When World War 1 erupted, the United States of America initially maintained a position of neutrality. However, growing hostilities from Germany eventually prompted the U.S. president to declare war on the nation, officially drawing the United States into the conflict.
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America in World War 1 Key Facts & Information
The Cause of the War
The escalating tensions between French and British colonizers led to strained relations among affected countries, including Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, resulting in the formation of alliances. In the midst of this, Serbian Nationalism emerged. This small territory’s desire to break free from Austria-Hungary ultimately led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 by a Bosnian Serb, sparking the conflict.
Germany supported Austria’s declaration of war, setting off a confrontation between the Allied and Central Powers. Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) faced off against Canada, Japan, the United States, France, Russia, Italy, Great Britain, and Romania (the Allied Powers).
On August 4, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially declared the United States neutral in World War I, a stance widely supported by the American public. However, Germany’s attempt to blockade the British Isles disrupted Wilson’s initial hopes of American impartiality.
As tension escalated between the United States and Germany, particularly after numerous American ships en route to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, public opinion began to shift away from neutrality.
The sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, resulting in the deaths of over 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, contributed to this shift. President Wilson maintained a neutral position until 1917 when the British intercepted a significant message from Germany.
The intercepted telegram revealed Germany’s intention to aid Mexico in regaining territory it had lost in the 1840s, including Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona.
Germany also resumed unrestricted submarine warfare against enemy vessels, prompting the United States to reevaluate its stance. While Germany hoped to divert American attention away from the war in Europe, Mexico chose to remain neutral, leading the United States to consider the telegram a threat to its national security.
America’s Entry into the War
In late March 1917, Germany’s sinking of four more American merchant ships and President Wilson’s address to Congress on April 2 pushed the United States to declare war on Germany, with a Senate vote of 82 to 6 on April 4. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the declaration just two days later, and America officially entered World War I. The arrival of the first 14,000 American infantry soldiers in France on June 26, 1917, marked a pivotal moment in the war after more than three years of deadly deadlock along the Western Front. By the war’s conclusion on November 11, 1918, over four million American soldiers had served on the front lines in Western Europe, with roughly 50,000 losing their lives.
Peace and Aftermath
By the fall of 1918, it was evident that the Allies would emerge victorious. Turkey and Bulgaria became the next Central Powers to surrender, ultimately leading to the end of the seven-century-old Ottoman Empire. Austria-Hungary, facing starvation and internal strife, signed an armistice deal, resulting in the dissolution of the union into numerous smaller nations and the end of the Hapsburg Empire. Germany, following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and on the brink of chaos and civil unrest, transitioned into a republic. Chancellor Friedrich Ebert sought an armistice from the Allies, finally ending the hostilities. After months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles was agreed upon in June 1919. This treaty ensured that Germany would no longer pose a military threat to Britain or France, with its “war guilt clause” assigning blame to Germany for initiating the war. The treaty also required Germany to make substantial reparations and cede 25,000 square kilometers of territory. Contrary to German expectations based on President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which had suggested a seat at the negotiating table, Germany found itself subjected to the Treaty’s terms, leading to vehement protests and the term “diktat” to describe the imposed decree.
Legacy of the War
World War I, which began with the assassination of one man, resulted in millions of casualties and saw the major industrial powers of the world join the conflict. Beyond the impact on individuals and nations, the United States underwent significant and enduring changes as a result of World War I. The war prompted the development of new industries and innovative approaches to healthcare and disability treatment through wartime technologies and medical advancements. Women and minorities gained the right to vote due to their contributions to the war effort, and society became more attuned to civil rights issues.
WWI American Heroes
World War I featured several American heroes, including:
Initially a conscientious objector, Sergeant Alvin York earned recognition as one of the most remarkable civilian soldiers of the war. York’s courageous actions led to him capturing 132 enemy soldiers and receiving commendations, including the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor.
A 17-year-old sailor known as “Jutland Jack,” Jack Cornwell perished during the Engagement of Jutland, the largest maritime battle of World War I. His bravery earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest honor for acts of exceptional combat courage.
Flora Sandes was the sole British woman to serve in World War I. Initially a nurse with the Red Cross, she transitioned to a soldier at the suggestion of a Serbian counterpart. She is noted for her service as a soldier in the Serbian army.
Julia Catherine Stimson
Julia Catherine Stimson, an American nurse, achieved the rank of major in the US Army, becoming the first woman to hold this title in the United States. She contributed significantly to saving lives during the war, particularly as the chief nurse of Base Hospital 21.
Edouard Izac, a Navy commander, was aboard the USS President Lincoln when it was torpedoed by a German submarine in May 1918. As a prisoner of war, he utilized his knowledge of the German language to gather information on German submarine operations. Izac was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1920 and remained the last living World War I Medal of Honor recipient until his passing in 1990.
These heroes played important roles in World War I, leaving a lasting legacy of valor and sacrifice.