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Military History

Commemorating the U.S. Entry into World War I

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To follow North Carolina’s history in World War I on social media, use the hashtag #NCWW1 (note: use the number “1” not an uppercase letter “I”)!

Today marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, at the time called the “European war”.  On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson requested a declaration of war from the U.S. Congress. Four days later on April 6, Congress voted to declare war on Germany.  It was the 4th time the Congress had enacted a declaration of war. Several months later on December  7, the U.S. declared war on Austria-Hungary.

Iredell County World War I Memorial, Statesville, NC. From North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Iredell County World War I Memorial, Statesville, NC. From North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill. More information on the memorial is available from Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina in NCpedia.

Wilson’s used the phrases “a war to end all wars” and “make the world safe for democracy” to confirm both a sense of the moral urgency to enter the conflict and some sense of optimism that war could even accomplish these goals.  World War I surely didn’t end the prospect of war for future generations, but it was truly a war that changed everything — from the devastating loss of a generation of young men who went to war, to loss of children and families, homes, towns and cities and culture to the very way war came to be fought.  It changed the course of science and technology.

For its part, North Carolina sent more than 80,000 soldiers overseas to the war effort and made many contributions and sacrifices from the home front. The U.S. Senate approved the declaration with a vote of 82-6, with both of North Carolina’s senators in support.  In the House of Representatives, sentiment was not nearly as unilateral, with a final vote of 373-50.  Congressman Claude Kitchin, a supporter and ally of Wilson, made a bold declaration against entry into the war.  He is remembered for delivering a passionate speech against when called on for his vote. He was applauded by both supporters of the war and those who stood with him and was later both renounced and revered for his stand. You can read more about him here in NCpedia. And of the war, the state’s governor, Thomas W. Bickett, who led the state through the troubled time said: “This is no ordinary war. It is a war of ideals.”

From now through the centennial of the conclusion of the war in 2018, we will be contributing to the commemorative effort by sharing North Carolina’s history in World War I — from its men and women who served on the battlefield to efforts on the home front.  We will try to bring you closer to stories, events, people and places by sharing collections and resources that bring the history a little closer to home.  Along the way, we’ll also share resources and collections that might help family history researchers locate records from family members who served.


Celebrating National Aviation Week: Take a Short-Hop over to NCpedia for North Carolina’s Aviation Firsts

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Celebrating National Aviation Week: Take a Short-Hop over to NCpedia for North Carolina’s Aviation Firsts

This week is National Aviation Week, built around Friday’s upcoming National Aviation Day, first proclaimed in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt.  Roosevelt issued the proclamation to designate the holiday to coincide with the anniversary of Orville Wright‘s birth on August 19, 1871.

And although the Wrights’ epic flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 gave the state one of its most memorable mottos — First in Flight — there are even more flight “firsts” that contribute to that distinction.

Photograph of Belvin Maynard, William Kline, and Trixie

Photograph of Belvin Maynard – and his dog Trixie – and William Kline, ca. 1910. Republished in NCpedia courtesy of Digital Forsyth.

Here’s just a sampling of some of the “firsts”, and you can find more information by following the links to NCpedia:

  • 1873: Henry Gatling’s hand-cranked monoplane was flown near Murfreesboro; claimed to be the first plane built in the U.S.
  • 1903: The Wrights flew the first manned and powered airplane at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1903: Georgia Ann Thompson — better known as Tiny Broadwick in NCpedia — became the first woman to make a parachute jump from an airplane. Broadwick is also credited with being the first person to make a free-fall descent and for troubleshooting a near-disaster that lead to the invention of the rip-cord.
  • 1907: Luther Paul’s twin-rotor unmanned helicopter the Bumble Bee flew in Carteret County; claimed to be the first helicopter flight in the U.S.
  • 1919: Belvin Maynard, born in Sampson County, set a record for 318 consecutive loops in 67 minutes at an airfield in France. For a time Maynard was known as the “greatest pilot on earth” and has also been credited with performing the first in-flight wedding in 1922 (although this detail has not been proven!).
  • 1928: pioneering aviatrix Louise Marcellus McPhetridge Thaden flew to 20,260 feet, at the time the highest altitude reached by a woman; Thaden and her husband participated in the development of all-metal planes and later resided in High Point where they operated a plastics engineering firm.
  • 1928: The state’s first regular air mail flight by Wheeler Airlines landed at Lindley Field in Greensboro.
  • 1948: North Carolina-born aeronautical engineer Francis Rogallo patented his invention the self-inflating Rogallo Wing which became the basis for foot-launched hang-gliders. (The first glider flown using the wing was developed and made by Californian Barry Palmer in 1961.)
  • 1969: North Carolina’s Warren Hervey Wheeler became the country’s first African American to own a commercial airline, Wheeler Flying Service.
  • 1974: Dare County resident and kite-maker John Harris in NCpedia became the first person to hang glide from the peak of Grandfather Mountain.


Digital Collections: World War II Posters

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Image of a Nurse during World War II

“Nurses are needed now!” – image courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed, which prompted the U.S. to enter World War II. Today, 74 years later, I want to take a moment and highlight one of the library’s databases: World War II Maps and Posters. Over 370,000 men and women from North Carolina served in various aspects of the war. North Carolina citizens aided the war effort from home by buying war bonds. These various activities led to the creation of numerous posters that were used for different purposes.


Digital Collections: War of 1812 Pay Vouchers

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image of a pay voucher for John Wilson filed in the State Archives of North Carolina

Image: “Pay Voucher, John Wilson” State Archives of North Carolina

Many people research the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but the War of 1812 doesn’t seem to get as much attention. North Carolina didn’t have as big of a role in the War of 1812 as some other states did, but there were still plenty of soldiers who fought from NC. In conjunction with the State Archives of North Carolina, the Government and Heritage Library has a digital collection for pay vouchers from the War of 1812.


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