Exam preparation materials

Chapter 17. The United States and World War I

Students of world or European history can recall the horrific effects that World War I (or the “Great War,” as it was then called) had on France, Germany, and other European nations. Trench warfare, poison gas, and U-boats are known about by virtually everyone who has studied the war. Students of United States history should note that the war had a large effect on America as well. Even though America did not enter the war until 1917, the economic benefits of the war were large; many blacks moved north and found jobs during World War I, and during the war women found that they could be more than stenographers. In addition, during World War I America entered the world stage as a major power. Ironically, America seemed reluctant to accept that role in the immediate postwar years; it was only after World War II that America took on that position with assurance.


The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Bosnian nationalist on June 28, 1914, set off the series of events that would lead to World War I. Tensions between European powers had been building, with almost all of the major powers undergoing rapid military buildup in the years immediately prior to 1914. These conflicts were caused by increasing nationalism throughout Europe, the competition of imperialism, and the complicated system of alliances that wove together the fates of most European nations. When the war actually began in earnest in August 1914, France, Russia, and Great Britain were the major Allied powers, while Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy made up the Central powers.

Many Americans felt deeply connected to the events of World War I, as over one-third of the American population was a first- or second- generation immigrant. President Wilson and others personally supported the cause of the Allied powers, especially when reports of the alleged barbarism of the German soldiers in the battles of 1914 appeared in American newspapers.

On August 4, 1914, President Wilson issued an official proclamation of American neutrality in the war. Even though most Americans were sympathetic to the cause of the Allied powers, economic common sense dictated that America remain neutral; America in 1914 desired to continue to trade with both sides. After English ships interfered with American trade with Germany and German submarines interfered with American trade with England, America issued a series of diplomatic protests.

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