In 1816 the summer never came. Across New England and the Maritimes, late snows and repeated frosts led to crop failures, livestock deaths, and severe food shortages. In Europe, which was struggling to recover from the extended cataclysm of the Napoleonic Wars, torrential rain and abysmal cold resulted in the collapse of the German wheat crop, leading to meager harvests across the continent. Authorities struggled to quell riots in England and France as mobs raided storehouses, and troops were dispatched to protect grain shipments. In Switzerland, the poor resorted to eating cats and lichen, and the streets of Zurich were swarmed with beggars. Historian John Post has called it the last great subsistence crisis of the Western world, but today 1816 is generally remembered—when it is remembered at all—as “the year without a summer.” At the time, the cause of the strange weather was a mystery, but today we know that the main culprit was a massive volcanic eruption that occurred the previous spring on the other side of the globe.
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