From 2017 through 2019, the National Constitution Center featured artifacts to observe the centennial anniversary of U.S. involvement in World War I. Explore the origins of the war, the contributions of Americans at home and abroad, and the constitutional issues surrounding a nation at war.
President Wilson's War Address, 1917
Woodrow Wilson delivered this speech to Congress, requesting a declaration of war against Germany. Although the president had vowed to keep the country neutral, recent acts of German aggression changed his mind: “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.” Four days later, Congress declared war, joining its allies Britain, France, and Russia.
Recruiting Poster, ca. 1917
When the Selective Service Act passed in May 1917, posters like this sprang up across the country. More than 9.5 million men registered on the first day of the draft, welcomed by cheering crowds and military bands. Less than a month later, American troops joined Allied forces in France.
U.S. Army Dog Tag, 1918
This dog tag was worn by Private John Schaffranek, a German-born draftee, while serving with the U.S. Army in France. Amid anti-German sentiment, he strongly affirmed his allegiance to his adopted country, allowing him to remain on the front lines. Approximately 18 percent of U.S. recruits were immigrants.
U.S. Army Gas Mask, 1919
This mask represents the war’s devastating impact—when the first large-scale use of chemical weapons left 1.3 million dead or injured. In response to German gas attacks, the newly established Chemical Warfare Service developed strategies to deal with toxic agents such as mustard gas. The Army also issued filter respirator masks, like the one seen here.
"Must Liberty's Light Go Out?" 1917
This editorial cartoon contains powerful commentary on the proposed bill to forbid interference with the war effort. In the illustration, an arm labeled "Espionage Bill" snatches the torch of "Enlightenment" from Lady Liberty—hinting at the bill's potential violations of civil liberties. Despite strong public outcry, Congress passed the bill one month later.
Solicitation Letter from the Editor of "The Masses," ca. 1911-1917
In this letter, writer and activist Max Eastman seeks financial support for The Masses, a socialist magazine that criticized the war. Eastman promised to “fight conscription” and “fight the censorship” to resist the war effort. Under the Espionage Act, the government condemned the anti-war publication, causing it to fall out of print.
World War I Anti-Draft Pamphlet, 1917
“Help us wipe out this stain upon the Constitution!” Charles Schenck, a Socialist Party leader in Philadelphia, distributed this leaflet to encourage repeal of the draft. Schenck was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, a law that restricted individuals from undermining the war effort. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld his conviction.
Third Liberty Loan Poster, 1918
This poster encouraged Americans to prove their patriotism by purchasing war bonds. In April 1918, Congress passed the Third Liberty Loan Act to fund the war. By arousing fears of enemy spies and dissenters, this advertisement capitalized on the public’s desire to demonstrate loyalty during wartime.
This exhibit was developed and designed by the National Constitution Center.