Alexandria and the World War I Centennial

The City of Alexandria is joining countless others around the world in commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. The war began in Europe in 1914, and the US entered the war in April of 1917.

Page updated on Dec 22, 2016 at 1:43 PM

World War I Logo

The goal of the centennial commemoration is to raise awareness of and give meaning to the events of World War I. Emphasis will be given to:

  • Honoring the heroism and sacrifice of those who served.
  • Educating about the causes, courses, and consequences of the war.
  • Commemorating through public programs. 

For more information about Virginia during World War I, visit the website of the Virginia World War One Centennial.  

For a short and powerful video about World War I, narrated by actor Gary Sinise, visit the website of the United States World War One Centennial Commission. Select "World War I Overview Video."

Alexandria during World War I

For a small city in the shadow of the Nation's capital, Alexandria was fully involved in World War I. Over 4,000 residents participated directly in uniform, while hundreds  more worked in war industries including aircraft construction, shipbuilding, and other war-related production. Effects of the war can still be seen in the City today.

The First World War . . . often called “The Great War” by contemporaries and survivors . . . changed the world in many ways.  Never before had mankind witnessed the sort of mass destruction and loss of life that marked this conflict, made even greater through the industrial, chemical, and military technology of the time.  While the United States attempted to maintain a neutral stance, many American citizens clearly viewed Germany as the aggressor in this war, and sought to ease the suffering of French and Belgian civilians from the war’s earliest days.

By 1917, it had become increasingly difficult for the U. S. government to remain neutral.  The slaughter on the Western Front continued with no end in sight.  The sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania in 1915 by a German submarine had outraged many Americans, and after a brief pause, the German Navy was set to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.  This move, coupled with revelation of a secret deal between Germany and Mexico, whereby the latter would attack the United States from the south, are believed to be the main reasons that President Woodrow Wilson finally asked Congress to declare war on Germany in April, 1917.

Alexandrians were already heavily engaged in the First World War in many ways, from sending contributions for French and Belgian relief, to active service in the military and working in war industries.  Many churches and other civic organizations raised money for relief efforts and worked with the local chapter of the American Red Cross to send parcels of medical supplies.  Thousands of local men and women served in all branches of the military, and the city’s Potomac River shoreline buzzed with activity.  Shipyards at either end of the waterfront produced wooden submarine chasers for the U. S. Navy as well as large steel cargo vessels for the merchant marine.  Local companies built experimental seaplanes, attempting to secure a Navy contract.  Embracing the latest in weapons technology, the Navy also began construction of a new torpedo factory.

WWI Camp McClellan  WWI Alexandria Airplane Factory Workers  WW1 Sub chaser, made in Alexandria

Images: Soldiers at Fort McClellan, where many Alexandria soldiers trained (National Archives); Women working at an airplane factory in Alexandria (Library of Congress); SC 201 sub chaser, made in Alexandria (National World War I Museum)

Upcoming Programs

Lectures

A variety of lectures exploring World War I and its relation to today will be hosted at the museums of the Office of Historic Alexandria. See our calendar of events for current information about programs at all of our City museums. 

The Poppy Project: Honoring our Veterans 

November 11, 1918 marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice, or temporary end to hostilities, that brought peace after World War I. Now celebrated as Veteran's Day in the United States, 2018 marks its 100th anniversary. To commemorate, the Office of Historic Alexandria is hosting a public art project to honor veterans. In the months leading up to November 2018, residents and visitors will be invited to weave poppies into backdrops that will be used as a part of a special event on Veteran's Day. Interested in creating poppies out of yarn, clay or paper? We are currently recruiting people and teams to start production in the Summer of 2017 for use in the backdrops. 

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