During the Great War, or the “War to End All Wars,” public support at home was crucial to the success of our troops overseas.
The Liberty Loan drive was devised to help cover the expenses of the United States war effort. There were five loan drives in total during the Great War, the last ending in 1919. The poster shown is by Joseph Pennell from the fourth loan drive, depicting what would happen to the home front if the civilian population did not buy war bonds. New York harbor is ablaze, German air fighters rule the sky, Lady Liberty’s head has been severed and lays in the harbor, with the German Eagle standing proudly at her feet, and a U-boat patroling the harbor. If this horrific scene didn’t make the public buy war bonds, what would?
The fourth Liberty Bond ultimately wound up defaulting, as the terms of the bond were payable in U.S. gold coin at maturity in 1938. Unfotunately for bond holders, Franklin Roosevelt eliminated the gold market in 1933. Bond holders wound up losing approximately 41% of the bonds principal.
The U.S. Treasury commissioned the Victory Liberty Loan Medallion shown above in conjunction with the 5th loan drive of 1919. The medallion was made from a German cannon captured at Chateau-Thierry in north west France. The medal was awarded by the Department of Treasury to victory Liberty Loan campaign volunteers.
Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company traces its beginnings back to 1740 when William Bird built a forge, a saw mill and grist mill and founded the town of Birdsboro. His oldest son, Marcus, enlarged on his father’s work and constructed Hopewell Furnace. He was the largest producer of iron in America during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the forges have financial problems caused the Birds to sell their assets to Matthew Brooke changed the name to the Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company.
The forges were most successful under Brooke’s management in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War, the company produced munitions and armaments for the Union Army and began manufacturing parts for railroad cars and locomotives. This was the beginning of steel production for the family. The company continued its tradition of supplying the armed forces with providing the Navy with material for building a steel fleet during the late 19th century.
In 1906, the management decided to erect a large modern steel foundry with a potential capacity of approximately 3000 tons per month for making steel castings. In World War II, the government contracted with Birdsboro Steel and Foundry and Machine Company to produce tanks and artillery for the war effort. In 1944, a manufacturing subsidiary was established for weapons manufacturing known as Armorcast. By the end of the war, the company began to manufacture more industrial equipment, many used in the production of steel.
After 1947, the federal government and several businessmen tried to sell or use the space. Armorcast failed to win a government contract to continue production in 1975 and the plant closed in 1988 after a lengthy strike. The four smokestacks, collapsed in the planned implosion to make way for a new power-generating facility, were the last vestiges of a regional history of manufacturing started before the American Revolution.
“Manufacturing evolved from making cannon for Revolutionary War to making tanks for World War II,” said Sanders, 70, former Superintendent of Hopewell Furnace. “All that’s gone now.”
This week, many across the country will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany after it became apparent we could not avoid the conflict in Europe. Unfortunately though, “the war to end all wars” often takes a back seat in our collective memory. As the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, writes:
“In the shadow of World War II, the deeds and sacrifices of Americans in the Great War have sometimes been overlooked. This centennial commemoration encourages us to remember and rediscover their stores through the records they left behind.”
—Archival Outlook, March/April 2017, page 13
To highlight the War’s effect on Berks County, we will be sharing stories and items from our collection each month on BHC’s social media and blog. Also stay tuned over the next nineteen months as we plan special programming at the BHC Museum and Research Library leading up the the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day in November 2018. To get things started we asked one of our Library Volunteers, Ruth Shaffer, to research the first few weeks of WWI and the effect it had on Berks County.
U.S. WAR WITH GERMANY BEGINS TODAYdeclared Reading Eagle headlines on Friday April 6, 1917. By the next day Reading was ablaze with red, white and blue banners and flags on street cars, automobiles, industrial plants, business houses and homes. War was the all-consuming topic of discussion. The Eagle bulletin board, outside its 6th and Penn Streets office building, which gave information on every new move, was the destination of crowds of people and hundreds called the newspaper daily. Thousands signed petitions pledging loyalty to President Wilson and the United States, and men in every walk of life expressed their willingness to serve in any capacity. Naturalized citizens stood ready to prove their love for the country of their adoption.
Even before the official declaration of war on April 6, soldiers were stationed at various points along the Reading Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad systems. They arrived in this area on April 3 and erected their tents at Peacock’s bridge north of Tuckerton. Guards were posted at both ends of the bridge. No one was permitted to pass over except railroad employees. Another group of soldiers were taken to the Lebanon Valley bridge. Their presence excited curiosity and hundreds congregated within sight of the camps, but were not permitted to get near the soldiers. Visiting was not encouraged. Residents were warned to avoid the bridges, since the orders were to shoot to kill anyone approaching and failing to halt on the sentry’s second challenge. Nevertheless, two young women managed to get arrested in the camp, claiming that they had been summoned by one of the privates. They were fined and jailed. They might have been shot as spies.