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Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

Humanitarian Aid

As long as the United States remained out of the war, humanitarian assistance offered an alternative response to the international crisis. Neutral Belgium invaded and occupied by Germany and other war-ravaged countries faced food shortages and the threat of starvation. At the urging of the U.S. embassy in London, Herbert Hoover—then a forty-year-old mining engineer and wealthy business leader—organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Designed to feed all of Belgium, it was the largest humanitarian relief operation to date. Relief efforts later expanded to occupied northern France, and by 1918 the CRB had delivered three million tons of food, largely averting starvation in the occupied territories.  Americans also undertook much smaller voluntary relief efforts for suffering peoples within the Central Powers’ territories including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Armenia, and Syria.

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