The World War One Draft - Reporting of the First Draft Lottery - 20 July 1917
On 20 July 1917, Secretary of War Baker Draws the First Number, 258, in the Draft for Conscription in the Great War. Photograph © 1917 Committee on Public Information. GGA Image ID # 1821efa665
Draft lottery selects 1,374,000 men for examination to provide 687,000 of first increment troops others of 10,000,000 are definitely listed for future service; Baker draws the first number.
Gen. Crowder, Gen. Bliss, Senator Chamberlain and Representatives Dent and Kahn also select capsules from the 10,500 in the great glass bowl in senate office building room where drawing continues until morning.
Newspapermen present drafted—society women in night throngs—scenes and incidents that thrill.
Selective conscription was put into effect yesterday with a national lottery to fix the order of military liability for the 10,000,000 young Americans registered for service. To accomplish the result, 10,500 numbers had to be drawn one at a time, a task which began at 10 a. m. and continued far into this morning.
When the 10,004th capsule was drawn at 1:30 a. m. it was found to be a blank, the first to be found in the drawing. Gen. Crowder ordered a space to be left blank and the next number to be drawn.
As the 10,500 numbers are more than enough to cover the men needed or listed, the effect of this blank will probably be negligible. The last number was drawn at 2:18 a. m. No. 2 was drawn at exactly 2 a. m., and was the 10,312th to be drawn.
The lottery was held in the public hearing room of the Senate office building, with War Department officials in charge of the actual drawing, and with members of the Senate and House military committees as witnesses.
Force Ordered to the Colors
As a result of the drawing every registered man is given a definite place in the liability for service list. Already 687,000 have been ordered to the colors to fill to war strength the regular army and national guard and to constitute the first increment of the national army.
To secure that total 1,374,000 men will be called for examination within a few weeks, estimating that two registrants must be called for every soldier accepted. These 1,374,000 will be taken from the head of the liability list, every local district furnishing a. fixed quota.
The drawing yesterday was conducted with ceremonies as democratic as the ideal called for by citizenship.
Scene as in Theater
The stage was carefully set in room 226 Senate office building-. It might have been a scene in a theater, but there was nothing of the theatrical about It, although there was drama— the drama of lives and fortunes in the balance.
Along one side of the big room were rows of chairs for the witnesses. At the end was a tremendous blackboard blocked oft for 500 numbers In front of the blackboard was a double-length table and in front of that a smaller table, on which reposed a great glass jar.
The jar had a top of thick manila paper hound around it by five rounds of tough twine, with a seal on the twine In the bottom thousands of grayish black capsules showed.
There were 10.500 of them and they piled up for more than four inches inside the bowl, a thick mass. Stuck among them was a huge wooden spoon with red, white and blue bunting tied to the handle.
Cameras Set for Pictures
Along the other side of the room was a long table, with more than 100 chairs around it. That was for the press. Scattered in every available bit of vacant space between the tables were the carbon lights of moving picture operators, a "movie" camera beside each light.
Other cameras were placed in position here and there.
That was the scene which greeted the early arrivals. The opening of the draft had been set for 9:30 o'clock. Gen. Crowder was there at 9. He had been to his office for an hour before and arrived at the Senate office building in a big; motor car bearing the capsules.
The bowl and its contents "were under personal charge of Maj. Gen. C. A. Duvol assigned by Secretary Baker to the task. Accompanying the two generals were members of Gen. Crowder's staff—Maj. Hugh Johnson, executive officer and father of the draft plan, Maj.Allen H. Gullion, publicity director of the draft, and others.
The bowl was brought in and placed on the table. At 9.20 Secretary of War Baker arrived He wore a Palm Beach suit, which stood out in broad contrast to the dull khaki of the officers.
Congress Members Arrive
Wearing every type of male apparel from the congressional “Jimswinger” to pongee summer suits, the House and Senate military affairs committees trooped in and took their seats. They were solemn of visage and grave of men. High military chiefs arrived in an automobile shortly after Secretary Baker.
Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss and Adj. Gen. Henry P. McCain, with staff officers, were among them. The minute hand of the clock neared 9:30. The tally clerks seated themselves at the long table in the rear of the room. Gen. Duvol took up his position before the bowl.
The announcers stood next to him. Seated behind a small desk "which had been placed near the end of the tally clerk's table Secretary Baker was chatting with Gen. Bliss and Gen. McCain when the hand reached, 9:30. - Not a second was lost. He rapped sharply for order and all sound ceased. Everyone seemed to stop talking simultaneously.
Secretary Baker's Words
Secretary Baker lost no time in preliminaries "Gentlemen," he said, "this is a solemn and historic moment. We come here to determine which of 10,000,000 of our young men who have registered for national service will be selected to answer the President's call for an army of 687,100 and what the position of the others will be for service in the future.
"This is the first time in our history that we are to have a demonstration of selecting men from the nation for service. These men have all registered and are waiting. For them I bespeak the honor of the nation.
They are not conscripts. They are men who are chosen from among their fellows in a nation-wide selection and they are on an equal footing with any other man in the army or navy.
"It has been made necessary to draw 10,500 numbers to determine the order in which these men shall serve. Before we proceed with the drawing the machinery will be explained by Provost Marshal Gen. Crowder."
Gen. Crowder Speaks
Gen. Crowder spoke for less than five minutes. He told how the drawing would be made—how inside the glass jar were the 10,500 gelatin capsules—just like five grain quinine capsules—and inside each capsule was a number written on a little slip of paper in red ink.
On one side the -paper was white and the red ink stood out like a drop of blood. On the other the paper was black so that it would be opaque through the transparent capsule and the number could not be seen.
Baker Draws First Number
"Let us proceed," said Secretary Baker, when Gen. Crowder had concluded. His last suggestion was that the Secretary should draw the first number.
"I shall draw the first number," said Secretary Baker, "and I ask that the chairmen of the Senate and House military committees, official witnesses at this historic occasion, draw the second and third, respectively.
"And Gen. Crowder shall draw the fourth."
"No," broke in Gen. Crowder, "Gen. Bliss as chief of staff shall draw the fourth."
Gen. Duval broke the seal on the cord about the bowl and stuck his fist through the covering of paper. He ripped away the paper and reaching down stirred the capsules with the great spoon.
DRAWING THE FIRST NUMBER
After he had been blindfolded, Mr. Baker, Secretary of War, plunged his hand into the large glass jar containing the 10,500 numbers inclosed in capsules. He drew one forth and passed it to a clerk who opened it and announced the number "258." Thus the drawing began. The date was July 20, 1917.
Secretary Baker Blindfolded
Secretary Baker removed his eyeglasses and one of Gen. Crowder's assistants tied a white handkerchief around his head, blindfolding him. The Secretary was led to a position behind the bowl and facing those as he stirred the capsules with the spoon Dropping the spoon he stuck his hand among the pellets and brought it up again.
"258" Is First Drawn.
"I have drawn the first number," said Mr. Baker in a tone of a man who has done an epochal thing. He held the tiny capsule aloft An announcer took it from him and broke the capsule, taking out the paper slip.
"The number is 258," he cried
"Two hundred and fifty-eight," echoed the voice of the tally chief. Another attendant posted the numerals "258" on the blackboard in the rear.
There was a flutter of copy paper from the table where the newspaper workers sat. Messenger boys bearing slips of paper darted through the crowded aisle and through the packed mass of men and women at the door in the rear.
They were carrying to telegraph wires which had been set up in an adjoining corridor the news, flashed in a moment from Maine to California and from Oregon to Florida, that all men with cards numbered 258 would be first called to serve.
Ablaze for "Movie" Men
The drawing had been made in a glare of calcium lights, set ablaze by the movie men the moment the Secretary reached toward the bowl burning carbon filled the air, while the battery of cameras clicked at high speed.
A picture was being filmed such as never before had been taken It was a picture not alone for this generation, but for those to come. It epitomized America fighting the battle of democracy against the crumbling old order — America efficiency.
Senator Chamberlain, chairman of the Senate military affairs committee, then was blindfolded and stepped up to draw a number. He was plainly nervous and could not seem to locate the pellets in the bottom of the bowl.
Finally one of the announcers took his arm and pressed his hand down toward them The Senator withdrew a capsule It was opened.
Drawn by Congress Members
The Draft Registration Lineup In Honolulu Hawaii, 1917. GGA Image ID # 1821d8185e
"Two thousand, five hundred and fiftv-two" cried the announcer. In turn Representative Dent, chairman of the House committee, and Senator Warren, ranking Republican on the Senate committee drew numbers. They were, respectively, 9,613 and 4,532.
Then came Representative Kahn, ranking Republican on the House committee and the man who took command of the draft bill in the House and smashed it through to passage.
The blindfolding handkerchief hardly reached around his massive head. Curly white hair tumbled over the band He reached down and took out a pellet The number as announced was 10,218 There was only one district with a 10,218 in it, so the number drafted only one man.
Crowd Cheers Gen. Crowder
Gen Bliss then stepped up, straight and poised in his tailored khaki. Until then the crowd had been silent to a point where the silence was oppressive.
The men in mufti had impressed but; not stirred it. But the service khaki hit the spectators between the eyes and they clapped madly. Gen. Bliss drew No 458.
Then came Gen Crowder and the crowd broke into cheers. It was almost a minute before quiet was restored and the number was announced as 3,403.
Gen McCain advanced amid more applause and drew 10,016
"The moving-picture men will now take their apparatus outside," Secretary Baker announced, "and the drawing will continue with the officials selected in charge”
There was a clatter as cameras and Calcium lights were picked up and a tramp of feet as the "camera squad," coatless and collarless in most cases, marched out with their apparatus.
Settle for Long Siege
The crowd settled itself for a long siege Coats were shed at the press table and "Jim" Preston ordered the doors closed.
Before noon there was ample evidence that the draft was not proceeding as quickly as Gen Crowder and other officials had anticipated and suggestions were made that as many numbers as possible be drawn by 6 o'clock and the others left over for a second drawing today But Gen. Crowder refused to listen.
He declared that the work must be finished if it lasted until after dawn. He doubled the reliefs, but refused any further let-up.
From the quiet assemblage of grave officials, who witnessed the drawing of the first number, the crowd in the great room also changed and shifted as the hours went on.
Woman Clerks Look On
First other senators and representatives came, taking the places of those who went outside for a breath of air.
Then came employee from their offices. For a time the room was filled with women clerks and stenographers, gathered from the House and Senate office buildings, seeking to satisfy their curiosity They came in with open eyes and went out with grave faces.
Drafts One of Writers
Draft Regisitration in China Town, New York City, 1917. GGA Image ID # 1821ef1799
Grouped around the press table among the hundred or more men sending the numbers broadcast over the country as fast as they were drawn were many subject to draft.
Less than 500 numbers had been called when tile government first reached down to the press table and selected a man He was working at high speed at the time, recording numbers and sending them to a telegraph ware in the corridor outside by double shifts of messengers.
A dark, youthful looking lad, he had just chatted across the table to a couple of his fellow partners during a moment's intermission about the draft affecting the ones around.
Goes On With the Work
"Got any of you people yet'" he inquired.
"No," was the answer. "How about you'"
"They haven't called mine," he said back, just as the calling of numbers was resumed. He was working ahead at high pressure when a low number was called—750, or something like that His lips barely moved as he wrote down the number, but faintly across the table came the words, "That's me" He didn't change expression; it might have been quite impersonal, so far as his attitude was concerned.
But when his relief came he spoke about it "I'm inside the first 500," he said. "I ought to be second man in our company, anyway "
Outside, operating a wire over which numbers were being telegraphed to all parts of the country, was another eligible. He hadn't more than read down 75 numbers when he came across his own.
Hopes for Signal Corps
"Well, I guess I’ll try for the signal corps." he remarked, as he ticked the number off on the key "I'll be of most use there."
Two brothers were filing numbers to a Chicago newspaper They have been "in the game" together for years, working side by side, each a well-known newspaper man.
One was by himself at luncheon when a group of friends joined him "They drew my brother Just before I came out," he said "How far along are they now?’
One of the men engaged in drawing numbers—one of the blindfolded youths engaged for the work by Gen. Crowder —drew his own ticket for the front He heard the announcer call it, but he didn't even hesitate. The next number was waiting for the second announcer when he put out his hand.
Free From Demonstrations
And it was like that throughout the day The drawing was remarkably free from personal demonstrations, or of emotion. There were no tear-stained mothers pleading for their boys, there were no mock heroics and no trembling of cowardice.
It was at the registration headquarters, where the numbers were being received for cities, that these scenes took place.
Gen. Crowder was the heart and nerves of the draft machine throughout all the weary hours of the.
In his khaki uniform in the hottest hours of the day, calm when all was excitement around him, he guided by advice and directed with crisp words the men who were carrying on the work.
On several occasions he initiated changes designed to speed up the work and make it less difficult for the men. One of these was the calling of numbers by numerals, such as 4-6-7-9, instead of the longer method of "four thousand six hundred and seventy-nine."
Food and cooling drinks were provided in profusion, and toward evening Gen. Crowder by telephone mobilized a fleet of automobiles in which the wearied tellers and announcers might take short spine between "tricks" in order to freshen themselves with clean air.
Men Who Did the Work
The men actively engaged in the work were either officers of Gen. Crowder's staff, civilian employees of his office or college men especially selected for the duty.
The latter were headed by James L. Phillips, of Princeton, secretary of the intercollegiate intelligence bureau, which is associated with the Council of National Defense, and has furnished more than 4,000 men to the war service of the government; G. W. Thompson, of Denver, of the organization's staff, and Dean Ferson, of George Washington University.
More than 25 students of various colleges were on the force engaged in the drawing. Gen. Crowder’s experts kept the tally sheets. As they were drawn from the great bowl, the numbers were carefully preserved.
"We are keeping them as a backcheck, in case of any questions arising about certain numbers," said Gen. Crowder. "They will be carefully and safely put away."
By 3 o'clock the floor was covered with broken capsules and the workers were fagged and uncomfortable in their sticky clothes, but the drive went on. At that hour something more than 2,000 numbers had been drawn.
By 4-30 o'clock the first quota was practically completed.
First Quota Is Drawn
Officials estimated that it was furnished by the first 8.000 numbers Some of these were very high, drawing only a few men, while the majority of the districts averaged around 3,000, so there was a little doubt. But not much.
It was generally conceded that there had been enough numbers below 3,000 in the first 3,000 drawn to fill the quota of 1,374,000 ordered up for examination in order that 687,000 men might be selected from them.
The opinion prevailed that a greater number may have to be ordered up for examination, as the figure now set only allows a 50 percent loss for physical disability and all other exemptions. In case this proves true the next men in line will be called for examination.
Little Possibility of Hitch
The work proceeded so smoothly up to late into the night that there appeared to be no possibility of a hitch.
Gen. Crowder, however, refused to leave for an instant. He is plainly worried, despite the absolute accuracy, up to this time, of the draft. "Should anything go wrong it would throw the entire country into turmoil," he said. "I can conceive of nothing which would invalidate this draft”. Such "a thing: is incomprehensible
Should any last-minute mistake occur or fault appear I will carry the case to Secretary of War Baker for presentation to the President.
"I do not expect any such misfortune, but It is just as well to be prepared as we are all human."
Appearance of Unlucky "13."
As the hours dragged on the drawing became slower and slower. Wearied officials were driving themselves to each new move. Clicking outside the draft room were a number of telegraph instruments which for hours had been sending number after number to a waiting nation.
The numbers were thoroughly mixed. No numbers consecutive to each other were drawn in the entire course of the day. Number 13 was the 7890th to be drawn
This means that the men holding it may not be ordered up for more than a year, if at all. The day was Friday.
Not One Error Found
Up to an early hour, this morning there had not been an error of any kind. Every one of the four tally sheets on which the numbers were recorded as drawn agreed, and already printed proofs of the earlier tally sheets had been received from the government printing office.
The room was filled at night Capital society, especially of the congressional set, made a social function of the drawing. Brilliantly gowned women occupied many of the seats Family parties and after dinner groups witnessed the drawing.
Examination to Come Next
The numbers drawn yesterday ranged from No. 1 to No. 10,500 The order in which they were drawn determined the order in which men having corresponding numbers on their registration cards will be liable for service.
All that remains after the draft is the question of examination and exemption.
Yesterday's event is the last the national government will have to do with raising an army by universal selection. The States are now responsible.
They must see that the men called are examined and, if chosen, that they report for service Only after they join the colors will the Federal government resume responsibility.
Registrants will receive no official word of their order of liability until their local boards summon them for examination after official records of the drawing have been transmitted to them by mail. Preparations of those records will begin today.
Source: The Washington Post, Saturday, July 21, 1917, Pages 1-2.