William Taft, was elected President. President Taft served one term. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson

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Chapter 21

The First World War (1914-1918)

President Theodore Roosevelt served two terms. In 1908, another Republican, William Taft, was elected President. President Taft served one term. In 1912, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was elected the nation's 28th President.

President Wilson believed that nations should negotiate when they had problems: Their leaders should meet to talk together and work out agreements. In that way, he hoped that conflicts could be settled peacefully.

In 1914, war broke out in Europe. President Wilson tried to keep the United States out of the war. But by 1917, United States soldiers were fighting in Europe.

  • Why did the nations of Europe go to war?

  • How did the United States become involved in the war?

  • How did the government organize the nation for war?

  • What happened at the end of the war?

Key Words You will be using these words in this chapter. Look them up in the glossary at the back of Part 2.





---Soldiers fought a new kind of warfare during World War I. These soldiers fighting in France are using new kinds of weapons.

Competition and Tension in Europe

In Chapter 19, you read that many European nations were building empires in the late 1800s. They competed for new colonies and for markets in other countries. Competition sometimes resulted in war. So, European nations built up large armies and navies. They also found allies-nations that they could count on for help. They formed alliances with those nations: They agreed to help each other fight in case of war.

The two great imperialist nations of Europe were Germany and Britain. Germany formed an alliance with Austria- Hungary. Britain formed an alliance with France and Russia. By 1914, those alliances had split Europe into two opposing sides.

The alliances of 1914 were dangerous for the whole world: If any two nations fought, their allies would have to fight too. Since the nations had empires all over the world, the war could spread all over the world. It could become a world war, with many different nations fighting in many parts of the world.

One of President Wilson's advisors was William House. In 1914, House visited Germany and sent a report back to the President. He warned that the situation in Europe was dangerous. He said that unless President Wilson found a way to improve the situation, war was sure to come.

Looking Back

1. What were Britain and Germany competing for in the late 1800s?

2. Why did European nations form alliances with other countries?

3. The United States has alliances with many nations today. Do you think that is a good idea? Why or why not?


The War Begins

The event that started the First World War took place in Sarajevo, a city in Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary was a country in central Europe. (It later split into the two countries of Austria and Hungary.) Archduke Francis Ferdinand was visiting Sarajevo. The archduke was the heir (next in line) to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

Assassination Brings War

On June 28, 1914, an assassin shot and killed the archduke. The assassin was part of a group of terrorists in Serbia, a country south of Austria-Hungary, so Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Russia was an ally of Serbia, and it sent troops to help fight Austria-Hungary. Since Austria-Hungary was part of the German alliance, Germany declared war on Russia. Since Russia was part of the British alliance, Britain and France then declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.

By September, almost all the nations of Europe had taken sides. Those on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary were called the Central Powers. Those fighting with Russia, France, and Britain were known as the Allied Powers, or the Allies

Europeans Fight a New Kind of War

In the first months of the war, German troops marched through Belgium and into France. In France, the Germans were stopped by Allied troops. Both sides dug long lines of deep trenches, or ditches, to fight from. Soldiers fired at each other from the trenches and tried to take their enemy's trenches. From overhead, airplanes dropped bombs and poison gas into the trenches.

Air and chemical warfare were new to the world. They came about because of new technology that made it possible to invent deadlier weapons than those of the past. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides died in the trenches in France.

The United States Remains Neutral

In 1914, President Wilson declared that the United States would not take sides in the fighting. The President said the war had nothing to do with America. He asked Americans to be neutral "in thought as well as action."

But it was difficult for Americans not to take sides. Many Americans had been born in Europe, or their parents or grandparents were from Europe. Many Americans had friends and relatives living in Europe. Many Americans also disliked the German government because it was not a democracy; it was ruled by a powerful emperor.

Some Americans sided with Germany and the Central Powers. But most Americans sided with Britain, France, and the other Allies-nations that the United States had friendly relations with.

Americans were also influenced by British propaganda-information that is given in such a way that people see things from a certain point of view. British newspapers sent stories to America describing Germany as a power-hungry country. The stories said that Germany was trying to expand its empire by taking over all democratic nations of the world. German soldiers were described as cruel and bloodthirsty.

Looking Back

l. What event started the war in Europe?

2. Why did the war become a world war?

3. What was United States policy toward the war when it broke out?


---The Lusitania, a passenger ship, was sunk by the Germans in 1915.

America Goes to War

The war in Europe created a business boom in the United States. The Central Powers and the Allies bought steel, oil, food, ammunition, and other war supplies from the United States. In 1914 alone, the Allies and Central Powers spent over one billion dollars for American goods.

But trade with the Allies and Central Powers also caused problems for the United States.

Britain Stops American Ships

By late 1914, Britain's navy had set up a blockade of German ports. The blockade was effective: German merchant ships could not reach the United States to take on supplies. And British warships stopped American ships carrying supplies for Germany. The British forced American ships into British ports, sometimes holding them for weeks. The British seized any war supplies they found on American ships.

Although the British paid for the goods they seized, the United States protested. The United States claimed that, as a neutral nation, it had the right to trade with any country. But Britain ignored the protests and continued to stop American ships heading for Germany.

U-boats Attack Allied Ships

American officials were angry with Britain for interfering with American trade. But they soon had a more serious complaint against Germany.

In 1915, Germany tried to cut off Allied trade with America by using a new kind of warship-the U-boat, or submarine. German U-boats moved underwater, where they could not be seen. They attacked any Allied ship they found, including unarmed merchant and passenger ships. Hundreds of Allied ships were sunk and thousands of passengers and crew members died in U-boat attacks.

Americans were outraged by Germany's submarine warfare. Americans protested that U-boat attacks violated international law. (International law refers to rules that nations are expected to follow. Several countries had agreed on a set of wartime rules in the Geneva Convention of 1864.)

According to international law, a ship was supposed to warn another ship before attacking it. That gave the crew and passengers a chance to escape in lifeboats. Ships were then expected to rescue passengers. and crew members from the water. But U-boats attacked without warning and made no effort to rescue anyone.


The Sinking of the Lusitania

On May 7, 1915, a U-boat sank a British passenger ship near Ireland. The ship was the Lusitania. When it sank, 1,198 people were killed, including 128 Americans.

President Wilson sent an angry letter to Germany's leaders. He demanded an apology for the attack on the Lusitania and an end to submarine warfare against unarmed merchant and passenger ships. Germany apologized, but the attacks continued.

In March 1916, Germany attacked a French passenger ship, the Sussex. President Wilson again protested. Germany did not want war with the United States. So, it agreed to stop attacking unarmed ships without warning.

Relations with Germany Grow Worse

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson won a second term as President. His campaign slogan was, "He kept us out of war!" After his election, Wilson tried to end the war. He asked the Allies and Central Powers to accept a "peace without victory." They refused.

At that time, America's trade with the Allies had reached over three billion dollars. American bankers were lending England and France large amounts of money. To Germany, it seemed that the United States was not neutral at all.

In January 1917, Germany announced that it was setting up a submarine blockade: Germany would sink any ship, neutral or enemy, that tried to reach Britain.

President Wilson cut off relations with Germany. But he still hoped to avoid war. Then, in March, President Wilson learned about the Zimmerman note. It was a secret message that had been sent to the government of Mexico. The British had gotten a copy of it and had given it to the United States.

The note had been sent by Arthur Zimmerman, a high German official. In the note, Zimmerman proposed that Mexico form an alliance with Germany to fight the United States. After the war, Mexico would receive Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona as a reward for its help.

Americans were shocked and angry about the Zimmerman note. Then came the news: German U-boats had sunk three American ships. War could no longer be avoided.

The United States Declares War

On April 2, President Wilson spoke to Congress. He asked Congress to declare war on Germany and its allies.

President Wilson said that the United States could not allow Germany to sink American ships-America must fight for "freedom of the seas." By that, he meant that the United States must fight for its right to trade with any nation it chose. Wilson also said the "world must be made safe for democracy." He meant that a German victory might mean the end of democratic nations such as Britain and the United States.

On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany and its allies.

Looking Back

1. How did the war help business in America?

2. Why were Americans outraged by submarine warfare?

3. What events led America to declare war against Germany?

4. What reasons did President Wilson give for declaring war on Germany?

5. Map work: On a map, find Germany, France, and Britain.


America Prepares to Fight

The United States was not prepared for war in 1917. The American army had only about 200,000 troops. The nation was also short of military supplies. President Wilson and Congress acted quickly to mobilize the nation-prepare it for war.

Building an Army

Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917. That law said that all men 21 to 30 years old must register for the draft. (A draft is a system for ordering people to serve in the armed forces.)

During the Civil War, many Americans had opposed a draft. They said it was wrong to force people to serve in the armed forces. But in 1917, most Americans supported the draft. Millions of American men quickly registered. In 1917 and 1918, nearly three million Americans were drafted. Another two million volunteered for the armed forces. By the end of the war, the United States had raised an army of nearly five million troops.

The Government Controls Industry

In Chapter 17, you read that the government does not control industry under the free enterprise system. But in 1917, the nation faced a great crisis. The government had to make sure that America's factories produced the weapons and supplies needed to win the war.

In 1917, President Wilson created the War Industries Board. The board was a wartime government office. It had the power to control factories that produced important war materials, such as steel, rubber, and oil. The board also controlled factories that produced weapons, ammunition, and uniforms.

The War Industries Board decided what goods were needed and made sure factories produced those goods. It also told factory owners how much they could charge for their goods. Within months, the nation's factories were steadily producing guns, bullets, uniforms, and other needed supplies.

The Government Controls Food Production

The government also took control of America's food production. More food was needed for America's growing army and for Allied soldiers. Food was also needed for starving civilians in war areas overseas. (Civilians are people who are not in any military force.)

President Wilson set up another government office, the Food Administration, to increase farm production. Wilson put Herbert Hoover in charge of the Food Administration. Hoover promised farmers that the government would pay high prices for wheat, sugar cane, and other crops. That promise encouraged farmers to plant more of those crops.

Hoover also encouraged Americans to use less wheat, meat, and other foods that could be sent overseas. Those foods were sent to American soldiers and the Allies. Hoover called for "wheatless Mondays" and "porkless Thursdays." On those days, Americans were asked to eat no wheat or pork products. Americans were also encouraged to grow their own vegetables at home in "victory gardens."

Hoover's efforts were a success. In 1918, the United States nearly tripled the amount of food it sent to the Allies.

---The U.S. government issued patriotic posters like this during World War I.

Paying for the War

The cost of fighting Germany and its allies was huge. The government needed money to pay its soldiers and to pay for war supplies. It also needed to lend money to the Allies. The Allies had been fighting for three years; they had spent nearly all the money they had.

To raise money, the government increased income taxes. (Income taxes are taxes people and businesses pay to the government. Those taxes are based on the amount of money earned.)

The government also sold war bonds to the American people. When Americans bought a war bond, they were lending the government the amount of money the bond was worth. After the war, people could cash in the bond for its value, plus interest. The government raised over 21 billion dollars by selling war bonds.

Support for the War

The government could not raise taxes, sell war bonds, and carry out other wartime plans without the support of Americans. So, President Wilson set up the Committee on Public Information (CPI). That was an office whose job was to stir up patriotism and loyalty.

The CPI printed pamphlets and posters that supported America's fight against Germany. CPI workers gave patriotic speeches in movie theaters and meeting halls. Actors and other famous people encouraged Americans to buy war bonds. Movie directors made war movies about brave people who fought and died in the war against Germany.

Laws Control People Against the War

Most Americans supported the war, but a small number of Americans did not. Many of those who did not were loyal Americans who believed that wars for any reason are wrong. Because of their beliefs, they refused to fight.

But the government wanted to make sure that no one would damage the war effort. In 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act: Anyone found guilty of aiding the enemy could be sentenced to 20 years in jail. In 1918, Congress passed the Sedition Act: Anyone who spoke out against the government, the Constitution, the American flag, or the military could be punished.

During the war, over 1500 people were arrested for violating the Espionage Act or the Sedition Act.

Looking Back

1. How did the United States build up its army?

2. Why did the government take control of many American industries?

3. How did the government pay for the war?

4. What was the Espionage Act? the Sedition Act?

5. Do you think it is right to punish people who speak out against the government in time of war? Why or why not?


The Allied Victory

Americans were divided about the League of Nations. This political cartoon criticizes Congress for not acting to join the League. When the United States entered the war, the American navy moved quickly to end the threat of the German U-boats. American troop ships would soon be carrying thousands of soldiers to fight in Europe. Those ships had to be protected from U-boat attacks.

In 1917, American and British naval commanders set up a convoy system to protect supply ships. In the convoy system, supply ships traveled together in a tight group, or convoy. Warships traveled with the supply ships, protecting them from submarine attacks.

The convoy system worked well. More and more supply ships reached Britain. The convoy system was so effective that when American troop ships began carrying troops to Europe, not one troop ship was sunk by a U-boat.

Victory in Europe

In March 1918, the Germans began a new series of attacks all across Europe: The Germans hoped to defeat the British and French before American troops arrived to help the Allies.

At first, the German attacks were successful. In France, German forces pushed the Allies back nearly to Paris, the French capital. But by May, thousands of American troops had landed in France. Those troops helped the Allies stop the German advance 40 miles east of Paris.

In July, American and Allied troops began an attack of their own. By fall 1918, the Germans were retreating in all the war zones. Germany asked for peace.

On November 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice. (An armistice is a simple agreement to stop fighting. It is not a peace treaty, which is worked out later.)

The biggest war thus far had ended. Britain had lost nearly a million soldiers, France nearly a million and a half, and Germany nearly two million. About five million civilians had died of starvation and disease. All together, more than ten million people had died, including 116,000 Americans.

President Wilson's Peace Plan

In early 1918, months before the war ended, President Wilson had announced a plan that he believed would lead to a better, more peaceful world. The plan was called the Fourteen Points.

Some of the most important of President Wilson's Fourteen Points were:

  • All nations should have freedom of the seas in both peace and war.

  • All nations should reduce the size of their armed forces.

  • People in all lands have the right to be independent and to decide what kind of government they will have.

  • An "association of nations" should be set up to settle international disputes.

The association of nations became known as the League of Nations. To President Wilson, it was the most important part of his peace plan. Wilson believed the association would bring about the lasting peace he dreamed of.

Looking Back

1. How did the United States help the Allies defeat Germany?

2. What did President Wilson believe his peace plan would do?

3. What was the League of Nations?


The Treaty of Versailles Punishes Germany

In January 1919, leaders from 27 nations met to work out a peace treaty. The leaders met in Versailles, a town near Paris, France. President Wilson represented the United States at the peace conference.

Wilson urged other leaders to accept his Fourteen Points as the basis for the peace treaty. He also asked the leaders to treat all nations, including Germany, fairly in the treaty.

But many leaders objected to some of Wilson's Fourteen Points. And most of the leaders wanted to punish Germany for its part in the war. They also wanted to weaken Germany so that it could never again make war.

After months of discussion, the leaders agreed on a treaty. It was called the Treaty of Versailles. Some of President Wilson's ideas became part of the treaty, including his idea for the League of Nations.

But the treaty was harsher toward Germany than Wilson wanted: Germany was forced to accept the blame for starting the war. It lost part of its territory and all of its colonies. It was forced to pay $33 billion to the Allies for war damages. And Germany was forced to greatly reduce the size of its army and navy.

President Wilson feared that the treaty would cause bitterness in Germany­-bitterness that might lead to future conflicts. But the President signed the treaty because it included his idea for the League of Nations.

The Senate Rejects the Treaty

In July 1919, President Wilson sent the treaty to the Senate for approval. (The Constitution says the Senate must approve all treaties.) Many members of the Senate opposed the treaty, mainly because of the League of Nations.

Senators who opposed the League of Nations were led by Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Lodge pointed out that members of the League of Nations were called upon to help any other member nation that was attacked. Lodge argued that if the United States joined the League, it might become involved in future European wars. And Americans wanted no part of any future European conflicts.

Early in September 1919, President Wilson decided to speak directly to the American people about the League of Nations. He hoped to stir up so much support for the League that the Senate would have to approve the treaty.

President Wilson traveled the country by train. In town after town, he explained how important the League of Nations was to world peace. Wherever he traveled, large crowds turned out to hear the President. But the trip exhausted Wilson. On September 25, 1919, the President became seriously ill.

The President remained very ill for several months. He could not carry on his fight for the League. In March 1920, the Senate made its final rejection of the Treaty of Versailles. The United States did not become a member of the League of Nations.

Looking Back

1. What was Germany forced to do to meet the terms of the Treaty of Versailles?

2. Why did some senators oppose the League of Nations?

Chapter 21


Facts First

Use words below to complete each sentence.





League of Nations

war bonds


World War I

1. By 1914, many European nations had made with other nations.

2. An assassination in Europe started .

3. At the start of the war, the United States was .

4. Attacks by German helped bring the United States into the war.

5. In 1917, the government took control of many .

6. The government sold to help pay for the war.

7. The Treaty of Versailles called for a to settle disputes between countries.

8. The rejected the Treaty of Versailles.

Word Check

Write the meaning of each of these words. Then use each word in a sentence.





Skill Builder

The government printed patriotic posters during World War I. Imagine what one of those posters must have been like. Then draw it. Use one of the titles below or make up your own title.

  • Your Army Needs You

  • Do Your Bit, Buy Bonds

  • Food Is Ammunition, Don't Waste It

  • Help the War, Plant a Victory Garden

Chapter 21 Notes

Read over the chapter. Find answers to these questions:

1. How did a war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary turn into a world war?

2. What actions taken by the German government led the United States to enter the war against Germany?

3. How did each of the following help organize the United States for war?

a. the draft

b. the War Industries Board

c. the Food Administration

4. How did each of the following help support the United States war effort?

a. war bonds

b. the Committee on Public Information

c. the Espionage Act

5. Why did the Senate reject the Treaty of Versailles?

Be a Historian

During World War I, American women were allowed to join the army for the first time. Interview a woman who is (or was) in the armed forces. Ask these questions:

1. Why did you join the armed forces?

2. What kind of training did you receive?

3. Do you think men and women are treated equally in the armed forces? Why do you say that?


Today, American men must register for the draft when they reach the age of 18. Find out how they register. Call a post office or selective service office. Also find out who may be excused for religious reasons. Ask a priest, minister, or rabbi. Then report what you learned.

Unit 7


What Do You Know?

Complete each sentence by choosing the correct ending.

1. Before the Civil War, the United States

a. often became involved in Europe's affairs.

b. usually stayed out of foreign affairs.

c. built a huge empire in Latin America.

2. The United States began to expand into the Pacific when it

a. bought Mexico.

b. entered World War I.

c. gained control of islands in the Pacific.

3. Victory in the Spanish-American War

a. gave the United States control of Mexico.

b. made the United States a world power.

c. won Alaska for the United States.

4. In the Monroe Doctrine, President Monroe

a. declared war on Germany.

b. ordered Spain to free Cuba.

c. warned European nations to stay out of the Americas.

5. America built the Panama Canal to connect

a. the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

b. Lake Erie and the Hudson River.

c. the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

6. One cause of World War I was

a. the Cuban revolution.

b. the building of the Panama Canal.

c. competition that led to alliances among European nations.

7. One reason the United States entered World War I was to

a. protect the world's democracies.

b. gain new territories in Europe.

c. help Germany defeat the Allies.

What Do You Think?

Since World War I, the United States has become involved in other foreign wars throughout the world-in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some Americans believe that the United States should stay out of foreign wars entirely. What do you think?

Skill Builder

Find out in what years these events happened. Then write them in order.

  • World War I begins in Europe.

  • The Senate rejects the Treaty of Versailles.

  • President James Monroe announces the Monroe Doctrine.

  • The United States declares war on Germany.

  • The warship Maine explodes in Cuba.

  • America wins the Spanish-American War.

Unit 7 Notes

Look over the unit to find answers to these questions:

1. What is an imperialist nation?

2. What was the Spanish-American War?

3. What policies were set forth in the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary?

4. Why was the Panama Canal built?

5. How did alliances result in World War I?

6. Why did the United States enter World War I?

Word Builder

Write a story about how America came to be a world power. Use all the key words listed below.

Key Words


relations neutral

world affairs

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