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.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. This World War I hit was America’s war anthem. “Over There,” George M. Cohan, music and lyrics, Billy Murray, performer, recorded 1917. The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920
Samuel Gompers, “Labor’s Service to Freedom,” circa 1917-1918. American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election
- Search Today in History on World War I for relevant features on the war, such as the sinking of the Lusitania, Armistice (Veterans) Day, the Saint-Mihiel Offensive, and General John J. Pershing, leader of the U.S. forces in Europe.
- Search the collection Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 on World War to retrieve more than 300 panoramic photos of battlefields and military life, including twelve photos associated with the Meuse-Argonne campaign. During the fall of 1918, more than 1,000,000 Americans fought with the French in this hilly region of France. Search on Argonne to locate these pictures.
- Search on World War in Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 External to find almost one hundred pieces from the World War I period, including George M. Cohan’s “Over There External” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary External” by Jack Judge and Harry Williams. Cover illustrations and song lyrics contribute valuable information to our understanding of the popular culture of that time, with themes ranging from politics and patriotism, to racial stereotypes, to sentiments about home and family.
- Search the American Memory 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 Way Back to Tipperary,” and “Over There.”
- Search on the term World War in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election 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 and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels’ speech, “There Is No Rank In Sacrifice,” honoring the naval heroes of the war. Don’t miss From War to Normalcy: An Introduction to the Nation’s Forum Collection, the special presentation associated with this collection.
- 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:
- Read Mobilizing Woman-Power available in the collection Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. Written by Harriot Stanton Blatch in 1918, this book emphasizes the importance of women’s contributions to World War I.
- Search on the term 1916 AND 1917 AND 1918 in Origins of American Animation to see cartoons from the World War I era. See, for example, AWOL—All Wrong Old Laddiebuck, which concerns an American soldier in Europe after the 1918 armistice who goes AWOL only to be thrown in a guard house while his fellow soldiers go home. The film is a cautionary tale for troops impatient to return home after the armistice.
- 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, 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.