Iowa and the Great War

    When the United States jumped into the First World War in 1917, hundreds of thousands of Iowans stepped up to support the cause, both in the trenches and at home. A century later, learn how their courage and innovation changed the course of history far beyond the battlefields and long after the fighting finished.


    • Learn about the African-American officers who trained at Fort Des Moines.
    • See the bullet hole in the jacket of an Iowa soldier who lived to tell the tale.
    • Understand how propaganda shifted opinions about the war, prohibition and women’s suffrage.
    • Discover how the war fueled anti-immigrant sentiments in Iowa cities and towns.

    About World War I

    Buffered by the Atlantic Ocean, the United States stayed out of the Great War when it began in 1914. But that changed when Germany sunk the British ocean liner Lusitania, attacked U.S. merchant ships and tried to recruit Mexico to join its side.

    On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and began sending some 2 million troops to battlefields in Western Europe. More than 116,000 of them died during six months of active combat, but their sacrifice tipped the balance of the war in favor of the Allied Forces.

    By fall of 1918, Germany was in an untenable position. Its primary cohorts – Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire – had abandoned the battlefield, and its civilian population was starving and exhausted after more than four years of global warfare.

    Short on manpower and supplies, it faced imminent invasion. On Nov. 11, 1918, German leaders boarded a railroad car near Compiegne, France, and signed an armistice agreement. World War I was over.

    In the end, trench warfare and the first use of machine guns and chemical weapons brought unprecedented death and destruction to Europe. More than 9 million soldiers died and 21 million were wounded. Another five million civilians died from disease, starvation or exposure.