World War I

World War One had a profound impact on Chicago and the many Ironworkers who served. Illinois provided 300,000 recruits for the war effort with many coming from the Chicago area. Because the Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men 21 to 45 to register for the draft, 13,000,000 men had signed up by September 1918. 1,467 Ironworkers served in the Armed Forces, but it’s unknown how many were among the 320,518 American casualties.

The war started in 1914 with Germany, Italy & Austria-Hungary versus Britain, France & Russia. From 1914 to 1917, it was basically a trench war in Western Europe with massive casualties on both sides. In addition there was a giant sea war going on between the British and German navies. Germany had developed a large submarine fleet which caused tremendous losses to military and merchant ships. The submarine warfare was an important factor in the United States entering the war.

The United States took the position of being a neutral observer when the war started with a large segment of the population in an isolationist mode. The first incident that effected the United States was the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915 by German torpedos with 137 Americans aboard. This was followed by an effort by Germany to fix the terms by which Americans could travel on the high seas, which was rejected by our Government. The continued sinking of ships carrying Americans inflamed the citizenry.

Responding from pressure from President Woodrow Wilson, Germany on May 6, 1916 assured the United States that merchant ships would not be sunk without warning and wished to continue to have peaceful relations with us. Despite the pledge, two American ships, the SS Housatonic and the SS California were sunk in February 1917.

The incident that finally drove the United States into the war was “The Zimmerman Telegram”. A secret message sent to the Mexican government and intercepted by British intelligence in late February 1917. It said that Germany would begin unrestricted submarine warfare which might bring the United States into the war. It proposed that Mexico align itself with Germany and in return Mexico would get back their lost territories in Texas, New Mexico & Arizona. In addition, it added the suggestion that Mexico contact Japan and invite them to join the alliance…… Mexico declined the proposal.

President Wilson responded by asking Congress to declare war and on April 6, 1917, Congress complied, bringing the United States into the War.