red Guard, which later turned into the Red Army. While the fit men were leaving the city for the fronts of the Civil War, a significant portion of the population migrated to the countryside, where families found it easier to provide for themselves. The population dropped from 2.3 million in 1917 to 722 thousand by the end of 1920.

By the beginning of 1918 the German troops were so close to Petrograd that the Bolshevik government of Vladimir Lenin decided to move the capital to Moscow, which was still far from the front. Hence Petrograd was left to be just a regional center. Further change occurred, when many of the street names were altered according to the revolutionary fashion of the day. Palace Square was called the Uritski Square (after an assassinated Bolshevik politician) and Nevsky prospect became the Prospect of 25 October (after the October Revolution). A number of Revolutionary monuments were erected, but most of them were made of the cheapest materials and did not last long.

The Vyborg SideAfter the end of the Civil War the city of Petrograd started a recovery under the New Economic Policy (NEP), proclaimed by the Bolsheviks, allowing some elements of the market economy. In 1924 the name of the city was changed to Leningrad, and that was a symbol of its transition to a Socialist city.

Next: A Socialist City: Leningrad (1924-1941)

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