Year
1917

America enters World War I

Two days after the U.S. Senate voted 82 to 6 to declare war against Germany, the U.S. House of Representatives endorses the declaration by a vote of 373 to 50, and America formally enters World War I.

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson pledged neutrality for the United States, a position that the vast majority of Americans favored. Britain, however, was one of America’s closest trading partners, and tension soon arose between the United States and Germany over the latter’s attempted quarantine of the British Isles. Several U.S. ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by German mines, and in February 1915 Germany announced unrestricted warfare against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. One month later, Germany announced that a German cruiser had sunk the William P. Frye, a private American vessel. President Wilson was outraged, but the German government apologized and called the attack an unfortunate mistake.

On May 7, the British-owned Lusitania ocean liner was torpedoed without warning just off the coast of Ireland. Of the 1,959 passengers, 1,198 were killed, including 128 Americans. The German government maintained that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, but the U.S. demanded reparations and an end to German attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships. In August, Germany pledged to see to the safety of passengers before sinking unarmed vessels, but in November sunk an Italian liner without warning, killing 272 people, including 27 Americans. With these attacks, public opinion in the United States began to turn irrevocably against Germany.

In 1917, Germany, determined to win its war of attrition against the Allies, announced the resumption of unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. Three days later, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and just hours after that the American liner Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat. On February 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships, and on April 2 President Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany. Four days later, his request was granted.

On June 26, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat. After four years of bloody stalemate along the western front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict marked a major turning point in the war and helped the Allies to victory. When the war finally ended, on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Mormon Church established

In Fayette Township, New York, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, organizes the Church of Christ during a meeting with a small group of believers.Born in Vermont in 1805, Smith claimed in 1823 that he had been visited by a Christian angel named Moroni who spoke to him ...read more

First modern Olympic Games

On April 6, 1896, the Olympic Games, a long-lost tradition of ancient Greece, are reborn in Athens 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. At the opening of the Athens Games, King Georgios I of Greece and a crowd of 60,000 spectators welcomed athletes from ...read more

First modern Olympics is held

On April 6, 1896, the first modern Olympic Games are held in Athens, Greece, with athletes from 14 countries participating.The International Olympic Committee met for the first time in Paris in June 1984 and chose Greece as the site of the inaugural modern Olympiad. The ancient ...read more

Tyler is inaugurated as 10th president

On this day in 1841, John Tyler is sworn in as president. Tyler was elected as William Harrison’s vice president earlier in 1841 and was suddenly thrust into the role of president when Harrison died one month into office. He was the first vice president to immediately assume the ...read more

Black Hawk War begins

Determined to resist the growing presence of Anglo settlers on traditional tribal lands, the Sauk warrior Black Hawk is drawn into war with the United States.Called Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak by his people, Black Hawk was born in 1767 in the village of Saukenuk in the present-day ...read more

Oscar Wilde arrested

Writer Oscar Wilde is arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry.Wilde had been engaged in an affair with the marquess’s son since 1891, but when the outraged marquess denounced him as a homosexual, Wilde sued the man for libel. However, he lost his ...read more

2001: A Space Odyssey released

On this day in 1968, Stanley’s Kubrick’s science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey makes its debut in movie theaters.Kubrick had first gained prominence as a director for the World War I-era drama Paths of Glory (1957). After helming the big-budget Roman epic Spartacus ...read more

Train falls off bridge in Brazil

A train drops off a bridge in Tangua, Brazil, killing 110 people on this day in 1950. Twenty-two cars made up the Leopoldina Railways train that departed Rio de Janeiro for Victoria, Espirito Santo. The passenger cars were filled with people vacationing over the Easter holidays. ...read more

Sam Sheppard dies

On this day in 1970, Sam Sheppard, a doctor convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in a trial that caused a media frenzy in the 1950s, dies of liver failure. After a decade in prison, Sheppard was released following a re-trial. His story is rumored to have loosely inspired the ...read more

U.S. and Soviet negotiators make progress

U.S. and Soviet diplomats meeting in Washington, D.C., make significant progress in negotiations concerning the role to be played by the newly reunified Germany in Europe. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze carried out most of the ...read more

Battle of Shiloh begins

The Civil War explodes in the west as the armies of Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston collide at Shiloh, near Pittsburgh Landing in Tennessee. The Battle of Shiloh became one of the bloodiest engagements of the war, and the level of ...read more

Emil Jellinek-Mercedes born

Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur who commissioned engineer Wilhelm Maybach to design the first Mercedes automobile, named after Jellinek’s daughter, is born in Leipzig, Germany, on this day in 1853.Jellinek was a successful businessman in 1897, when he bought a car from Daimler ...read more

Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece

The German air force launches Operation Castigo, the bombing of Belgrade, on this day in 1941, as 24 divisions and 1,200 tanks drive into Greece.The attack on Yugoslavia was swift and brutal, an act of terror resulting in the death of 17,000 civilians–the largest number of ...read more