On April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. Fighting since the summer of 1914, Britain, France, and Russia welcomed news that American troops and supplies would be directed toward the Allied war effort. Under the command of Major General John J. Pershing, over two million U.S. troops served in France during the war.
For three years, President Woodrow Wilson strove to maintain American neutrality. Anti-war sentiment ran across the political spectrum. Middle-class reformers such as Jane Addams as well as radicals such as Emma Goldman opposed U.S. involvement in the war.
Although he later supported the war effort, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, resigned over the Administration’s failure to remain neutral. However, a series of incidents, including the loss of 128 American lives when German submarines sank the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, changed public opinion. On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, warning that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”
The war mobilization effort placed tremendous demands on both American military and civilian populations. In a wartime speech, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, noted that the U.S. work force was fully committed to victory:
The World War in which we are engaged in is on such a tremendous scale that we must readjust practically the whole nation’s social and economic structure from a peace to a war basis. It devolves upon liberty-loving citizens, and particularly the workers of this country, to see to it that the spirit and the methods of democracy are maintained within our own country while we are engaged in a war to establish them in international relations…
The workers have a part in this war equal with the soldiers and sailors on the ships and in the trenches…They are demonstrating their appreciation and loyalty by war work, by loaning their savings, and by the supreme sacrifice. Labor will do its part in every demand the war makes. Our republic, the freedom of the world, progress, and civilization hang in the balance. We dare not fail. We will win.
Labor’s Service to Freedom. Samuel Gompers, recorded Jan. 16, 1918; New York: Nation’s Forum, 1918. American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I. Motion Picture, Broadcasting, & Recorded Sound Division
American participation in World War I permanently transformed the nation. In order to meet increased demands for goods, the federal government expanded dramatically, taking an unprecedented role in guiding the economy.
Active supporters of the war to preserve democracy, women made a step towards political equality when the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchised them shortly after the war. Meanwhile, military service and wartime jobs beckoned African Americans northward. In what is known as the Great Migration, thousands of African Americans left the South and its systems of oppression to face new challenges in Northern cities.
- World War I: A Resource Guide compiles links to World War I resources throughout the Library of Congress website, including photographs, documents, newspapers, films, sheet music, and sound recordings.
- Search the Library’s collections of prints and photographs to find thousands of images from World War I.
- The online exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I includes a timeline and several narrated videos that examine how the war affected the U.S. and changed the world.
- Explore the collection Posters: World War I Posters to view approximately 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920.
- World War I Sheet Music contains over 14,000 pieces of sheet music relating to what ultimately became known as the First World War, with the greatest number coming from the years of the United States’ active involvement (1917-1918) and the immediate postwar period.
- Search the digital collections containing sound recordings to listen to some of the songs sung by the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. For example, don’t miss “Madelon (I’ll Be True to the Whole Regiment)”, “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”, and “Over There”.
- Search on the term World War in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I to find additional recordings of speeches on the subject of World War I. This collection includes a thirty-three-second speech by General John J. Pershing, “From the Battlefields of France”, recorded on location in March 1918 and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels’ speech, “There Is No Rank In Sacrifice”, honoring the naval heroes of the war.
- View films shot during the First World War in the collection Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film. Examples include films showing members of President Theodore Roosevelt’s family who were active in the war effort:
- The John J. Pershing Papers contain the diaries, notebooks, and address books of John Joseph Pershing, U.S. army officer and commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
- Search Chronicling America to find historic American newspaper articles related to World War I. In addition, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room has created a series of topic guides to the newspapers included in Chronicling America, including guides on the Sinking of the Lusitania, World War I Poetry, and Female Spies in World War I.
- Read the complete seventy-one-week run of the World War I edition of the newspaper The Stars and Stripes. Published in France by the United States Army from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, the eight-page weekly featured news, poetry, cartoons, and sports coverage.
- During the World War I era (1914-18), leading U.S. newspapers took advantage of a new printing technique called rotogravure that produced richly detailed, high quality illustrations. The online collection, Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919, includes the Sunday rotogravure sections of the New York Times and the New York Tribune, as well as the book, The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings. The images in this collection document events of World War I and popular American culture of that era.