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.

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