World War I Centennial

World War I Overview

Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, formally bringing the United States into World War I, a conflict that had been ongoing for nearly three years. When the war began in 1914—pitting the Allied powers of France, Great Britain and Russia against Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire—most Americans simply wanted to keep out of the conflict. The fighting was taking place oceans away, and since the United States did not feel directly threatened, many Americans felt there was little to gain by entering the war. By early 1917, changes on the world stage no longer allowed the United States to remain neutral. The Russian Empire was on the verge of collapse, and the Germans, who were desperate after years of war and the English blockade, saw a way to victory. Germany believed unrestricted submarine warfare would defeat Great Britain before the unprepared U.S. armed forces could effectively intervene. The Germans also attempted to conspire with Mexico against the United States with the infamous “Zimmermann Telegram”. Intercepted by the British, news of the telegram was published in the American press on March 1, 1917 followed by the sinking of five American merchant ships later that month. These German actions outraged the American public. The United States had reached its tipping point.

President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War, and got one on April 6. Wilson characterized the war he had tried so hard to avoid as a “war to end war” and an endeavor to “make the world safe for democracy.” The American people had come together to support this great endeavor, and were more united than ever before.

Ultimately, more than four million Americans served during the war, and more than 115,000 lost their lives. The effects of the Great War on American society cannot be understated. Americans viewed this experience of war and loss as very personal, and expected the government to commemorate and honor the war dead. World War I laid the foundation for the creation of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)—a defining decision by the American government regarding how we, as a nation, honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Originally created to construct memorials to the Great War in Europe, ABMC eventually evolved to be the caretaker of America’s overseas military cemeteries from World War I and World War II. Now, 100 years later, the hallowed grounds of ABMC cemeteries serve as world-wide examples of the reverence and respect given to Americans who served and died as a member of the Armed Forces. During the course of the American WWI Centennial, ABMC is opening new exhibits,  hosting events, and releasing resources that commemorate this piece of our American history

  • Duration: 1914-1918
  • American Involvement: 1917-1918
  • American Deaths: 116,516
  • Overseas American Burials: 30, 973
  • MIA/Lost or Buried at Sea: 4,456
  • Overseas American WWI Cemeteries: 9
  • Overseas American WWI Monuments: 14

World War I Videos

Black and white photo of 4 doctors examining a patients leg

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Suresnes American Cemetery: America’s WWI Cemetery Near Paris

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Suresnes American Cemetery is located just outside of Paris, France, and includes the remains of American World War I service members, many...
Elderly man crouching at a gravesite

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Flanders Field: Remembering Their Sacrifice

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This short film serves as an orientation to the Great War, the cemetery, and ABMC. Through historic and modern-day imagery, and first-...
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Never Forgotten

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Never Forgotten follows the story of Sergeant Paul Maynard, a doughboy from Connecticut. Among the first to volunteer for the Army, Paul...
Screenshot of video depicting soldiers lying down shooting out of a bunker

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Battlefield Experience: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

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Designed for the visitor center at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, this film presents visitors with an immersive, World War I experience.

Featured World War I Photos