On the cold afternoon of November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced to the American people that the first global war was over. As with all armed conflicts, World War I had devastating consequences. From 1914 to 1918, more than 8 million soldiers were killed and 21 million civilians died, were injured or displaced. It was one of the bloodiest wars the world had ever witnessed.
New York City played a strategic role during those years, especially after the United States entered the war in April, 1917. It became common to see hundreds of people gathered along the West Side piers cheering as soldiers embarked for Europe. And not just soldiers—ships carrying tanks, food, and medical supplies left from New York City docks. According to official reports, more than 500,000 New Yorkers served—12.5 percent of the four million American troops sent to combat in Europe. And when fighting ended, New Yorkers cheered again.
The prospect of thousands of troops returning to America on ships that would dock in New York City, prompted then Mayor Hylan to appoint a committee, “Mayor’s Committee for Welcoming Home the Troops.”
The Municipal Library and Archives collections provide a rich resource for exploration of the role of New York City during the war. The collections include mayoral correspondence, documents, and rare images.
One unique item in the Municipal Library is a Board of Education syllabus published in 1918. The booklet provides an early example of interactive and participatory education. It has six chapters containing the appropriate narrative to the understanding of elementary schools students. In addition, it has a chapter fully dedicated to analyzing the chronological events leading to the war, an extensive selection of maps, references, and a war terms dictionary.
Please feel free to reach out to us for questions and remember that exploring the New York City Department of Records is one of the best historical adventures.