National Archives at Philadelphia

World War I Records of American Involvement at the National Archives at Philadelphia

Introduction

This is a subject guide to the records of American involvement in World War I (1917-1918) held within the collection of the National Archives at Philadelphia. The United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, and President Woodrow Wilson enacted the Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917, in order to draft men into military service. Germany formally surrendered on November 11, 1918, and all nations agreed to stop fighting while the terms of peace were negotiated.

Although the United States was involved in World War I for less than two years, the event formed and shaped many governmental institutions, and paved the way for American involvement in World War II.  The National Archives at Philadelphia holdings were created by federal government agencies and courts based within the Mid-Atlantic States of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Some agencies also had jurisdiction in New Jersey.

This guide is sorted by topic to provide researchers with a better understanding of how to access records pertaining to American involvement in World War I. It is our hope that this guide helps enables students, citizen historians, and academics alike to discover records of World War I at the National Archives at Philadelphia. Each listed record is followed by a National Archives Identifier (NAID), which can be used to learn more about the records in the National Archives Catalog.  The Record Group number—“RG” followed by a number—denotes which record group the record belongs to.  Following this introduction is a list of Record Group numbers, and the agencies with which they are associated.  Along with the records, each topic is followed by a series of possible discussion points and questions to help engage further thinking about World War I.

Record Groups

RG 4: Records of the United States Food Administration

RG 5: Records of the United States Grain Corporation

RG 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs

RG 17: Records of the Bureau of Animal Industry

RG 18: Records of the Army Air Forces

RG 21: Records of District Courts

RG 32: Records of the United States Shipping Board

RG 58: Records of the Internal Revenue Service

RG 85: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service

RG 92: Records of the Quartermaster General

RG 156: Records of the Chief of Ordnance

RG 165: Records of War Department General and Special Staffs

RG 175: Records of the Chemical Warfare Service

RG 181: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments

RG 392: Records of Army Coast Artillery Districts and Defenses

Military

Because the United States remained neutral for the majority of the war, there was significant work to be done by the military between the declaration of war and actual troop deployment.  The various military administrations worked to ensure that troops and supplies would quickly reach Europe, ready for action. The East Coast not only prepared to send men to Europe, but also for potential battles on American soil.  Bases served to train troops, distribute supplies, and defend the United States coast from enemy attacks.  There are several overlapping records within these headings; those under “Administration” are organized by type of document while those under “Bases” by location.

Administration

National Security

Government agencies needed man power to provide adequate service during World War I.  People who were employed had to be clear of any suspicious behavior and follow strict protocols to ensure confidentiality and protection for the American public.

Army

The Army built up many branches in order to best serve in the war.  The Air Service, Coast and Harbor Defenses, and the Quartermaster General trained troops, protected the East Coast, and prepared provisions and shipped supplies.

Navy

The United States Navy countered enemy ships and U-Boat attacks while they transported soldiers and supplies to the front lines. The majority of the records listed below are not yet in NARA’s online Catalog.  If you would like to know more about these records, please contact staff at the National Archives at Philadelphia at Philadelphia.Archives@NARA.gov or at (215) 305-2044.

  • Beneficiaries Files, U.S. Naval Home, Philadelphia, PA, Other Establishments, 1887-1960, (RG181) PH-6374
  • Correspondence, 1 container, Naval Aircraft Factory, Warminster, PA, Naval Air Installations, 1916-1930, (RG181) PH-6372
  • Exhibit Photos, 4 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1774-1994, (RG181) PH-6354
  • History, 11 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1801-1994, (RG181) PH-6345
  • Information Files, 9 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1801-1995, (RG181) PH-6344
  • Change of Command Files, 5 containers, Philadelphia, PA  Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1828-1996, (RG181) PH-6337
  • Ship Photographs, 52 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1776-1991, (RG181) PH-6335
  • Events, 65 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1861-1994, (RG181) PH-6334
  • Daily Logs of Work Done, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1918-1921, (RG181) PH-6299
  • Log/Diary, 76 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1819-1944, PH-6287, (RG181) NAID: 4707519
  • General Correspondence, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1910-1957, (RG181) PH-6273
  • Index to Ships Files, 29 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1910-1926, (RG181) PH-6272
  • Ships Files, 82 containers, Philadelphia, PA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1918-1926, (RG181) PH-6271
  • Log Book of US Navy Yard, Norfolk, VA Navy Yard, Navy Yards, 1893-1939, PH-6244, (RG181) NAID: 4707059
  • General Correspondence, Norfolk, VA Navy Yard, 1901-1925, (RG181) PH-6211
  • Historical background files, Norfolk, VA Navy Yard, 1917-1950, (RG181) PH-6210
  • Central Subject Files Naval Powder Factory, 5th Naval District (Indian Head, MD), Naval Districts, 1907-1925, (RG181) PH-6192
  • General Correspondence, 5th Naval District (Norfolk, VA), 1901-1925, (RG181) PH-6170

Emergency Fleet Corporation

  • Office Files of the Secretary, Philadelphia, PA, 1918-1919, (RG32) NAID: 615209
  • General Records, August 1917-December 1922, Records Maintained by the Authorized Representative for the Merchant Shipping Corporation (Bristol, PA), (RG32) NAID: 617355
  • Indexes to the General Records, August 1917-December 1922, Records Maintained by the Authorized Representative for the Merchant Shipping Corporation (Bristol, PA), (RG32) NAID: 617355

Bases

Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD

Baltimore Ordnance Depot, MD

Camp Eustis, VA

Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot, MD

Fort Du Pont, DE

Fort Armistead, MD

Fort Carroll, MD

Fort Howard, MD – Harbor Defenses of Baltimore

Fort Smallwood, MD

Fort Mott, NJ

Fort Monroe, VA – Coast Defense of Chesapeake Bay

Frankford Arsenal, Philadelphia, PA

Langley Field, VA

Middletown Ordnance & Air Depot, PA

Newport News, VA

Penniman Ordnance Depot, VA

Philadelphia Ordnance Depot, PA

Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot, PA

Pig Point Ordnance Depot, VA

Pittsburgh Ordnance Depot, PA

Sandy Hook Proving Ground, NJ

Tobyhanna Ordnance Depot, PA

Different Perspectives

The United States did not join World War I until 1917 and had not prepared to enter the war before this point.  Mobilization happened quickly and the military grew from a few hundred thousand to millions.  

What are some of the difficulties that the military administration may have faced in light of this?  Were they successful at mobilizing quickly?  Why or why not?

 

Mobilization

Nearly 5 million men served the U.S. military during World War I, over half of whom were drafted.  These men contracted illnesses and injuries on the front lines as well as on the home front.

Recruits

The Selective Service Act of 1917 enlisted millions of men nationwide into military service. The personnel records from World War I, including the records of the Selective Service Administration, are held at the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR). The U.S. Draft Registration Cards and Classification Books can be accessed for free on FamilySearch, or through at the National Archives at Atlanta.   Although not held at the National Archives at Philadelphia, recruit records provide a personal view of what life was like during the war.

Orders and Training

Deployment

Health Management

Soldiers’ health was of utmost importance.  It was crucial to prevent the spread of disease and to properly treat “shell shock,” a newly-emerged condition that afflicted soldiers during and after the war.  These records detail the ways in which hospitals treated physically or mentally sick soldiers, as well as how the government handled those who were faking illness to get out of service.

Standing Down

Soldiers returning to the United States after the Great War needed help to readjust to life outside of war.  Soldiers and the government faced old and new mental and physical health problems, resulting from trench warfare, and chemical and mechanized weapons.  Some medical historians believe that returning soldiers brought with them the Spanish Influenza, which killed more people in total than the war itself during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.  To aid the adjustment process, the government created special programs for veterans and active duty soldiers.  In some cases, United States immigrants who fought for the U.S. during the war were able to petition for naturalization afterward.

Immigration

Health Management

National Home, Southern Branch, Hampton, Va

Schuylkill Arsenal, PA

Philadelphia Naval Home, PA

U.S. Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, PA

  • Reports of Autopsies (Post Mortem Books), 1909-1918, (RG 52) PH-2984

Veterans Affairs

Following the end of World War I, over two million soldiers returned home without employment and many without any job training.  Since the beginning of U.S. involvement in the War, Congress had been working to have benefit programs available for the returning servicemen.  The result was the passage of the Vocational Rehabilitation Ace of 1918, the Veterans Bureau Act of 1921, and the World War Veterans’ Act of 1924.  These acts set up the Federal apparatus to provide training and financial support to veterans.

National Home, Southern Branch, Hampton, VA

Rehabilitation Division, Baltimore, MD

Different Perspectives

The Great War was the first fully mechanized war.  Machine guns, shells, poisonous gases—each of these left physical scars on soldiers, but the mental damage was more extensive than anyone could have expected.  Soldiers returning from the war not only had to adjust to life with physical disabilities, but many also developed mental health issues.  The numerous acts pushed through on behalf of veterans indicate that the government sought to help them adapt to post-war life.

What are some examples of the ways in which the government cares for veterans today?  How might soldiers be prepared for the mental anguish of war?

Home Front

Military success in wartime depends on the work of the home front.  During World War I, the American home front played a crucial part in providing necessities to allied soldiers.  Various agencies were created or tasked with new programs to get civilians involved with the war effort.

Food Conservation & Production

The United States remained physically untouched by the war, making it possible to feed the American soldiers along with the starving European allies.  However, farmers and civilians needed to learn how to minimize waste and how to maximize conservation and production.  The government developed several programs and agencies to aid in this effort.

Conservation

Office of the Federal Food Administrator

Office of Director of Food Administration, WV
Division of County Administration, PA

Division of Conservation

The Enforcement Division

Office of the State Merchant Representative, MD

Office of the State Library Director, MD

Division of Dairy Interests

Division of Press News

Production

  • General Correspondence, 1917-1918, Office of the Second Vice President, Baltimore Agency, MD, (RG5) NAID: 570964
  • General Subject File, 1918-1919, Office of the Second Vice President, Baltimore Agency, MD, (RG5) NAID: 570964
  • Letters Sent, 1887-1918, Records of the Baltimore, MD Station, (RG17) NAID: 616310

Education

War provided opportunities for education programs that had not previously existed or been necessary, including education about food conservation as well as military training for the Air Services.

About Food Conservation & Production

For Military

  • Register to General Correspondence, 1918-1919, Records of Radio Schools, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburg, PA, (RG18) NAID: 562708
  • General Correspondence, 1918-1919, Records of Radio Schools, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburg, PA, (RG18) NAID: 562708
  • General Orders, 1918, Records of Radio Schools, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburg, PA, (RG18) NAID: 562709
  • Special Orders, 1917-1918, Records of Radio Schools, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburg, PA, (RG18) NAID: 563326
  • Memoranda, 1918, Records of Radio Schools, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburg, PA, (RG18) NAID: 563322

Women

Since the country’s founding, women have led programs and worked in industries reserved for men during wartime.  The female workers of World War I contributed in numerous ways to the war effort, and some even sought to leave the U.S. to serve on the battlefield as military nurses.

Immigration

During World War I, the government sought to prove the loyalty of immigrants, especially those from enemy countries.  This included interrogating those who sought to return to their home countries in the last moments of the war and right after it was over.  Immigrants who fought for the U.S. military and were honorably discharged were also eligible to apply for naturalization.

Civilian Employees

Defense

Though the United States had not been attacked on its own land, the government worked to uphold national security.  As a precaution to keep civilians safe from enemy attack, the U.S. built up defenses throughout major port cities.

Different Perspectives

When looking at history, it is important not to focus solely on the obvious.  Missing perspectives in records can reveal a lot about an era.  On the home front, there are not many records about women or minorities.  Why might this be?

Just two years after the war concluded, women won the right to vote.  Nearly forty years later, soon after the conclusion of World War II, people began to fight for the civil rights of all races.  How might turbulent times push political movements?  Can you identify any examples of this happening today?

Other Government Operations

The U.S. government strived to end the war quickly.  Through developing new technologies, working with non-government businesses, creating new taxes, and transporting supplies, the United States helped the Allied powers end the war and begin reconstruction.

Weapons Development & Testing

World War I marked a drastic change in warfare as weapons became mechanized.  The United States worked hard to develop new and efficient weapons to use in the war.

Contracts

The U.S. government worked with private companies, contracting their services for industrial goods to be used in the war effort.

Finances

The U.S. government helped to fund the war by imposing or increasing taxes on non-essential goods and services. In the World War I period the tax on beer and wines was increased, additional occupational taxes were imposed, and admissions to theaters, circuses, bowling alleys, and billiard parlors were taxed.  A tax was imposed on telegrams and telephone calls and on steamship tickets for destinations abroad.  The income tax was increased and an estate tax, a capital stock tax, and a tax on munitions makers were levied.  In 1921 rates were lowered on some taxes, and other taxes were abolished.  Grains for making beer were taxed, and the responsibility for the enforcement of prohibition was assigned to the Bureau of Prohibition until 1927.

Legal

Case law gives insights into both routine life and war-related issues.  Criminal cases include actions brought under Espionage Act of 1917, the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917; alien registrations; and investigations of Socialist Party activities

Supplies

Several military bases were involved with the transportation of supplies to Europe, including air depots, proving grounds, the Quartermaster General and the Emergency Fleet Corporation.

Different Perspectives

While taxes can be an area of contention for the public, the government used the revenue to help fund the war and to promote food conservation.  Aside from taxes, how did the government raised money towards the war effort?  

Part of the funding went towards weapons development and testing.  World War I saw brutal battles and many questioned the use of some weapons such as poisonous gases.  Is there such thing as humane war?  Why was World War I the stage for the mechanization of war and the abandonment of old war ceremony?

 

Contact & Usage Information

Would you like to make an appointment to view records listed in this guide? Please call 215-305-2044, or \ us at Philadelphia.archives@nara.gov, to schedule a Research Room appointment.

National Archives at Philadelphia
14700 Townsend Road

Philadelphia, PA, 19154-1096

(215) 305-2044
Philadelphia.Archives@NARA.gov

 

Other NARA Resources

Non-NARA resources

  • Library of Congress.  (2015). Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room.  Topics in Chronicling America – World War I Declarations.
    A list of American newspapers with headlines concerning World War I.
     
  • Home Before the Leaves Fall.  (2014).
    “Collaborative by design, Home Before the Leaves Fall is a multi-institutional project highlighting materials and resources on the Great War, with articles curated by individual scholars and experts guiding readers through the many threads that weave materials into a narrative tapestry, while social media spotlighting newly digitized content, creative and educational use of materials, and news of other Great War commemorations.” (from site About page)
     
  • The National WWI Museum and Memorial.  (2016).
    “The National World War I Museum and Memorial is America's leading institution dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community. The Museum fulfills its mission by:
    • Maintaining the Liberty Memorial as a beacon of freedom and a symbol of the courage, patriotism, sacrifice, and honor of all who served in World War I
    • Interpreting the history of World War I to encourage public involvement and informed decision-making
    • Providing exhibitions and educational programs that engage diverse audiences
    • Collecting and preserving historical materials with the highest professional standards” (from About Us page)
       
  • Mid-Atlantic Research Center for the Humanities at Rutgers.  (2016).  
    The link leads directly to the results of searching for the term “world war one”.

  • Delaware Valley Archivists
    The link leads directly to results of searching for the term “WWI”.

  • Wencour, S. & Reisch, M.  (1989). From Charity to Enterprise: The Development of American Social Work in a Market Economy.  Fashioning the Social Work Commodity.  92-106.
    This chapter contains information about Mary Richmond, a prominent scholar in social work during the time of WWI.  It offers an interesting perspective on society’s view of the downtrodden after a devastating war.

  • National Philanthropic Trust.  (2016). History of Modern Philanthropy.  
    A visual exhibit of philanthropic acts 1500 to present.  The section containing information from 1890 to 1930 contains a few interesting mentions of philanthropy during World War I.

  • Carlin, D. (Producer).  (2013). Hardcore History [Audio podcast]. On the Road to Armageddon, parts 1-6.   
    A six part podcast that thoroughly explains World War I, from beginning to end.  It explores deeper political and social reasons for the war and why it truly was the first Great War.

  • Green, J. & CrashCourse (Producer).  (2012). CrashCourse World History [YouTube video].  World War I video playlist. 
    A series of 4 videos created by CrashCourse and performed by John Green.  They are a brief explanation of the causes and effects of WWI on the modern world.

  • Hicks, W.E.  (1949). World War I and Public Opinion, 1914-1917

  • Office of the Historian.  U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917.   

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  (2016). Mass Immigration and WWI

Top