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November 2018

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U.S. Census Bureau History: World War I Armistice

November 11, 1918 Newspaper

An armistice ended fighting between the Allied Nations and Germany at 11:00 a.m.,
on November 11, 1918. The war formally ended 7 months later with the signing of
the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, an armistice ended hostilities between the Allied Nations (including Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States) and Germany bringing more than 4 years of global warfare to an end. Fought on land, sea, and air, and involving nations on every continent (including Antarctica), the "war to end all wars" killed and wounded millions, obliterated villages and cities, and left behind a scarred landscape that continues to heal 100 years after the opposing armies fired their last artillery shells.

The First World War began on July 28, 1914, following the assassination of Austria-Hungary's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Alliances and treaties soon had the majority of European nations and their colonial possessions mobilizing for war. Despite the rapid movement of armies in the first weeks of battle, progress stalled by the end of 1914. By 1915, the "Great War" became a war of attrition, as the opposing armies developed new technologies to bleed each other's militaries dry; navies attempted to strangle nations' ability to resupply; and air forces harassed military and civilian targets. Over the next 4 years, the territorial gains from attacks and counterattacks could be measured in feet or yards. The battlelines of late 1914 remained largely unchanged after 4 years of fighting.

In August 1918, an Allied offensive succeeded in breaking through enemy lines and forced the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) to retreat. Within weeks, Germany's allies began negotiating separate peace deals, leaving Germany to face the Allied Nations on its own by November 1918. Unable to supply its troops and feed its civilian population, the Imperial German government and its military began to collapse. Peace negotiations began in earnest on November 8. Fully aware that conditions in Germany's cities and military were deteriorating rapidly, the Allied Nations offered few concessions. When Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9, the new German government instructed its peace delegation to stop negotiating and ordered them to sign the armistice regardless of its terms. As a result, the German delegates agreed to the armistice at 5:00 a.m., on November 11, 1918. The agreement provided 6 hours to spread the news that the armed forces were to cease hostilities at 11:00 a.m.

Despite the war's end being so near, soldiers continued to fight and die pursuing the German Army until precisely 11:00 a.m. Artillery units hurriedly fired all their ammunition to avoid having to carry it away. In an effort to gain a better position on the battlefield should hostilities resume, Allied troops continued attacking weary German troops who, in many instances, were reluctant to return fire. According to historian Joseph E. Persico (author of Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour Link to a non-federal Web site), more than 2,700 men died and 8,000 were wounded in these final hours of the First World War.

Exactly 5 years after Franz Ferdinand's assassination, the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the World War I on June 28, 1919. The U.S. Congress refused to ratify the treaty or allow the United States to join the League of Nations—the organization of world governments that President Woodrow Wilson envisioned would prevent future global conflicts. The treaty's harsh terms and failure of the League of Nations would eventually lead to an even deadlier war just two decades later.

You can learn more about World War I, the men and women who fought and died in the war, and the armistice using census data and records. For example:

  • Following a U.S. Senate vote, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to enter World War I on the side of the Allied Nation on April 6, 1917. At that time, the U.S. population was approximately 103,268,000. The nation grew by more than 30 million by the time it entered World War II in 1941, and by 49 million by the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Between the armistice ending hostilities in World War I on November 11, 1918, and the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975, the U.S. population more than doubled, growing to 215,973,199. In 2017, the Census Bureau estimated the U.S. population was 325,719,178.
  • The 1910 Census found that the United States was home to large foreign-born populations from the World War I's belligerent nations. For example, the foreign-born population from the Allied Nations in the United States included, more than 1.3 million Irish; 1.3 million Italians; and 1.2 million Canadians; and nearly 1.2 million Russians; 877,719 English; 261,076 Scots; 117,418 French; and 67.744 Japanese. The foreign-born population from the Central Powers nations included more than 2.3 million Germans; 937,884 Poles; 845,555 Austrians and 495,609 Hungarians; 32,230 Turks; and 11,498 Bulgarians.
  • A number of U.S. Census Bureau employees served in the U.S. and foreign militaries during World War I, including: ambulance driver Willard C. Smith; Margaret Nelson, of the New York Regional Office, who was a Yeoman 1st Class, in the U.S. Naval Reserve; Mabel Klopfer, a Yeomanette at the Bureau of Naval Personnel; Maxwell Johnston, of the Division of Information and Publications who was wounded four times and gassed three times while serving with the 5th French Army, 2nd Colonial Corps; Robert Shaughnessy, supervisor of the Census Bureau's Teletype Unit and World War I telegrapher; Industry Division clerk Ethel W. Peery, who served with the American Red Cross in Paris, France; "Harlem Hellfighter" and later Population Division chief Frederick Slade; Alexander Bolker who lied about his age to join the Marines; Signal Corps pilot and commander of the 88th Aero Squadron Charles E. Sloane; Reigart M. Santmyers, recipient of the French Croix de Guerre for his service with the French Ambulance Corps and French Army, and later decorated for his service with the American Expeditionary Force; and most notable of all, 1903 Philippines Census enumerator and commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, John J. "Black Jack" Pershing.
  • The Centre Européen Robert Schuman Link to a non-federal Web site estimates that fighting and disease claimed the lives of approximately 20 million civilians and military personnel and wounded an additional 21 million—equivalent to the population of the eight largest states in the United States (New York, 9,113,614; Pennsylvania, 7,665,111; Illinois, 5,638,591; Ohio, 4,767,121; Texas, 3,896,542; Massachusetts, 3,366,416; Missouri, 3,293,335; and Michigan, 2,810,173) at the time of the 1910 Census. American casualties totaled 320,518—equal to the entire population of Los Angeles, CA, in 1910.
  • World War I inspired many American Poets and authors to write about their experiences in battle. For example, Ernest Hemmingway based his 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms on his time working as an ambulance driver on the Italian Front in 1918. John Dos Passos was an ambulance driver on the Western and Italian Fronts before publishing One Man's Initiation: 1917 in 1920, and the anti-war novel Three Soldiers in 1921. E. E. Cummings based his novel, The Enormous Room on his time spent in a French prison for expressing anti-war sentiments while working as an ambulance driver. Alfred Joyce Kilmer, best remembered for his poem Trees ("I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree") wrote about his experience in the trenches before he was killed in action during the Second Battle of the Marne on July 30, 1918.
  • The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Link to a non-federal Web site (which ended Russia's involvement in World War I against the Central Powers on March 3, 1918) and Treaty of Versailles changed the world map. New, renamed, and newly independent nations, like Turkey, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Ukraine, and Armenia rose from the rubble of the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. The 1920 Census was the first to collect nativity and ancestry information from people tracing their roots to these new nations. For example, in 1920, the census found that 1,139,979 claimed Poland and 362,438 claimed Czechoslovakia as their countries of birth; 575,627 came from Austria; 397,283 were born in Hungary; 149,824 hailed from Finland; and 36,628 people were born in Armenia.
  • In 2010, the American Community Survey 1-year estimates found that the majority of the nation's population claims ancestry from countries aligned with the First World War's Allied Nations or Central Powers. For example, nearly 47.9 million people in the United States identified their ancestry as German; 34.7 million as Irish; 25.9 million as English; and 17.2 million as Italian; 8.8 million as French (except Basque); 5.5 million as Scottish (and 3.3 million Scotch-Irish); 3 million as Russian; 2 million as French Canadian; and 1.5 million as Hungarian.
  • The United States suffered 116,708 military and 757 civilian deaths during World War I. Americans killed in the war included nurses Clara Edith Ayers and Helen B. Wood Link to a non-federal Web site; fighter ace Frank Luke, Jr.; and Olympian William J. Lyshon; and Baltimore, MD native Henry N. Gunther. Gunther was the last battlefield death of World War I. He was killed in action at 10:59 a.m., on November 11, 1918.
  • Frank W. Buckles was the last surviving American veteran of World War I. Buckles was born in Bethany, MO, in 1901. He enlisted in the Army in 1917, when he was just 16 years old, and drove ambulances in England and France with the Fort Riley Casualty Detachment. During World War II, the Japanese captured Buckles who had been working for a shipping company in Manila, Philippines. He was a prisoner at the Los Banos prison camp until U.S. Army Airborne and Philippine guerilla forces raided the compound on February 23, 1945. He died on February 27, 2011, aged 110, in Charles Town, WV. In 2016, the American Community Survey estimated that just 13,475 veterans remained who served in the armed forces prior to World War II.

27th Division Parade in New York City

Soldiers of the U.S. Army's 27th Division—composed entirely of soldiers from the New York National Guard—parade past the New York Public Library on March 25, 1919,
following their return home from Europe.

The 27th Division returned to active service in July 1917, and began arriving in France during the Spring of 1918. The division lost its first man (Private Robert P. Friedman)
during an artillery barrage on July 13, 1918. Between July and November 1918, the 27th suffered 8,209 casualties in Belgium and France (including the Ypres-Lys and Somme
Offensives) before celebrating the armistice near Corbie, France. The last of the 27th returned to New York on March 19, 1919, and the division was deactivated in April 1919.

Photo courtesy of the State of New York.

Veterans Day

Five months after the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson observed Armistice Day for the first time on November 11, 1919.

In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge issued the first Armistice Day Proclamation, and in 1938, the day became a federal holiday.

On June 1, 1954, an act of Congress changed the name of the holiday from "Armistice Day" to "Veteran's Day."

That same year, President Dwight Eisenhower asked all Americans to observe Veterans Day on November 11, as a way to honor the sacrifices made by "all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores."

Jeffersonville Depot Leggings
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Jeffersonville, IN

Prior to welcoming the U.S. Census Bureau's National Processing Center (NPC), the city of Jeffersonville, IN, was home to a U.S. Army quartermaster depot from 1864 to 1958.

During World War I, 8,000 civilians worked at the site and another 20,000 worked from their homes supplying goods for the depot's quartermasters, like the canvas leggings pictured above.

The Census Bureau's processing staff moved to Jeffersonville soon after the depot closed in 1958. Today, as many as 6,000 employees process demographic and economic data at the NPC.

369th Infantry Regiment Soldiers
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Veterans' Data

The census first collected veterans' data in 1840. The published data included the name, age, and location of each person receiving a military pension.

A special schedule collected veterans' data in 1890, and the general population schedule asked about military service in 1910. World War I veterans (like these soldiers from the 369th Infantry Regiment) first provided data about their military service in 1930.

From 1940 to 2000, the census collected veterans' data from a sample of the U.S. population.

Today, the American Community Survey collects veterans' data. In 2016, it found that about 19.5 million of the nation's 245 million people aged 18 years and older were veterans. States with the most veterans were California (1,720,635), Texas (1,513,294), and Florida (1,480,133).

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 14, 2020