World War I: A Wartime Clipping Service

(The following is a post by Arlene Balkansky, reference specialist in the Serial and Government Publications Division, and Will Elsbury, military history specialist in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division.)

Editorial cartoons from The World (NY), the Boston Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as an article from the Brooklyner Freie Presse, a German-language newspaper. All dated April 6, 1917, the day the U.S. declared war on Germany. Serial and Government Publications Division.

Editorial cartoons from The World (NY), the Boston Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as an article from the Brooklyner Freie Presse, a German-language newspaper. All dated April 6, 1917, the day the U.S. declared war on Germany. Serial and Government Publications Division.

The Library of Congress’ historical newspaper collections are extensive in their coverage of World War I. From the beginning of the war to America’s involvement to armistice, headlines presented readers with a view of one of the deadliest conflicts in history that resulted in more than 35 million casualties. Many of these newspapers can be found online, with curated topics in Chronicling America including the sinking of the Lusitania, World War I ArmisticeWorld War I Declarations and World War I Poetry, plus World War I rotogravures. The Library also holds the complete 71-week run of The Stars and Stripes World War I edition. (You’ll read more about it later on in this blog series!)

World War I news, editorials, features, cartoons, photos, maps, and more are also contained in a unique 400 volume 80,000-page set of newspaper clippings found within the collections of the Library of Congress Serial and Government Publications Division. The set, “World War History: Daily Records and Comments as Appeared in American and Foreign Newspapers, 1914-1926,” was created after the war through the dedicated direction of Otto Spengler, owner of the Argus Press Clipping Bureau.

Spengler worked as a teen at the Argus and Information Bureau of Berlin and, following his immigration to America in 1892, at a clippings bureau in New York for more than 10 years. By the early 20-th century, he had established his own company and understood the importance of his clipping service and how to market it. Ads in 1907 for the company in the magazine, The Advocate of Peace, touted press clippings as “an important factor in peace negotiations” ending the Russo-Japanese War. The ads stated that both Russian and Japanese negotiators “were kept posted through newspaper clippings furnished by Argus.” The ads then asked “What Interests You” with a cost of $5.00 per hundred clippings and $35.00 per 1,000.

The outbreak of the World War in 1914 presented Spengler with the massive task of documenting the conflict as fully as possible. Throughout the war years and for several years after, Spengler’s Argus Bureau acquired and clipped newspapers from around the country, including several foreign language ones, and some from around the world. Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and extending to the League of Nations and beyond, the clippings yield significant information about the political, social, cultural and economic impact of the war as it was taking place.

After World War I, Spengler and his staff began organizing the many thousands of clippings, mounting them chronologically in hardcover volumes of 200 pages each. The pages were oversized so that a full newspaper page or several smaller articles could be accommodated. For this undertaking, the New-York Historical Society secured funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. This donation provided for the blank volumes of high quality paper and the cost of preserving and mounting the clippings, utilizing glue that has not deteriorated the clippings to this day. The clippings were donated by Spengler and others who had gathered them. Only one copy of the collection was created, and it was the largest known to exist at that time.

Front page of the New York Evening Journal, Nov. 11, 1918, at war’s end: “Victory Here; Kaiser Flees.” Serial and Government Publications Division.

Front page of the New York Evening Journal, Nov. 11, 1918, at war’s end: “Victory Here; Kaiser Flees.” Serial and Government Publications Division.

The 400 volumes were kept in storage at the New-York Historical Society until the late 1980s when it was decided there was no longer room for them. The collection was then offered to the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where it was kept until 2003. At that time, two librarians from the Library of Congress Humanities and Social Sciences Division visited the Army Institute and compiled a list of materials for possible acquisition out of those being weeded from the Institute’s library. Almost as an afterthought, the Institute’s representative led the two librarians to a room where hundreds of oversized volumes were shelved and stacked. It was explained that unless an institution could be found to take the volumes, they might be destroyed. As the librarians discovered the depth and scope of the information the volumes contained, they realized the importance of saving them. After a period of negotiation and a flurry of paperwork, the 400 volumes were trucked to Washington, D.C. and became part of the Library of Congress collections. To help preserve them, the volumes have been individually boxed and stored offsite in a controlled environment. They are accessible by request through the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, James Madison Building, LM 133.

Charlotte Lerg (Ludwig-Maximilains Universität, Munich), recent Bavarian-American Fellow at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, examined several volumes and extolled, “This amazing collection offers a formidable source for research on World War One. It captures the national discourse over neutrality, war and peace. The material, including German language-papers, presents a unique perspective while the choice of clippings creates its own fascinating narrative.”

While it will take years, plans are in the works to digitize the 80,000 fragile pages and make this valuable and unusual resource freely accessible online.

World War I Centennial, 2017-2018: With the most comprehensive collection of multi-format World War I holdings in the nation, the Library of Congress is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about The Great War including exhibits, symposia and book talks.

Sources: The American Monthly, April 1926, p. 38; The New York Times, November 11, 1928, sect. 2, p. 1.

Library in the News: May 2016 Edition

The month of May saw the Library of Congress in a variety of headlines. In April, the Library announced that THOMAS.gov, the online legislative information system, will officially retire July 5, completing the multi-year transition to Congress.gov. David Gewirtz for ZDNet Government wrote, “You have to wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have made of the […]

Library in the News: April 2016 Edition

April headlines covered a wide range of stories about the Library of Congress. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera continues to make the news, especially with the April announcement of his returning for a second term. Herrera told Sara Catania of Reuters that poetry fans provided an “inspiration tsunami” during his first year in which he […]

Library in the News: March 2016 Edition

Headlining Library of Congress news for March was the announcement of new selections to the National Recording Registry. Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post spoke with singer Gloria Gaynor, whose “I Will Survive” was one of the selections. “For Gaynor, the Library of Congress honor simply acknowledges what the world has already figured out,” he […]

Library in the News: February 2016 Edition

In February, the Library added a host of resources to its offerings, both onsite and online. Early February, the Library debuted a new exhibition on “Jazz Singers,” which offers perspectives on the art of vocal jazz, featuring singers and song stylists from the 1920s to the present. The ArtsBeat blog of the New York Times called […]

Library in the News: January 2016 Edition

January was a month filled with awards and honors. The Library welcomed Gene Luen Yang as the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Michael Cavna of The Washington Post covered the inauguration ceremony and wrote, “Yang — a charismatic, high-energy speaker — was able to present himself dually as both authentically dimensional scholar and […]

Library in the News: December 2015 Edition

While the new year is upon us, the Library’s headlines in December are worth looking back on. Topping the news was the announcement of the new selections to the National Film Registry. Outlets noted recognizable films such as “Ghostbusters” and “Top Gun” along with some of the list’s more obscure titles. “If there are any […]

Library in the News: November 2015 Edition

Willie Nelson was the talk of the town as the Library celebrated his work and career during a concert in November, as he received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. “When Willie took the stage to accept the Gershwin prize, you could see the pride on his face,” wrote Brendan Kownacki for Hollywood on the […]

LC in the News: October 2015 Edition

In October, the Library of Congress celebrated a major milestone – Chronicling America, a free, online searchable database of historic U.S. newspapers, posted its 10 millionth page. To mark the milestone, the Library published a series of lists on its social media featuring interesting and off-beat content from the online archive. Several outlets picked up […]

Opening Day … For the Library

Until 1897, the Library of Congress was housed in the U.S. Capitol Building itself. Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864–97) was the first to propose that the Library be moved to a dedicated building. He also was instrumental in establishing the copyright law of 1870, which placed the Copyright Office in the Library and […]