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Map of the continental US surrounded by flags of other countries
“Comparative Area of the United States and Europe” from War Aims Maps, (Chicago, 1918), G&M Titled Collection.

Resources in the Geography and Map Division about World War I

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On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on the German Empire, bringing the country into the world’s deadliest and most destructive up that point in history.

The Great War, as it was called at the time, started in 1914 and ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918.  More than 38 million civilians and military personnel were causalities of the conflict that included grinding combat in the trenches, deadly dogfights in the sky, and often merciless engagements at sea.

The Geography & Map Division holds several resources to assist anyone with exploring the topic.  In particular, the division holds many maps and even personal papers and photographs of participants of the war.

Guide to the Maps of the War

Maps of the First World War: An Illustrated Essay and List of Select Maps in the Library of Congress. (PDF, 38MB) Second Edition, Ryan J. Moore (2017).

This illustrated guide offers discussion about maps from the WWI and is available for download.  All items depicted in the guide are from the Division’s premier collection. It contains a select bibliography of maps, atlases, and special collections in the division.

Finding Aids for Special Collections

The Division holds nine collections of WWI maps.  The maps were compiled by American military officers who served in the war. In the collections are American, British, French, German and other battle maps, as well as, maps concerning political situation maps used in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

Aaron Schoen was a second lieutenant in the American 3rd Division, 18th Field Artillery during World War I. He was attached to a French unit to study their methods of balloon and airplane observation.

Everett Strait Hughes was a colonel in the artillery of American Expeditionary Force in World War I. During World War II, he served closely with Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe. The collection contains two maps with annotations showing the American zone of occupation in Germany in 1919 and of its headquarters in Coblenz, Germany.

George Sabin Gibbs served as Chief Signal Officer of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I and supervised the completion of the Washington-Alaska cable.

John Leonard Hines was an American general during World War I. His map collection consists of maps of World War I, including annotated tactical maps; maps of Mexico related to Hines’ part in the Mexican Punitive Expedition; maps of Asia, as Hines was stationed in the Philippines; maps of military camps in the United States; maps of the Allied occupation of the German Rhineland, where Hines was stationed.

Charles Pelot Summerall was an American general in World War I. His collection includes manuscript maps, manuscript copies of maps, annotated printed maps, printed maps, and photocopied maps. The maps show various World War I battles and campaigns, including those of Argonne, Meuse, Saint Mihiel, and Verdun; as well as, captured German military maps. The collection also includes maps of Camp Zachary Taylor, Fort Bragg, and southeastern United States ports.

Peyton Conway March was the Chief of Staff of American forces in World War I. This collection of maps and textual materials were created for teaching the principles of coordinating and directing artillery fire

The map collection was amassed by General Tasker Howard Bliss (1853-1930) during his World War I military service and then as a U.S. representative to the Paris Peace conference of 1919.

Willard B. Prince was a cartographer who served in the American 5th Division during the war. The collection primarily consists of World War I military maps created by Prince.  An incomplete set of Princes’ letters and photographic materials are part of the collection. After the war, Prince conceived of the idea for the Heisman Trophy for the Downtown Athletic Club.

William Rea Furlong was a United States Navy Rear Admiral during World War II, who also served in the Navy during World War I. The collection consists of World War I-era maps and charts. One chart from 1918 depicts German and British minefields along the coast of England and a portion of continental Europe. Other items are nautical charts of Aegean Sea with annotations.

Samples of Maps

“Military Map of the United States Showing locations of all forces in training,” from G&M Titled Collection.
“Military Map of the United States Showing locations of all forces in training,” from G&M Titled Collection.

Issued in 1917 by the Union Pacific System, the map highlights training locations and the railroads that linked bases.  Railroads were considered a strategic asset, as they were the fastest means by which a country could move men and material overland.  The European powers, in particular Germany, England, and France had robust rail networks to move armies composed of several million men.

At the start of the war in Europe the U.S. Army numbered some 140,000 men. By the war’s end, more than 2 million American troops reached Europe.

“America’s First Shot in the War,” from the John Leonard Hines Collection.
“America’s First Shot in the War,” from the John Leonard Hines Collection.

This map purports to illustrate America’s first artillery salvo of the war, which was fired October 23, 1917, by guns in the American 1st Division. Sergeant Alexander Arch barked the order “fire” to the crew manning the 75mm field gun. The rapid-firing artillery piece was provided by the French to American troops, who lacked a sufficient supply of weapons and ordnance.  Artillery was the most devastating weapon of the land war, responsible for inflicting some 60 percent of all causalities.  Artillery fire in World War I was different than previous conflicts because detailed maps and wired communications lines allowed for very accurate and deadly fire.  Therefore, trenches, so strongly associated with the war, were essential to protect troops from barrages that could turn fields into virtual wastelands.

“Comparative Area of the United States and Europe” from War Aims Maps, (Chicago, 1918), G&M Titled Collection.
“Comparative Area of the United States and Europe” from War Aims Maps, (Chicago, 1918), G&M Titled Collection.

The map situates the European theater of war within the United States to illustrate the geographic breadth of the fighting. Flags of America’s new allies and insignias from the armed forces ring the map. The map was designed by Denoyer-Geppert Company to educate students about the war.

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