Smithsonian Commemorates 100th Anniversary of U.S. Entry Into World War I

March 16, 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I with a series of temporary displays and public programs that explore the influential role of the war on American society, soldiers’ experiences on the war front, women’s rights and medical advancement.

Opening April 6 to coincide with the date in 1917 when the U.S. formally entered the war under the command of Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, the displays will include the desk and chair from Pershing’s war room with a reproduction of his wartime map that tracked the troops, a look at the role of advertising in securing support for the war effort, the role of modern medicine and the involvement of women in WWI. This diverse history will be examined through displays of wartime artifacts, photographs and personal stories that will be on view through January 2019. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will present “Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War” through November 2018. 

“The First World War was really the catalyst that propelled America into a new century,” said Museum Director John Gray. “The war’s aftermath would see the success of the women’s suffrage movement, technological advances in technology and medicine, an economic boom and the establishment of the U.S. as a military superpower.”


“Gen. John J. Pershing and World War I, 19171918”
(Third-Floor East, Landmark)

The desk and chair from Pershing’s war room at General Headquarters in France, together with a full-size reproduction of the wall map on which he tracked troop movements, will form the new Landmark display for the museum’s third-floor east. The map will show troop locations on the western front the week before armistice was reached. Under Pershing’s command, 2 million American soldiers helped break the stalemate in Europe and win the war for the allies.

“Uniformed Women in the Great War”
(Third-Floor East, Gateway)

The new third-floor east gateway display will explore the active and largely overlooked role played by women throughout the war, both as a part of the preparedness effort before 1917 and afterwards, at home and abroad, as uniformed members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Red Cross, YMCA and Land Army, among others. In a larger historical context, the exhibit will highlight the role of uniformed women in WWI as a precursor to the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s.

“Advertising War: Selling Americans on World War I”
(History Highlights, Artifact Walls, First-Floor Center)

This display will explore what, at the time, was the largest advertising initiative taken by the U.S. government. Aimed at turning public opposition toward foreign entanglements into enthusiastic support for American participation in WWI, the U.S. government launched a poster campaign designed to manipulate public emotion and inspire action. This advertising campaign proved to be one of the most important and powerful tools for shifting public sentiment and inspiring widespread feelings of nationalism.

“Modern Medicine and the Great War”
(History Highlights, Artifact Wall, First-Floor Center)

This display will explore the ways medicine was applied on the battlefield and highlight important wartime advances in medical science. WWI provided a testing ground for the application of new medical technologies and procedures and, in some cases, accelerated their general acceptance or development in a much wider context. Simultaneously, wartime medical practice reflected the larger concerns and prejudices of early 20th-century America as the country coped with the ever-changing complexities of modern industrial society.

“Artist Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War”
(National Air and Space Museum)

The exhibition, “Soldiers: Artistic Expression in the First World War,” presented by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, will include several objects and 54 artworks from National Museum of American History’s collection done by commissioned artists and regular soldiers in the American Expeditionary Force. Opening April 6, the exhibit will explore how the Great War represented a shift in wartime artwork. Before WWI, war art largely depicted heroic military leaders and romanticized battles, completed long after the war was over, away from the battlefield. WWI marked a turning point with the appearance of artwork intended to capture moments in a realistic way and by the war’s firsthand participants. The exhibition examines this form of artistic expression from two complementary perspectives: that of the professional artists who were recruited by the U.S. Army, and second, from that of front line soldiers who created artwork during their war service. Together, the displays will shed light on WWI in a compelling and humanistic way.

Public Programs

American History After Hours: Women in World War I
April 13; 6:30–9 p.m.—Coulter Performance Plaza, 1 West)

To mark the centennial of the United States’ entry into WW1, American History After Hours is dedicating the evening to the women of WWI. This pivotal time in world history was a pivotal moment for women’s history. A discussion and Q&A will be followed by an interactive reception featuring objects out of storage, pre-Prohibition cocktails, themed appetizers and more.

Tickets are available at

World War I Handi-hour at the Renwick Gallery
(May 17; 5:30–8 p.m.—1661 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.)

Museumgoers will have the chance to recreate WWI laces and embroideries based on objects in the National Museum of American History’s collections. These powerful pieces were originally created by French and Belgian women and sold in the U.S. to fund war-relief efforts; Handi-hour participants will recreate them by hand embroidering on paper. Professional lace makers who volunteer at the National Museum of American History will be on hand to answer questions and provide lace-making demonstrations.

Tickets are available at

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.