April 6, 1917
America enters World War I
Chicago does not go willingly into the great conflict.
Recruits practice marching in Grant Park in 1917 with the Art Institute in the background. Despite such scenes, Chicago did not repond enthusiastically to the outbreak of war. (Tribune archive photo)
America's entry into World War I had been building for months following the German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare and publication of the Zimmermann telegram, in which German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann proposed that Mexico become Germany's ally in case America entered the war.In Chicago, patriotic fervor did not take easily. The city's population of 2.1 million included more than 225,000 residents born in Germany or Austria and many more who traced their lineage to those countries.
"Chicago," noted first-term Mayor William Hale Thompson--later derided as "Kaiser Bill" for his softness toward the war--"is the sixth-largest German city in the world."
There also were tens of thousands of Russians who had fled the czars and their armies, Irish who held no love for the English, and Socialists and pacifists (including Jane Addams of Hull House) who opposed the war on philosophical grounds.
A Tribune advertisement urged volunteers to sign up with Maj. Robert R. McCormick or with his cousin, Lt. Joseph M. Patterson, the newspaper's co-editors and publishers. But an editorial bemoaned the reality: "More men are applying for marriage licenses to avoid the service than are enlisting."
Two months after the United States joined the Great War and with voluntary enlistment stalled, the nation's young men were ordered to sign up for a new draft. Of the 300,000 who signed up in Chicago, two-thirds sought exemptions.
The city seemed consumed by other things. In 1917, a White Sox team ranked among baseball's all-time best would capture the American League flag, then beat the New York Giants in six games to win the World Series.
War stories competed for attention with reports of race-related clashes over housing as war work accelerated the growth of the city's black population.
In the end, the war came home. World War I would take 4,266 Illinois lives and leave 13,794 injured. Also wounded: the public face of Chicago's rich German heritage.
Frederick Stock, the German-born conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, felt compelled to resign briefly over his failure to pursue naturalization. The Bismarck Hotel for a time became the Hotel Randolph. The Goethe statue in Lincoln Park was vandalized (though attempts to change the street's name were unsuccessful). The Germania Club became the Lincoln Club.
Nineteen months after joining the fight and just three weeks after a flu epidemic killed 381 Chicagoans in a single day, the riven city--for all its wartime prosperity not as whole as it had been--celebrated. It was Nov. 7, 1918. News of the war's end turned out to be just rumor. Four days later, it was true.
The Tribune received the Associated Press confirmation of war's end at 1:55 a.m.
"The Tribune set off its giant sirens . . . at least five minutes ahead of any other noise-producing instruments in informing the public of the news," the paper boasted. And Chicago got out of bed. "Showers of paper poured from the windows."