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Interpreting the Evidence

Uncle Sam: We Must Have Ships

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Political Cartoon

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load "Uncle Sam: We Must Have Ships....," Political Cartoon, World War I, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Political cartoon depicting the need for more American ships for World War I, 1918.
Historical Context
Once war was declared in April 1917, the United States faced the daunting challenge of supplying and equipping its armed forces and its allies while simultaneously continuing to feed the civilian population.

It was evident that mobilization meant the entire mobilization of the nation. In that regard, World War I was a total war and, at first, America was unprepared and uncoordinated. Recognized early on as a critical need, the government took steps to organize the shipping industry. Daily losses of ships due to German submarine warfare and the constant call by the Allies in Europe for more transports forced President Wilson to create federally controlled committees such as the Shipping Board, the Shipping Control Committee, and the Emergency Fleet Corporation to address the desperate situation. Using a combination of private and centralized controls, the departments directed and allocated critical raw materials, set prices and wages, constructed shipyards by the hundreds, attempted to eliminate waste and the unnecessary use of raw materials, took control of private vessels, and directed the actions of related industries especially steel production and railroads.
All told, the result was the greatest shipbuilding effort in history. Completely revamping industry and the American economic system, the war effort achieved what many thought was impossible. Not only did the United States honor its pledges to the Allies and their war effort, she managed to transport millions of tons of supplies and its own soldiers across the Atlantic all while largely staying true to the ideals of laissez faire capitalism that so dominated much of the debate.
Essential Question
How does industry and technology impact war?
Check for Understanding
Describe the main idea of the cartoon and discuss its purpose.
Historical Challenges
Create a diagram of the various components involved in building a ship.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math/Science/Technology: Prepare a report on how many tons of goods ships of varying sizes could transport, how fast they could cross the Atlantic, and how much fuel would be needed to complete the journey.