U.S. Participation in the Great War (World War I)
War broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, with the Central Powers led by Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side and the Allied countries led by Britain, France, and Russia on the other. At the start of the war, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would be neutral. However, that neutrality was tested and fiercely debated in the U.S.
Submarine warfare in the Atlantic kept tensions high, and Germany’s sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killed more than 120 U.S. citizens and provoked outrage in the U.S. In 1917, Germany’s attacks on American ships and its attempts to meddle in U.S.-Mexican relations drew the U.S. into the war on the side of the Allies. The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
Within a few months, thousands of U.S. men were being drafted into the military and sent to intensive training. Women, even many who had never worked outside the home before, took jobs in factories producing supplies needed for the war effort, as well as serving in ambulance corps and the American Red Cross at home and abroad. Children were enlisted to sell war bonds and plant victory gardens in support of the war effort.
The United States sent more than a million troops to Europe, where they encountered a war unlike any other—one waged in trenches and in the air, and one marked by the rise of such military technologies as the tank, the field telephone, and poison gas. At the same time, the war shaped the culture of the U.S. After an Armistice agreement ended the fighting on November 11, 1918, the postwar years saw a wave of civil rights activism for equal rights for African Americans, the passage of an amendment securing women’s right to vote, and a larger role in world affairs for the United States.
As you explore the primary sources in this group, look for evidence of the different roles U.S. citizens played in the war effort, as well as the effects of the war on the people of the United States.
To find additional sources, visit the Library of Congress World War I page. You can also search the Library’s online collections using terms including World War I or Great War, or look for specific subjects or names, such as Woodrow Wilson, doughboys, trench warfare, or “Over There.”
To analyze primary sources like these, use the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool.