The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war, later known as World War I, to a close.
President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.
Between the wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both world wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries call the holiday Remembrance Day.
In an interview with the Federal Writers’ Project, World War I veteran Andrew Johnson remembered how his regiment stationed in northeastern France welcomed the end of the war:
Armistice Day found us before Metz. We were waiting to storm a great walled city which would have cost us many men, as we would have to cross a level plain about two miles long.
Andrew Johnson, Levi C. Hubert, interviewer, Brooklyn, New York, November 20, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940
When Johnson and his mates finally arrived in the United States the following spring, he recalled, “We were given a bonus of $60, an honorable discharge, and the 368th Infantry regiment became a part of history.”
On the home front, the armistice was celebrated in the streets. Massachusetts shoe laster James Hughes described the scene in Boston:
There was a lot of excitement when we heard about the Armistice…some of them old fellas was walkin’ on the streets with open Bibles n their hands. All the shops were shut down. I never seen the people so crazy…confetti was a-flying in all directions…I’ll never forget it.
James Hughes, “The House that My Uncles Owned in Ireland,” Jane K. Leary, interviewer, Lynn, Massachusetts, April 28, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940
Search for newspaper accounts of the Armistice, wars, veterans, and more in Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers to find articles about the Armistice, for example “WAR IS OVER,” published in The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.) on November 7, 1918 (final edition, image 1), and “ARMISTICE IS SIGNED” in the The Evening Missourian. (Columbia, Mo.) 1917-1920, November 11, 1918, Image 1.
- Search the collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 on world war to read more recollections of World War I.
- Woodrow Wilson’s notes for his Fourteen Points address are available online in Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years. In this famous address to Congress on January 8, 1918, Wilson outlined the terms that he believed should be used as the basis for the treaty ending the First World War.
- American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election features sound recordings of speeches made by prominent Americans during and immediately after World War I. Browse the subject index to find a speech of interest, or visit the special presentation From War to Normalcy: An Introduction to the Nation’s Forum Collection.
- From February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, by order of General John J. Pershing, the United States Army published The Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for its forces in France. The entire run of this edition is featured in American Memory.
- Listen to a recording of George M. Cohan’s “Over There,” America’s World War I anthem, available in the collection The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920. Review the sheet music External for this song in Historic American Sheet Music 1850-1920 External.
Events featuring veterans from between the two world wars and during World War II also are featured in American Memory.
- The Bonus Army was made up of 12,000 to 15,000 disaffected World War I veterans who marched on Washington, D.C., to demand payment of benefits during the Depression years of 1932 and 1933.
- Images of soldiers, war factory personnel, and people from the WWII homefront can be viewed in the color and black-and-white photograph collections from the FSA/OWI.