National Archives at Atlanta

The Great War Over Here Exhibit

While World War I is known as the first modern war on the battlefield, it also ushered in many changes to the scope of the federal government on the home front. From the proliferation of surveillance and propaganda, to the imprisonment of subversives, agencies wielded new power over an increasingly paranoid citizenry. Not to mention the activities of the Selective Service System, which registered over twenty-four million men to be mobilized for the armed conflict in Europe. The holdings of the National Archives at Atlanta document these fascinating stories of the Great War on the home front. Please enjoy a sampling of these now century-old records.



Over twenty-four million men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five registered with the Selective Service System during World War I. Among these registrants were current and future celebrities unsure of their roles as soldiers. Local draft boards across the country bore the responsibility of enforcing the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917. And the domestic responsibilities of some registrants, like Oscar Miller, made it difficult for them to go to war, so the U.S. Courts intervened in their potential exemptions.



With German spies conducting operations on U.S. soil and German submarines patrolling the coastline, a feeling of paranoia permeated a populace unfamiliar with these home front threats. In response, federal authorities like the 6th Naval District and the Customs Service increased their surveillance and reporting procedures.


The mobilization of a large fighting force required training and equipment, and new installations were established around the Southeast accordingly. The private sector also found itself contributing to the war effort. Meanwhile, newly minted soldiers gained unique experiences and problems here at home and deployed overseas.


The Russian Revolution in 1917 brought increased awareness to radical left-wing organizations in America. Socialists like Eugene Debs, Alexander Berkman, and Paul Bosko found themselves imprisoned in the Atlanta Penitentiary along with religious evangelicals, as law enforcement agencies and the court system expanded the scope of what it meant to be a subversive group.


The U.S. Food Administration deployed propaganda in support of its food rationing campaign, while the 2nd Liberty Loan inspired contributions with familiarly patriotic images. Not to be outdone, the Department of Labor enlisted women workers to shame men into duty.