The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

World War I


Americans reluctantly entered Europe’s “Great War” and tipped the balance to Allied victory. In part the nation was responding to threats to its own economic and diplomatic interests. But it also wanted, in the words of President Woodrow Wilson, to “make the world safe for democracy.” The United States emerged from the war a significant, but reluctant, world power.

Facts / Statistics

Dates: 1917-1918
Troops: 4,734,991
Deaths: 116,516

The Yanks Are Coming!

Under unprecedented government direction, American industry mobilized to produce weapons, equipment, munitions, and supplies. Nearly one million women joined the workforce. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans from the South migrated north to work in factories.

Two million Americans volunteered for the army, and nearly three million were drafted. More than 350,000 African Americans served, in segregated units. For the first time, women were in the ranks, nearly 13,000 in the navy as Yeoman (F) (for female) and in the marines. More than 20,000 women served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps.

The first contingent of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), commanded by General John J. Pershing reached France in June, but it took time to assemble, train, and equip a fighting force. By spring 1918, the AEF was ready, first blunting a German offensive at Belleau Wood.

The Americans entered a war that was deadlocked. Opposing armies were dug in, facing each other in trenches that ran nearly 500 miles across northern France—the notorious western front. Almost three years of horrific fighting resulted in huge losses, but no discernable advantage for either side.

American involvement in the war was decisive. Within eighteen months, the sheer number of American “doughboys” added to the lines ended more than three years of stalemate. Germany agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918.

Machine guns, poison gas, and a variety of other weapons killed tens of thousands on both sides, but far more troops died under the rain of artillery shells. The dead—often just parts of bodies—were carried back from the front lines. Frequently, an American ambulance driver noted, “there wasn’t anything left to bring.”

Two million men in the American Expeditionary Force went to France. Some 1,261 combat veterans—and their commander, General Pershing—were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for extraordinary heroism. Sixty-nine American civilians also received the award.


Exhibition Graphics

Making shells at the retooled Maxwell Motor plant in Detroit, Michigan

Making shells at the retooled Maxwell Motor plant in Detroit, Michigan

Germans infantry in a trench

Germans infantry in a trench

African American infantry on the march

African American infantry on the march

Firing a Big Gun

Firing a Big Gun

Plane Falling in No-Man's Land

Plane Falling in No-Man's Land

Tanks Attacking Early Sept. 26th

Tanks Attacking Early Sept. 26th

The Hurry Call, Night of May 20, 1918

The Hurry Call, Night of May 20, 1918

Verdun Offensive Wounded Working Back to Advanced Aid Station

Verdun Offensive Wounded Working Back to Advanced Aid Station

Our Cavalry: A Halt on their way to. . . .

Our Cavalry: A Halt on their way to. . . .

His Bunkie

His Bunkie

Bodies awaiting burial, 1918

Bodies awaiting burial, 1918

American soldier with facial injuries

American soldier with facial injuries


Related Artifacts

Jewish Welfare Board Uniform
'Treat 'em Rough, Join the Tanks' Poster
German Stick Grenade
Yeoman (F) Uniform
Model 1910 Entrenching Tool
Doughboy Uniform
Springfield M1903 Rifle, .30 Caliber with Bayonet and Sling
Gas Mask
M1915 Vickers Machine Gun, .30 Caliber
Liberty 12 Model A Engine
Bread Tin, Canteen and Belt
M1918 Trench Knife
Stubby
Cher Ami
Prosthetic Arm
Distinguished Service Cross Medal


Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits