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Unloading rolls of paper from a horse drawn cart. Nov 7th 1903.

[Detail] Unloading rolls of paper from a horse drawn cart. Nov 7th 1903.

World War I: The Home Front

When Serbian nationalists assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne on June 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary essentially used it as an opportunity to declare war on Serbia. This called into action a network of historic alliances that pitted the joined forces of Austria-Hungary and Germany against an alliance of Serbia, Russia, France, Britain, Japan, and Italy in a conflict that came to be known as World War I.

President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality. However, when Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare threatened American commerce in 1917, the U.S. finally joined the Allies.

With the U.S. declaration of war on April 6, 1917, forces mobilized throughout the country. Camp Grant was opened just south of Rockford, Illinois to train soldiers for combat. Search on Camp Grant for images of recruits reporting for duty, receiving their uniforms, training with horses, rifles, bayonets, grenades, and machine guns, the weapon that came to dominate and epitomize the battles of World War I.

  • What kinds of skills did soldiers receive at Camp Grant?
  • How well do you think this training would have prepared them for their experience over seas?

Of the men drafted during World War I, over 350,000 were African Americans. The Army was strictly segregated and organized two African-American divisions that sent 40,000 soldiers into combat in Europe. One of the divisions served with the French Army, sustaining a casualty rate of 35 percent. The division's 369th Infantry Regiment spent more time on the front lines than any other American unit, and in six months never surrendered an inch of territory. Search on African American soldier for the few images of soldiers of the 8th Artillery Regiment and the 365th Infantry.

In addition to serving in the military, Americans were encouraged to support the war effort by buying Liberty Bonds. The Chicago Daily News, like other newspapers throughout the country, conducted Liberty Bond drives. Photographs of promotional activities feature Boy Scouts in military uniforms selling Liberty Bonds, Chicago White Sox players buying Liberty Bonds on the field at Comiskey Park, notable ladies preparing to drop Liberty Loan circulars from airplanes, and Liberty Loan parades. Search on Liberty Bond for photographs of other bond drive activities.

The Chicago Daily News also sponsored a poster exhibition to increase sympathy for the French during the war. Search on war poster for images of the 1918 exhibit and several posters, including one saluting the African colonial troops serving with the French Army.

  • How did photographs help to promote bond drives to help finance the war?
  • How would photographs of Boy Scouts, White Sox baseball players, and entertainment personalities have helped to sell war bonds?
  • Why would it have been important to increase American sympathy for the French during the war?
  • How would these war posters from France have helped to achieve this?

After four years, World War I finally ended on November 11, 1918 when the Allies and Germans signed an Armistice in the Forest of Compiegne. People celebrated across the globe. Search on Armistice 1918 to see how Chicagoans celebrated the restoration of peace.

  • What symbols predominated in the celebrations on Armistice Day, 1918?
  • What sorts of sentiments are reflected in these celebrations?