U.S. Mobilization in the Great War

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One 45-50 minute class period
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
In this activity, students will use primary source posters and other documents from the World War I era to learn about the ways in which the United States mobilized for war.

In this activity, students will use primary source posters and other documents from the World War I era to learn about the ways in which the United States mobilized for war.  Specifically, students will examine documents relating to the Food Administration, the Fuel Administration, the War Industries Board, the War Labor Board, and the Committee on Public Information.  Students will complete the activity through cooperative learning, although the activity could easily be modified for an individual assignment.  

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

This lesson is for use in a unit on United States participation in World War I.  American victory in the trenches depended in large part on how successfully the country mobilized for war.  In addition, the agencies and methods used in World War I carried over into World War II, illustrating the success of this first nation-wide approach to mobilization and illustrating historical continuity.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Work in cooperative learning groups in order to analyze primary sources (including propaganda posters) and determine the goals of federal administrations in World War I.
  • Explain the goals and methods (orally and in written form) of the Food Administration, the Fuel Administration, the War Industries Board, the War Labor Board, and the Committee on Public Information.
  • Evaluate the success of propaganda methods. 
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • National Council for the Social Studies Thematic Strand V:  Individuals, Groups and Institutions
  • National Council for the Social Studies Thematic Strand VI:  Power, Authority and Governance
  • National Council for the Social Studies Thematic Strand VII:  Production, Distribution and Consumption
  • National Council for the Social Studies Thematic Strand X:  Civic Ideals and Practices


2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

KANSAS STANDARDS (High School-US History)

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

7. (A) analyzes how the home front was influenced by United States involvement in World War I (e.g., Food Administration, Espionage Act, Red Scare, influenza, Creel Committee).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Copies of  Great War Mobilization Chart (see Appendix A) for each student (feel free to modify this chart for your own needs); copies of Scoring Guide (see Appendix B)
  • War Labor Board:  1.  Conner, Valerie Jean.  The National War Labor Board: Stability, Social Justice, and the

Voluntary State in World War I. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,1983.

 2.  McCartin, Joseph A. Labor’s Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and theOrigins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912–1921. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Choose from among these primary sources; four to five sources for each group should suffice

  • Food Administration:


  “Food is Ammunition—Don’t Waste It”


 “Lick the Platter Clean, Don’t Waste Food”


  “Will you have a part in victory?”

 “The Kaiser is canned”

 “Your sugar ration”

  “Save food for world relief”

  “Patriots!  Use cornmeal”

 “Raise pigs to help win the war”

  • Fuel Administration: 

1.  “Me Travel?  Not this summer vacation at home”


2.  “Light consumes coal”

3.  “Ohio Clock in the U.S. Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight

saving time in 1918”


4.  “Order Coal Now”

5.  “Uncle Sam needs that extra shovelful”


  • War Industries Board:  

1.  “Don’t Waste Paper—Paper is Essential”

2.  “Make every minute count for Pershing”

3.  Baruch, Bernard.  American Industry in the War:  A Report of the War Industries

Board (March 1921).  New York:  Prentice-Hall, 1941.  See especially pp. 221-222, 318, 351, 362, 366-367 and organizational chart.

  • War Labor Board (primary sources difficult to find; see secondary sources for additional information)

1.  “To Shipbuilders!”

2.  “United States Employment Service”

  • Committee on Public Information: 

1.  “Save Your Child”

2.  “Joan of Arc Saved France”

 3.  “Destroy this mad brute”


4.  “You!  Buy a Liberty Bond Lest I Perish”

5.  “Speech by a Four Minute Man” (scroll down the page)

6.  “Remember Belgium”

7.  “To Hell with the Kaiser” (movie poster)  

8.  “Our Boys in France Tobacco Fund”

9.  “Give to the American chocolate fund”

Technology Required

Online access, for the teacher to access primary sources.

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

1.  Students should already have a general understanding of the beginning of World War I, and how the United

States came to enter the war.  For this activity, explain to students that the U.S. was not prepared to fight a war—and definitely not to win a war—when it entered WWI in 1917.  President Wilson and his advisors had to find a way to mobilize a still-divided nation for the largest war Americans had ever seen.  To do this, they decided to create federal agencies to oversee certain aspects of the war effort.


2.  Explain to students that they will, in groups, examine documents relating to one of five agencies created during

WWI.  Hand out copies of the Great War Mobilization Chart and explain that from the documents, students will determine a purpose for the agency and will also explain at least three methods the agency used to achieve its goals.  These methods could vary; examples include creating propaganda posters, employing speakers, publishing information for distribution, verbally attacking the enemy, etc.  It is up to students to determine the agency’s methods; each student must complete a mobilization chart.  Stress that students will present their findings to the class, and that it is up to them to teach the class about this particular agency.  If they slack off, their classmates will not be pleased with them!  Explain to students how they will be scored on this activity (see Appendix B Scoring Guide).  Hand out documents to each group.


3. After student groups have analyzed their information and completed their row on the mobilization chart (approx.

15-20 minutes), each group should take turns explaining its findings to the class, including showing posters and information given them; other students, in turn, will fully complete their mobilization charts based on the information presented them.  Ideally, each student in each group will speak at least once (I make this a requirement).  The teacher may find it useful to ask the group questions, allow other students to ask questions, and, if necessary, add any pertinent information the group has missed.


4.  After all groups have presented, hold a class-wide discussion about the effectiveness of these agencies.  Do

students feel the methods employed by the agencies were successful?  Would these methods have convinced students to support the war, plant victory gardens, etc.?  Why or why not?  In the next few days, students will learn exactly how successful these agencies were; since most students will know that the U.S. and its allies won WWI, ask them to hypothesize about the success of these agencies in mobilizing the nation for war overall.  Does the federal government use similar agencies & methods today?  If so, what are some examples?  At the end of class, collect each student’s mobilization chart. 


5.  Homework:  each student should write an essay (approx. half to a full page) on the questions discussed in class. 

How successful does the student feel these agencies were, overall?  Why?  Would the students have been

persuaded by the methods used?  Why or why not?  Students should include at least two specific examples

from their analysis or other in-class presentations (posters, speeches, specific information, etc.) in their



Appendix A:  The Great War:  Wartime Mobilization Chart


The U.S.’s victory in the Great War depended on how quickly & efficiently the nation could mobilize for war.  For the first time, the federal government created agencies to regulate production, consumption & labor.  With your group, use the provided information to complete the following chart.  You will report to the class what you learned about your agency, so be specific!





How goals were accomplished

Food Administration