A square red banner flag with serrated cuts on the bottom edge and the text "Texans Take to the Trenches - WWI The Lone Star State and the Great War"

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Panoramas in World War I

War Comes to Texas

With the outbreak of war in 1914, the United States declared neutrality. However, when a German submarine sank the Lusitania in May 1915 and 1,198 lives were lost, including Americans, public opinion in the United States began to shift against Germany.

In spite of their animosity toward Germany, most Americans wanted to avoid involvement in the war and generally favored neutrality. In the 1916 presidential election, Woodrow Wilson campaigned under the slogan, ‘He kept us out of the war’ to appeal to that sentiment. Wilson won reelection.

The cover page of the newspaper Corpus Christi Caller and Daily Herald dated April 6, 1917, with the headline: NATION IS NOW AT WAR

Corpus Christi Caller, 6 April 1917. Newspaper collection. Click or tap on image for larger version.

Texans were more concerned with the economic impact of the war. Cotton was a major agricultural product for Texas. Farmers and politicians were worried about the disruption to supply lines caused by German submarines in the Atlantic and damage to crops caused by the boll weevil and pink bollworm.

The war also drew Texans’ attention to the border. In January 1917, the British intercepted and decoded a telegraph from Arthur Zimmerman, the German Foreign Secretary, which stated that Germany planned to resume unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic on February 1. Known as the Zimmerman Telegram, the dispatch suggested an alliance between Germany and Mexico. If Mexico sided with Germany and the Axis powers won, Mexico could regain lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Items in this Exhibit

An image of one page broad side with the transcript of the Woodrow Wilson speech declaring war. “A Message Calling for War with the Imperial German Government,” 2 April 1917.“A Message Calling for War with the Imperial German Government,” 2 April 1917. Broadsides collection, 736D.

In this message to Congress, President Woodrow Wilson outlines the actions of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Imperial German Government. In his words, Germany acted against all of humankind especially their use of unrestricted submarine attacks on military or civilian vessels. The United States, he states, needed to become involved to ensure future peace. Wilson avoids blaming the German people in order to avoid tension with German-Americans. Click or tap on thumbnail for larger image.




An image showing a photograph of two cotton cards, brushes used to collect cotton.“Cotton cards,” undated.    “Cotton cards,” undated - reverse.    Artifacts collection, ATF00021.
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An image of a type written page on yellow paper. “House Bill 8, 33rd Texas Legislature, 3rd Called Session,” 1914.“House Bill 8, 33rd Texas Legislature, 3rd Called Session,” 1914. Images 1 and 2. Image 3. Image 4. Texas Legislature Bill files, 2-8/820. [Digital facsimile. Original document transferred to the Legislative Reference Library.]

Texas Governor Oscar Colquitt charged the legislature to “preserve the normal business conditions of the state disrupted by wars in Europe.” This bill called for a reduction of cotton in 1915. When World War I began, Texans were more concerned with the loss of European agricultural markets than with taking up arms on another continent. The state was largely rural and many Texans farmed. By 1913, Europe bought two-thirds of America’s cotton.
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A photograph of a group of fourteen Mexicans wearing wide brimmed sombreros, mostly of the color white, and holding rifles and having bandoliers across their chests.“Mexican Revolutionists near the Texas-Mexico border,” about 1910s. William Deming Hornaday photographs, 1975/070-4552.

By 1917, disturbances related to the Mexican Revolution spilled into Texas. Some Americans believed that German agents were the masterminds behind this tension. The Texas Rangers and the Texas National Guard were sent to “restore law and order” on the Texas-Mexico border. Click or tap on thumbnail for larger image.



An image of the front cover of the Alsace-Lorraine: A Question of Right guidebook, 1918, containg two drawings, each of two men in german army uniforms holding a girl in chains, one girl representing Alsace, one girl representing Lorraine.Alsace-Lorraine: A Question of Right guidebook, 1918. Image 1. Image 2. Image 3. Clarence Lincoln and Nellie Donnan Test papers, 1964/191.

Whitney Warren, an American, delivered a number of addresses on behalf of French interests.  This guidebook includes two addresses protesting the transfer of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.
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Page last modified: November 15, 2019