#tbt Local History Blog - Generosity of local citizens, Armco and others helps fund WWI
This Sunday, November 11, serves as a double reminder of the impact of war. Not only is it Veterans Day, it also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. The following day, Monday, November 12, MidPointe Library-Middletown will host a free program on the Armco Ambulance Corps which served in World War I. Find details below.
It was April 6, 1917, when the reality of war in a far-away land collided with the everyday lives of American citizens.
Neither a period of neutrality nor the vast expanse of an ocean could inoculate Americans from what would become known as “the war to end all wars.” (1)
Today we know it as World War I.
In Southwest Ohio, men, women and families soon came to realize that “patriotism” wasn’t just a word in a dictionary.
Instead, “patriotism” meant going to the aid of “Allies” (France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan) who were fighting against the “Central Powers” (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) on the European continent and other sites around the world. (1)
The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne had caused long-simmering hostilities in the region, which culminated in 1914 as the start of World War I (1).
Other factors triggered America’s entry into the fight : the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-Boat in 1915 and the Germans’ torpedoing of a French passenger ship a year later that led to the loss of American lives. Then came news of “the Zimmerman telegram,” which exposed the ominous threat of an alliance between Germany and America’s neighbor to the south, Mexico (2).
Finally, on April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Germany, or the “Imperial German Government” as local news accounts reported. (3).
Confronted by the grim reality that their family members, friends and coworkers would be sent “Over There” (4) to fight, Americans rallied to the Allies’ cause.
Town meetings became an effective way to get the word out.
“Patriotic meeting tonight at the Sorg Opera House” shouted the headline in the April 9, 1917, Middletown (Ohio) News Signal. “Everybody come and show your loyalty to your country and the President in our national crisis.”
In an accompanying article, local citizens were invited to hear patriotic music and a speech on “The War Situation” by W.H. Stackhouse of Springfield (“a great student of public affairs”).
The following day’s paper reported that the gathering was “a notable success” with hundreds participating. (5)
Like all endeavors, including war, the path to success not only relies upon the enthusiasm of individuals. It also take lots of money.
As a result, from 1917 to 1919, the “US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, united under William McAdoo as the leader of both institutions, worked together to finance World War I” by issuing war bonds.” (6)
Local industries like Middletown’s Armco played a major role in promoting the purchase of the bonds, also known as “Liberty Loans” and “Victory Loans,” to help finance America’s participation in the war.
According to the Ohio History Connection, “In order to pay for the American military effort during World War I...The federal government issued a total of five different liberty loans during the war.” (7) Interest rates varied from 3 to 4+ percent.
“...Private citizens loaned the government money by purchasing these bonds...If they could not afford the cost of a bond, they could instead purchase war stamps and savings certificates for smaller amounts of money. At a later date, once the war was over, the government would pay back the loans with interest.” (7)
Locally, the program was a huge success, thanks to the generosity of local citizens and Armco employees. From April 1917 to September 1918 over $4.6 million in contributions were raised, surpassing quotas. (8) In today’s currency that’s over $80,245,500.00 **
However, Liberty Loans weren’t the only source of funding for patriotic causes.
A Red Cross War Relief Fund in June 1917 raised $110,000 from Middletown, $55,000 of which came from Armco employees and the company. A second Red Cross drive in May 1918 raised $129,688, of which over $41,000 was raised by Armco employees. (8)
The company also sponsored the “Armco War Fund” to “give assistance to any individual Armco man” who needed “aid for him or his dependents...and to maintain the Armco Ambulance Corps in the American Field Service in France.” As of April 1919, more than $112,000 was raised (including a dollar match by the company). (8)
Contributions totaling $35,000 were also made by Armco employees to the YMCA War Fund / National Red Triangle War Fund. (8)
The global war that started in 1914 and ended four years later took its toll on those who fought and/or assisted in battle, on the land on which those battles were fought and on the loved ones, friends and associates at home.
In the end, sadly, “The war to end all wars” would not live up to its name.
Speaking of World War I….
Midpointe Library will present a free program entitled “The Armco Ambulance Corps in World
War I” Monday, November 12, at 6:30 p.m. in the Doug Bean Community Room at MidPointe
Library, 125 South Broad Street, Middletown, Ohio.
Presenter will be Adam Wanter, Digital and Special Collections Archivist at MidPointe.
The program is part of MidPointe’s monthly History and Genealogy Speaker Series.
“Everything World War I” by Karen L. Kenney with Historian Edward G. Lengel, published in 2014 by the National Geographic Society. Available for checkout at MidPointe Library.
History from the A&E Television Networks https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/u-s-entry-into-world-war-i-1
The Middletown News Signal, April 6, 1917. Available for viewing on microfilm at MidPointe Library-Middletown.
“Over There” (written by George M. Cohan, rallying the troops in World War I) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over_There
Middletown News Signal, April 9, 1917, available on microfilm at MidPointe Library-Middletown.
“Liberty Bonds” from the “Federal Reserve History” https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/liberty_bonds
“Liberty Loans” by Ohio History Central / Ohio History Connection. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Liberty_Loans
Middletown News Signal and Middletown Journal articles, various dates.