Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to facilitate the curation of US National Archives World War I-era content in Remembering WWI, both on Historypin and within a companion tablet app. Since we’re working with over 100,000 photographs and several hundred reels of film, we have prioritized the creation of themed collections based on wartime subjects recommended during teacher audience-design workshops. We have also invited local institutions to contribute local content as well.
All items uploaded into the app are contributed first through Historypin, so looking for geo-locatable content played a role in order to work optimally with our mapping interface. On several occasions, I was able to pinpoint exact locations for some of the WWI photographs in NARA’s collection, and had lots of fun overlaying them onto Google Street View (which anyone who adds to Historypin has the opportunity to do with their content!).
Below are some of my favorite picks, which highlight a wide variety of experiences during WWI.
This one is actually not a photograph, but a still from a film that depicts passengers of the ill-fated Lusitania arriving at the pier in New York City before they set-sail. The Lusitania departed from Pier 54 in what is today’s Meatpacking District. After some sleuthing I discovered that the pier is located on the water at the intersection of W 13th St. and 10th Avenue, thanks to the remains of a steel building shell, visible in the film. On it, you can still make out the faint “Cunard Line” and “White Star Line” words. The Cunard Line, the famous British shipping company that owned and operated the Lusitania, previously operated Pier 54. The “White Star” lettering is a reference to the eventual merging of the Cunard and White Star Lines (famous in its own right for operating another ill-fated liner, the Titanic) to form the Cunard-White Star Line in 1934.
Following the Lusitania’s tragic journey to the other side of the Atlantic finds us in Queenstown, Ireland, today called Cobh. In this image, the body of one unidentified American covered with the American flag is silently borne through the street, as soldiers, sailors, and civilians reverently salute. After a German torpedo sank the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, Cobh was at the center of rescue efforts and launched a flotilla of rescue boats, saving 761 people. According to the Cobh Heritage Center, the majority of the 1,198 passengers who lost their lives were never recovered, and 150 of her victims were buried in mass graves in the Old Church cemetery, one mile north of the town.
From the outbreak of World War I in Europe until its end, Woodrow Wilson’s administration proposed and implemented an extraordinary number of programs that affected the lives of Americans in their everyday activities. Food consumption was very much a part of this, and in 1917 the government created the U.S. Food Administration to manage the wartime supply, conservation, distribution and transportation of food. Future-president Herbert Hoover led the USFA’s efforts, and developed a voluntary program that relied on Americans’ compassion and sense of patriotism to support the larger war effort.
This image reveals the pervasiveness of this habit-altering messaging on the homefront, with slogans “Food will win the war” and “Don’t Waste It” plastered on buildings and printed onto propaganda posters. The building in this photo is just across the street from the National Archives’ building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., and is now the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women. You can view more examples of food conservation in American cities during WWI in this collection, and can read more from the Archives on the creation of the U.S. Food Administration here.
Just as the government encouraged civilians to do their bit to help conserve and ration their food to help feed troops oversees, they also turned to the those on the homefront to help finance the war. Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo conceived of Liberty Loan bonds to help support the war effort, with Victory Loan bonds issued to purchasers after the war ended. Needing these publicly generated funds to succeed, he launched an aggressive campaign to raise money from those who supported the war by selling Liberty Bonds. Prominent figures of the day, from Hollywood stars to famous artists to the Boy Scouts, were recruited to help inspire, but also strike fear into the hearts of Americans, painting a picture of how life at home would change for the worse if the Allies were to face defeat.
Here, famous silent movie star Douglas Fairbanks, known for playing romantic heroes Robin Hood, Zorro, and Don Juan, inspires a crowd in New York City during a liberty bond rally. While the official photo caption listed the location as the Sub-Treasury building, with some sleuthing I was able to locate this to what is now the Federal Building, in the heart of the city’s Wall Street. One of the biggest surprises here are the amount of people that were able fit in such a small area!
Read more about Liberty Bonds in this short article from the Museum of American Finance.
In this image, Police Court Officials of San Francisco hold a session in the open, as a precaution against the spreading influenza epidemic of 1918. I couldn’t help but notice the Robert Louis Stevenson memorial in the photo, complete with a ship hearkening to the author’s work on Treasure Island; as a native San Franciscan, I knew that this was located in Portsmouth Square, a large open-air park in the heart of the city’s famous Chinatown. Little is surely known by current residents about everyday events such as this one that were a necessity during the Great Influenza Epidemic, which killed more people than died in WWI.
To explore these images yourself, visit the Remembering WWI project on Historypin. If you see an image that isn’t yet Street Viewed, it means that we either haven’t gotten to it, or more likely cannot identify the precise location where the photo was taken. If you think you can help us identify more precise locations for photos in this collection, use the “Suggest a Better Location” button on the photo/pin. This will alert us to new Street View possibilities!