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Interpreting the Evidence

The Key to Victory

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Political Cartoon

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load "The Key to Victory" Political Cartoon, World War I, c. 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description

Political cartoon depicting the need for more American ships during World War I. The political cartoon appeared in Portland, Oregon's "Evening Telegram," c. 1917.

Historical Context

Throughout World War I, shipping was an essential component of the American war effort.  Long before the United States formally entered the war in 1917, the U.S. sympathized with the Allies and aided them in their struggle against the Central Powers by transporting supplies and war necessities using American ships.  When The United States officially declared war on the Central Powers, shipping was an industry of immense importance.

Ships were critical to the American military forces for many reasons.  First and foremost, in order to transport and supply soldiers in Europe, The U.S. needed a large and efficient fleet of cargo ships.  Additionally, fighting ships were also required in great numbers.  Small and nimble destroyers were produced to combat the threat of German submarines that harassed Allied shipping routes.  In addition, larger fighting ships and dreadnoughts set sail to counter enemy fleets.

Shipping was vital to supporting American involvement in the war.  However, ships were very expensive and required time, labor, and money to produce.  Cartoons like the one seen here were created and circulated to remind Americans of the importance of shipping to the American war effort.

Historical Challenges

Producing ships required a major financial commitment. Design a persuasive broadside (poster) to encourage people to donate or lend money to support shipping for the war effort. Include an incentive or persuasive reason for people to give money.

Interdisciplinary Connections

Math: If a ship costs $345,920 to construct and $2,000 to operate and maintain for one year, how much would it cost to build 3 ships and operate and maintain them for 2 years?

Science: The USS Plattsburg was a World War I era American transport ship that was 560-foot long, 17,200-tons, and could carry more than 1700 passengers. How does a ship so big and so heavy stay afloat?


Harding, Stephen. Great Liners at War. Stroud, England: Tempus, 2007.

Naval Historical Center: