A Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sofia in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, setting off a chain of events that would culminate in a world war by August. Five years later, on June 28, 1919, Germany and the Allies signed the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending World War I and providing for the creation of the League of Nations.
After the 1914 assassinations, an elaborate network of treaties among the nations of Europe led to a rapid escalation in the “Great War” between the Central Powers—including Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, and the Allied nations of Britain, France, Italy, and Russia. On April 6, 1917, the United States entered the war on the side of the Allies.
In this selection from an American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 interview, a veteran recalls his experiences in the First World War:
I spent some time in Paris. Stayed at the Hotel Continental there. I remember the Crystal Palace…the soldiers and girls promenaded on the make for each other. It was a great war—but not for the poor guys up front in the mud and blood.
“No Bombs Dropping.” Montpelier, Vermont, Roaldus Richmond, interviewer, circa 1936-1940. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940
Germany eventually sought an armistice that went into effect on November 11, 1918. The peace agreement was supposed to be structured around the Fourteen Points of reconciliation developed by President Woodrow Wilson.
The Fourteen Points, which included a provision for the formation of the League of Nations, were meant to prevent “the crime of war,” but the actual terms of the Treaty of Versailles were harshly punitive. The final treaty stipulated that Germany lose approximately 13 percent of its territory and all of its overseas colonies, as well as pay reparations for damages caused by the war. It also limited the size of the German military and restricted the production of armaments.
The all black 369th Infantry Regiment saw extensive combat duty during World War I. Later awarded the French Croix de Guerre, the 369th was the first Allied regiment to reach the Rhine. The more than 350,000 African-American men who served in World War I returned home to face overt racism and segregation.
In a speech just after World War I, Senator Gilbert M. Hitchcock spoke of the need for international cooperation to forestall another massive war in Europe:
The late war cost seven million lives…It has destroyed hundreds of towns…it has brought in its train…pestilence and famine. Massacre, torture, and assassinations have accompanied it…The confidence of men in government has been shaken. It will never be restored until governments devise some way to end war. The League of Nations is that way.
“League of Nations.” Senator Gilbert M. Hitchcock, 1919. American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division
The U.S. Senate refused, however, to ratify a treaty that included a provision for membership in the League of Nations. Opponents to membership feared an international organization that would have the power to impose sanctions on its members in the interest of collective security. Led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles on November 19, 1919 and again on March 19, 1920. Thus, U.S. participation in the organization that Wilson had worked so hard to create was nullified.
Not until July 2, 1921, did Congress, by joint resolution, formally end U.S. participation in the Great War. Months later, the U.S. ratified separate treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
For American children, the end of the war meant their fathers would be coming home. The lyrics of this sentimental song were clearly meant to tug the heartstrings of parents:
“Hello, Central, give me France,
I want to talk to Daddy dear,
Because I’d like to tell him while I got the chance,
The stork brought a brand new baby here. Won’t you say that its me
And he’ll answer, you’ll see;
So hurry, please, and get him on the phone,
Hello, Central, give me France,
‘Cause we want our Daddy dear back home.”
- A Guide to World War I Materials compiles links to World War I resources throughout the Library of Congress Web site, including photographs, documents, newspapers, films, sheet music, and sound recordings.
- Search 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.
- Search the Panoramic Photographs collection on World War to retrieve hundreds of panoramic photos of battlefields and military life.
- Search on World War in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 to read more veterans’ stories. This collection includes some 2,900 documents collected in twenty-four states.
- Search on League of Nations or Wilson in American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I to listen to and read speeches recorded at the time of the controversy over America’s participation in the League. For example, hear Senator Warren G. Harding, state that “…the aspiring conscience of humankind must commit the nations of the earth to a new and better relationship.”
- 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.