Area 8: The U.S. During the First World War (1910s-1920s)
- TEACHER/INSTRUCTOR/MENTOR: Carefully read through this sheet before opening and exploring the footlocker.
- This footlocker contains uniforms, military equipment, and personal items that any U.S. Army doughboy would have carried in his pack during the Great War, better known now as World War I, between 1917 and 1920.
- This footlocker was made possible by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. Please display the fund’s logo (in the acrylic) at all times while using this footlocker and mention the agency at the beginning of the program.
- Note that the soldiers would not have had a footlocker in World War I—such as they would later be issued in World War II. Everything would have been worn on their backs or carried in a pack.
- As you explore the footlocker, ask students to see if they can identify clues about the man who owns these items.
- These items are mostly reproductions with a few common original items. The description below will identify the original items. Everything can be handled by the students. If care is required, the description will issue an appropriate caution statement.
- During the Great War, doughboys in France wore heavy wool olive drab uniforms first developed in 1912. These wool uniforms were warm, retained body heat even when wet, and were tough and durable. But they were also heavy, extremely hot in the summer, difficult to clean, itchy and scratchy to wear.
- This footlocker contains two sets of uniforms: One set for the students to personally examine, and one set to be worn by a volunteer or placed on a mannequin, so that students can see uniforms as they were worn.
- Doughboys were issued heavy leather marching boots. These are a pair of Model 1918 Pershing trench boots, with hobnails so that the leather soles last longer. The boots are named for Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France during the war.
- The tunic is a M1917 model tunic, simplified to make manufacture easier during the war.
- Either wool breeches, wool puttees that were wrapped around the legs, or canvas leggings would have been used. A narrow khaki canvas belt is also included.
- Doughboys were also issued wool olive drab flannel shirts. Many soldiers found these shirts scratchy and uncomfortable, so they privately purchased civilian olive drab cotton shirts. This footlocker contains both a privately purchased cotton shirt and an issue wool flannel shirt, so that students can compare the two shirts.
- Wool olive drab Overseas Cap. Worn when off-duty or behind the lines.
- Steel helmet. This helmet is actually a late 1930s original, but it was nearly identical to the 1917 steel helmet used by the doughboys. This would have been worn in the trenches, on the front line, under fire or in combat.
- To supplement his issue clothing, this soldier’s family has sent him a commercially made wool olive drab vest—a warm piece of civilian clothing that he will wear underneath his military uniform.
- During the Great War, thousands of women at home knitted all sorts of items from wool yarn including gloves, mittens, scarves, sweaters, wool hoods and vests. This soldier has received, either from a family member or as a donation from a stranger, a face mask/sleeping cap to keep him warm at night, while on guard duty or during inclement weather.
- Ask students what they might want to take with them if they were going to be hiking and camping for an extended period of time.
- This is NOT all of the military equipment that a soldier was issued and carried in his pack. Great War doughboy Ross Swigart took a photograph of all his equipment (provided in the footlocker). On the back of this photo he wrote, “A soldier’s equipment, outside of this a fellow doesn’t have to carry much.”
- Protection from the weather was often a cotton khaki shelter tent (1/2 of a tent), with expandable wooden pole and five wooden pegs. Each soldier carried one of these halves. Two could be buttoned together along the top edge to form a tent. This is an original 1918 shelter half. Try to locate the original manufacturing date and World War II issue stampings. The shelter half, manufactured in 1918, was reissued during World War II, and so bears a World War II stamp as well.
- Interestingly, this is an Ordnance Department wool blanket used for horses, and not a Quartermaster Department blanket that would have been issued to soldiers. Why do you think this soldier has a horse blanket?
- Canvas khaki belt, attached to which a soldier carried his canteen, first-aid pouch, ammunition pouch and bayonet.
- Soldiers carried a first-aid kit with bandage inside, carried in a tin to keep it dry and sterile. This tin pulls open like a sardine can. Inside were two small tie-on bandages, a set of written instructions and two safety pins. Do not open. Both are reproductions. There is nothing inside the first-aid kit.
- Aluminum canteen, with khaki cover and canteen cup. The canteen and canteen cup are original, but the cover is a reproduction.
- Aluminum M1910 mess kit, with knife, fork and spoon inside. These are all original.
- M1916 bacon can, to hold ration meat. This is original; you can open it.
- Condiment can, intended to hold three days’ rations of coffee, sugar and salt inside the pry-off cap. This is original; you can unscrew the caps. The lines indicate one day’s worth of either coffee or sugar.
- M1903 Springfield rifle bayonet in scabbard. Both are original. IMPORTANT CAUTION STATEMENT: THIS BAYONET IS SHARP. You will have to determine if students are mature enough to safely handle the bayonet.
- Note the different markings: RIA stands for Rock Island Arsenal; other markings are those of the contractor—the private company—that manufactured the item.
- Rations here include two tins of corned beef, a box of hardtack and an empty tomato can. Why do you think this soldier would keep an empty can?
- 1917 Marksmanship Manual. This is original. Students can look inside.
- Khaki shaving kit. These were made by Gillette during World War I and were issued to soldiers when they joined the Army. Before the Great War, American soldiers were permitted to have facial hair (beards and moustaches). Once gas masks were introduced—and every soldier was issued one by the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917—facial hair was no longer allowed because it prevented the masks from sealing, and thus they would not offer protection. This kit is a reproduction. Show students how safety razors are assembled and used. Many students won’t be familiar with a safety razor. Note THESE ARE REAL RAZOR BLADES, do not permit students to withdraw them from their packaging.
- Aluminum dog tags, properly known as identification tags. They have not been stamped with the soldier’s name. Thus, they must be a spare set.
- Hand-knit pillow cover, in this case stuffed with an inflatable pillow. A soldier could carry this hand-knit wool pillow cover easily in his pack. It weighs almost nothing. He could stuff it with spare clothing, hay, straw, newspapers, etc., and turn it into a sleeping pillow at night.
- 1916 Military Rosary, so we know that this soldier is Catholic. He also has a 1918 nondenominational prayer book “For Soldiers and Sailors.” The prayer book is original, but can be opened.
- A removed Sergeant’s Stripes. Has this soldier been busted?
- A Mexican Border Duty Medal. This soldier either served with the regular Army or a state National Guard unit on the Mexican border between 1916 and 1917. By now, he would normally be higher in rank than a buck private. Again, I think this soldier got in some trouble!
- Original World War II khaki housewife-sewing kit. Unchanged from Great War.
- Original World War II shaving mirror, in a cotton khaki case. Unchanged from Great War.
- Deck of playing cards. These are original, but can be examined by students. These are identical to the deck carried by Sgt. Shelby Van Burgh, which is located in the Great War exhibit at the Wyoming Veterans’ Memorial Museum. Could these playing cards have something to do with his loss of rank?
These playing cards were made by the New York Consolidated Card Company (1871-1894; consolidated with the United States Playing Card Company in 1894), Gem No. 53 deck with red “Angel Back” design (c. 1915).
- 1918 Bull Durham tobacco sack with rolling papers, two boxes of French matches--remember, the soldier served in France—and a trench lighter. DO NOT LET THE STUDENTS HANDLE THE TOBACCO SACK. It is original and will eventually be damaged if students examine it personally, but just let them look at it.THE MATCHES ARE REPRODUCTIONS BUT CONTAIN REAL MATCHES. Do not permit students to play with them.
The trench lighter is a World War I design, but is an original WWII model. It can be used, it sparks. If filled with lighter fluid, the lighter is still functional. So, we know that this soldier smokes. This trench lighter is the Bowers “Side Sleeve” round-tubed model, first manufactured by the Bowers Tool and Die Company of Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1930, and produced through the early 1950s. The particular version is a black steel-tubed version, produced during World War II for military issue because of brass shortages, exclusively between 1942 and 1945.
[Editor’s note: WyoHistory.org is pleased to offer this and other lessons on World War I, prepared for classroom use by the staff at the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum in Casper, Wyo., with support from the Natrona County Recreation Joint Powers Board. For more information on tours and other educational materials and activities, contact museum staff via the link above.]