World War I: From Red Glare to Debonair

(The following post is by Jennifer Gavin, senior public affairs specialist at the Library of Congress.)

The stars and stripes, February 7, 1919. Serial and Government Publications Division.

The stars and stripes, February 7, 1919. Serial and Government Publications Division.

With its more than 90-year history, most Americans are aware of the military-based newspaper “The Stars and Stripes.” But many don’t know that it came into existence as a morale-builder after Americans surged into France during World War I – and even fewer probably know of its links to another august publication, “The New Yorker.”

As thousands of Americans braved mud, bullets, shells, mustard gas and the flu in the killing fields of France, a decision was taken to start up a newspaper that could bring news of the war and of home to the men of the Allied Expeditionary Force. By most reports, it was a Second Lt. Guy T. Viskniskki, a longtime newsman, who took the idea to the brass and talked them into it; he was among the first writers and editors of the publication that launched Feb. 8, 1919.

The handful of enlisted men who began cranking it out insisted that it be written with flair and cover the things the average guy in a foxhole would want to know about. As its editors stated in the initial number:

“With this issue, The Stars and Stripes reports for active service with the A.E.F. It is your paper, and has but one axe to grind—the axe which our Uncle Sam is whetting on the grindstone for use upon the august necks of the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns … we want to hear from that artist in your outfit, that ex-newspaper reporter, that short-story writer, that company ‘funny man,” and that fellow who writes the verses. We want to hear from all of you—for The Stars and Stripes is your paper, first, last, and all the time; for you and for those of your friends and relatives for whom you will care to send it.”

As the paper took hold – it was printed in borrowed facilities from French newspapers and distributed via military logistics, with some copies reaching the U.S. as well – its staff got bigger and it moved from one French office to another to accommodate the larger operations. The doughboys ate it up, as it contained news, editorials, letters, cartoons and an assortment of humorous items. It was relatively free of censorship, for a military publication. In his book “A Brief History of The Stars and Stripes, Official Newspaper of the American Expeditionary Forces in France,” author Harry Katz noted that the enlisted men who wrote its copy and editorials “condemned what they thought was wrong and commended what they believed to be right in unmistakable terms,” all in “a snappy style.”

Among writers for that early version of “The Stars and Stripes” was Harold W. Ross, a former newsman who, the story goes, went AWOL from his military railroad engineering company to appear at the military paper’s offices to join that team. Ross, after the war, founded The New Yorker and was its editor for more than 26 years, and also became a member of the famously witty Algonquin Hotel “Round Table.” Ross gave magazine work to another luminary writer of the era who had worked at Stars and Stripes, Alexander Woollcott, and to the artist Cyrus Leroy Baldridge, another former military journo.

The Library of Congress holds The Stars and Stripes in its collections, and has digitized that early WWI run of the publication, which was started up again in WWII and continues to provide the U.S. military with news to this day. You can also find The New Yorker in our Serials collections.

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.

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