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U.S. Army recruiting poster. Ryan & Hart Co./Library of Congress

 

Once the United States issued a declaration of war, the nation faced the daunting task of raising an army of millions—from virtually nothing. Knowing that conscription, or a draft, would be unpopular, President Woodrow Wilson came up with a phrase he felt would appeal to the nation’s sense of volunteerism: selective service.

On June 5th, 1917, nine and a half million American men, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Great Falls, Minnesota, from Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to San Francisco’s Chinatown—marched into city halls and county courthouses to register for the draft.

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