Investigative Question

How did America change because of World War I?

World War I began in 1914, and while the US began to supply the Allies with weapons and goods that year, American soldiers did not join the conflict until three years later. Although American entry into the Great War came later than the Allied Powers hoped for, when Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917, he did so in an effort to continue promoting Americas vision for the world. When American troops arrived in Europe in the fall of 1917, their participation helped bring an end to the war and establish the United States as a global power. Students should read Wilsons Fourteen Points as a justification for why he felt America should go to war, analyze how the Fourteen Points were an extension of earlier policies, and identify which of the points might be controversial in the context of the war. With the end of the war, Wilson was heralded as a hero in Europe when he traveled there to attend the Paris Peace Conference. Despite his significant role in designing the Versailles Treaty that ended the war, Wilson ultimately could not convince Congress to join the League of Nations. Students may identify the significance of World War I in transforming America into a world leader, but they should also understand that the aftermath of the war ushered in a decade of isolationism, which by the end of the 1920s would have serious consequences for the world economies. Just as World War I stands as an important marker of the new role for the US on the world stage, the war also stands as an important event that started a century long growth of the federal government. Once the United States entered the war, the government grew through the administration of the draft, the organization of the war at home, and the promotion of civilian support for the war.

On April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I, or the Great War, and the US government expanded to prepare for and support the war effort in Europe. This inquiry set examines the many interventions of the federal government in the lives of Americans as the United States entered into the war. The government nationalized industry that was necessary to engage in transportation and communication, such as the railroad and telegraph industries. It regulated agricultural and energy production. It created Liberty Bonds and leveraged the newly established income tax to generate revenue. It initiated the Selective Service to conscript an army. It engaged in the development of propaganda to mobilize support for the war effort. With the advent of war came many components of what we would recognize as a modern nation-state. The sources included in this set highlight the ways that everyday Americans were engaged in and affected by the federal government's war effort.

America's entry into World War I marked the first time that the United States fought a war in Europe. The prospect of joining Britain, Russia, and France and troops from across their respective empires in the fight against Germany sparked some strong feelings. Sources 1 and 2 highlight the ways that Americans developed civic organizations to support the war even before Congress declared war on the Central Powers. Source 1 suggests that Americans were preparing for war and demonstrating this preparation to their fellow citizens. Source 2 highlights Americans' humanitarian concern for victims of the war, particularly the Armenian victims of genocide. Through both of these sources, students can consider the ideological positioning of Americans who were interested in world affairs and who considered the United States to have the moral authority to bring peace to the warring states of Europe.

Not all Americans supported the war effort. Source 3, a speech by Senator George W. Norris, offers students an antiwar perspective. Norris argued that the war would benefit the elite and believed that proponents of the war were willing to risk the lives of Americans to benefit financially. After the war, speeches and articles like this encouraged American resentment of involvement in World War I and made people deeply suspicious of joining future conflicts. In contrast to Norris's perspective, President Woodrow Wilson's message to the American people (Source 4) calls upon men and women of all walks of life to actively support the war effort. By laying out the specific ways that Americans can support the war, he highlights how deeply every aspect of the American economy would be enmeshed in the war, which may offer students a contrast to today when our nation's wars are distant and require little sacrifice from the general population.

Sources 5 through 10 exemplify the many ways that Americans engaged in the war effort. Source 5 presents senators purchasing war bonds to model the types of behavior they hoped Americans would engage in to financially support the war. The federal government initiated a draft (Source 6) through the establishment of the Selective Service, which included men from all ethnicities, many of whom participated in the hope that they would earn citizenship and access to the liberties for which they were fighting. Sources 7 through 9 illustrate the development of military installations, many in California, to train soldiers for war. The training camps in San Diego, California (Sources 8 and 9), remain important military sites today. Finally, Source 10 includes an image of female agricultural workers, the Women's Land Army, who served on the home front in the hopes that they too would be included in the rights of citizenship that could only be conferred by the federal government. Taken together, the ten sources provide a variety of perspectives that help students to develop a nuanced response to the question, How did America change because of World War I?

This literacy activity will help students do a close reading of President Wilson's wartime message to the American people (Source 4) to use it as evidence to respond to the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I? Wilson's message aimed to prepare Americans for the sacrifices they would have to make in order to support the US war effort. The included graphic organizer can provide all students — and especially English learners — with support to consider the details of the speech. This organizer can be used as evidence to respond to the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I?


  1. Introduce the activity. Begin with a review of the inquiry question, How did America change because of World War I? Explain to students that we will use Source 4 to better understand the specific ways that Americans were asked to support the war through their labor and engagement in the economy.
  2. Read, discuss, and analyze the text.
    • Ask students to read the excerpt or read it aloud to the class.
    • In partners or individually, students should complete the graphic organizer as they reread the source. The teacher should model the first line. Teachers highlight that students should translate Wilson's speech into their own words in the graphic organizer.
    • The teacher can then debrief the content for the whole class.
    • Teachers then guide students to develop a shared claim to respond to the question, How did America change because of World War I?
  3. Extend the learning.
    • Students can use Sources 5, 8, 9, and 10 (all photos) to illustrate the ways that people engaged in and sacrificed for the war effort. Students can draw another image based on the speech or do online research to find an image representing one of the ideas of sacrifice presented in the speech that is not represented in the photos.


11.4 The Rise of the United States as a World Power Student Handout

11.4 The Rise of the United States and a World Power Teacher Key

  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.
Trauma associated with militarized violence