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Illinois in WWI

Underwriters Laboratories in the First World War


Working for a safer world

In 1893, a young electrical engineer by the name of William Henry Merrill, Jr. was sent from Boston to Chicago to assess and mitigate the fire risks associated with the World’s Columbian Exposition. While in Chicago, Mr. Merrill connected with prominent fire insurance underwriters who provided him with the funds to start Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an organization that still exists today and is headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois. During its earliest days, UL focused on testing electrical and fire suppression products for their safety. As time marched on, UL applied its safety science and engineering knowledge to a wide variety of fields including burglary protection, chemical safety, gases and oils and even the aviation industry.

UL Photos People Merrill
William Henry Merrill, Jr. founded Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in 1894 and chaired
the Fire Prevention Section of the War Industries Board in 1918.


UL’s involvement in World War One

By the time the United States entered into World War One, UL had long been recognized for its expert knowledge in fire prevention and protection engineering. UL had also written many standards that specified the proper materials and construction techniques necessary for the safe production of devices and facilities. In early 1918, Congress was encouraged to introduce a bill that would provide fire insurance to private companies that manufactured, handled or stored war munitions for the U.S. government. Munitions were defined as all materials, machinery and supplies used for war purposes. Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo perceived the value in this fire insurance proposal and called for a committee to be appointed. Shortly thereafter, Bernard Baruch, a financier, political advisor and Chairman of the War Industries Board of the Council of National Defense, established the Fire Prevention Section.

UL WWI Servicemen
In addition to Mr. Merrill’s personal contributions to the war effort, 64 UL employees answered the call to proudly serve their country.  
(A sampling of UL servicemen - clockwise from top left: C.J Peacock, V. Harpster, F.J. Bauer, M.B. Smith)

On April 5, 1918, UL’s founder William Henry Merrill, Jr. was named Chairman of the Fire Prevention Section of the War Industries Board at a salary of $1 per year. An experienced group of fire experts and insurance underwriters was quickly assembled under Mr. Merrill’s capable leadership to collect data related to existing fire hazards in U.S. munitions plants, conduct inspections and enforce adequate fire protections at each plant. In seven short months, the Section had fully inspected and made fire protection recommendations at 2,444 munitions plants with government contracts. Shortly after the war drew to close on November 11, 1918, Mr. Merrill provided a final report to Mr. Baruch who gratefully recognized the Fire Prevention Section’s achievements in reducing fire risks at the munitions plants across the nation during this critical time in world history.

UL Munitions Summary
A chart summarizing UL’s munitions inspections.

About UL today

UL fosters safe living and working conditions for people everywhere through the application of science to solve safety, security and sustainability challenges. The UL Mark engenders trust enabling the safe adoption of innovative new products and technologies. Everyone at UL shares a passion to make the world a safer place. We test, inspect, audit, certify, validate, verify, advise and train and we support these efforts with software solutions for safety and sustainability. To learn more about Underwriters Laboratories, visit UL.com.

For more information about UL's history:

Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
333 Pfingsten Road
Northbrook, IL 60062-2096 USA

The Activities of North Shore Country Day School During the Great War, 1914-1918


NSCDS was founded in its current form as a co-educational school in 1919, just as the war ended, at the height of the Country Day School movement. Prior to its opening, an all-girls private school called the Girton School for Girls was on this same site from 1900 to 1918.

These are a few pages from the yearbook, the Girtonian, that describe war-time concerns amongst the students and faculty of Girton.


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nscds 1916

nscds Girtonian WW1 1915 clip

Cover of the 1916 yearbook

Page from the 1916 yearbook

From the 1915 yearbook


For more information:

North Shore Country Day School
310 Green Bay Road
Winnetka, IL 60093

Lewis Institute and Armour Institute of Technology during the First World War

University Archives & Special Collections, Illinois Institute of Technology


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Lewis Annual yearbook page for section listing students in the armed services, 1917

Although Illinois Institute of Technology was not formed until 1940, Lewis Institute and Armour Institute of Technology, its two predecessor schools, were both well-established when the U.S. entered World War in April of 1917. Over the next two years student life on both campuses was temporarily transformed as enlisted students shipped out, campus war training programs were established, and new war effort clubs appeared. Today, we can see the effects of wartime in our collections of student yearbooks, photographs, and alumni correspondence.

Though they evolved in different directions, the origin stories of Lewis Institute and Armour Tech sound strikingly similar. Both were founded in the late nineteenth century to offer “practical” education, both drew funds from local business leaders, and both aligned themselves with progressive and educational reform movements. Lewis Institute was established in 1895 through the will of Allen C. Lewis, who dictated that his estate should be used for a school with a progressive educational mission. Under the direction of educational reformer George N. Carman, Lewis Institute stayed true to this vision, offering both two and four year degrees to men and women as well as becoming the first college to offer evening classes for working students. Lewis’s diverse student body was made up of many first and second generation immigrants, who displayed no small amount of school spirit.

Armour Institute of Technology was likewise founded in 1892 by a prominent Chicago pastor and social reformer Frank Gunsaulus and funded by industrialist Philip D Armour. In fact, the idea for Armour Tech had grown naturally out of the Armour family’s earlier interest in the settlement house movement, and the college was initially established adjacent to the Armour Mission and Armour Flats apartments. However, as Armour Tech grew it eventually took over those buildings while also shifting towards a technical focus and traditional collegiate personality. By 1902 the student body had become exclusively male and remained so until 1940, when the merger with Lewis Institute returned liberal arts and female students to campus.

Wartime changes to campus reflect the different personalities of Lewis Institute and Armour Tech. Lewis Institute sent its first two students overseas in May 1917, when Hospital Unit 12 was called to France. When Ellen Thompson and Budy Streitmatter were told to report by the end of the week with a year’s supply of clothing, their classmates in the Domestic Arts Department leapt into action to help purchase, sew, and launder the necessary supplies. This planted the seeds for a Patriotic League, open to any women associated with the Institute, who worked throughout the war collecting reading materials and clothing for soldiers, supplying refreshments and entertainment at Great Lakes training centers, and raising money for the Red Cross and war orphans. Within a year, Lewis Institute had sent at least one hundred students to Europe to serve in the army or in hospital units, many of whom appeared to keep in close touch with the school and each other. And in 1918 the school became even more involved when it entered a contract with the War Department to train drafted men in woodworking, metal work, and electrical work in two month courses, which brought 200 additional men at a time to study, eat, and live at Lewis Institute. Altogether, our records suggest 2,705 Lewis students and alumni served and 24 were killed by the end of the war.

Read more: Lewis Institute and Armour Institute of Technology during the First World War

Northern Illinois University in the First World War

 Northern Illinois University students raise Funds to support war effort

In 1917, Northern students set a $1,500 goal for the Student Friendship Fund to aid the forty-seven Northern boys headed off war. They surpassed their goal by raising $1,863.25. Students and faculty also regularly raised money for the Red Cross. In fact, they were so dedicated to help fund the war effort that students decided to forego publishing a 1918 Norther, the official yearbook, and instead used the money to purchase an ambulance for use in France to aid the troops.


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Cover of The Northern Illinois Senior Number, the reduced yearbook produced in 1918 instead of the official Norther

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1919 Norther entry about the Norther Ambulance

World War I Service Flag

Double-sided WWI service flag created by Northern Illinois University (then known as Northern Illinois State Normal School) to honor the service of its students. Work on the flag began in 1917 and was completed in 1919. The 121 stars on the flag represent the students who served in WWI. On the back of the flag you will see 4 gold stars clustered together. After further research, it was discovered these stars represented four students who lost their lives during service: Howard Byers, Martin Chase, Clinton Glidden, and Wendell Lindberg.

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niu ua11b11item19 WW1ServiceFlag back
Reverse; includes four gold stars to represent those killed in action

Presentation of the WWI Service Flag created by the University in the auditorium of Altgeld Hall, the first and most central building on campus.

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Altgeld Hall, Interior Auditorium, 1917 "N. I. [Northern Illinois] Auditorium decorated for the Memorial Day Program honoring N. I. boys who entered the Service. Note Service Flag at rear right."

These images are issued by the Regional History Center/University Archives of Northern Illinois University. Property rights in the collection belong to the Regional History Center; literary rights are dedicated to the public. The user is responsible for copyright issues. Permission for use of this image for ANY reason other than educational purposes should be obtained by contacting the Center’s staff. Credit line should read Regional History Center, Northern Illinois University.

 The Polish Community's Contingent

World War I saw the deployment of three armies from the United States to “over there.” In addition to the American Expeditionary Force under Gen. John J. Pershing, the Polish and Czech communities sent separate contingents to fight on the Allied side, leading to the return of their homelands on the map of Europe following the war.

This photograph from the collections of the Polish Museum of America (PMA) shows a group of volunteers prior to their departure to the training camp, Camp Kosciuszko, located in the Canadian Militia training site at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. While the US was still neutral in 1916, the Polish Falcons, a gymnastic and paramilitary group, made arrangements for the Canadian military to train officers for a future Polish Army. The training took place at York University (now, University of Toronto), and starting in January 1917, the first group of volunteers received Canadian commissions and returned to the United States after the declaration of war against Germany in April 1917.

Polish recruits

On June 14, 1917, the French government pledged to organize an autonomous Polish Army after the first Russian Revolution in February allowed Poles and Czechs to form their own units. A military mission was sent over to organize the large Polish community in the US and to obtain American permission.

Recruitment began in October 1917, coinciding with the centennial of Polish and American Revolutionary War hero, Brigadier General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Polish-Canadian cooperation continued, and volunteers went to train at Niagara, as well as Camp Borden in Northern Ontario.

The photo shows the departure of one such group. The volunteers are standing on the steps of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, located at 1118 N. Noble St., Chicago. The central figure is Maestro Ignacy Jan Paderewski, flanked by his wife, Helena, and Father Kazimierz Sztuczko. At the bottom of the stairs wearing a Canadian Officer’s Uniform and Sam Browne belt is Lieutenant Starzynski, a veteran of the US Army. The stout fellow in the lighter suit near the band is John Smulski, a former Chicago alderman, Illinois treasurer, banker, and head of the committee for an independent Poland. The uniformed group to the left are not doughboys, but volunteers wearing their Falcon Field uniforms, which were surplus US Army. The rest are wearing civilian dress and the red and white arm bands to show their status as volunteers. The flag at the top of the stairs is one of many used for the recruiting effort. Since there was no Poland, people were free to design their own flags. The PMA has many examples with crowned eagles, crownless eagles, looking left or right.

The Polish Museum of America is proud to partner with the Pritzker Military Museum and Library (PMML) and the US WWI Centennial Commission in presenting information on this important contribution to the Allied War effort. Future postings will tell the story of the armed effort of the Polonian community in raising two armies and aiding two war efforts. 

Coles County, Illinois World War One monument


At the Coles County Courthouse. The monument stands on the southwest corner of the square, bearing twenty-one names.



Pancho Villa and the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, 1916-1917

smallitsALongLongWayFormer rebel leader José Venustiano Carranza Garzabecame head of state of Mexico from 1915 to 1917. With the adoption of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, he was elected president, serving from 1917 to 1920. His ascendency was bitterly opposed by Pancho Villa, a fellow rebel leader in the Mexican Revolution.

President Woodrow Wilson believed that supporting Carranza was the best way to establish a stable government in Mexico. Despite previous support, the United States cut off armaments and supplies to Villa and allowed troops loyal to Carranza to be moved over U.S. railroads near the border.

In January, 1916, Villa’s troops attacked a train on the Mexico North Western Railway, killing a number of employees of the American Smelting and Refining Company. Including passengers, eighteen American lives were lost. On March 9, 1916, 100 troops made a raid against Columbus, New Mexico. Several buildings were burned and a further eighteen civilians were killed.

In response to Villa's raid on Columbus, New Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,000 men of the U.S. Army under the overall command of General Frederick Funston and the direct command of John Pershing. The Punitive Expedition, as it became known, pursued Villa and his troops through northern Mexico. The Expedition, unable to locate Villa, eventually withdrew on February 7, 1917.

Read more: The Punitive Expedition into Mexico

The Preparedness Movement

America Prepare CoverThe First World War began in July, 1914. By 1915, a strong Preparedness movement had emerged. Adherents believed that the United States needed to immediately build up a strong military, with the assumption that the U.S. would fight in the First World War sooner rather than later.

The most prominent advocate of the movement was ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, who gave a number of impassioned speeches and made early commercially available wire recordings supporting the build-up.

The movement became a major theme of the 1916 Presidential election, pitting incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson against Republican Charles Evans Hughes. Wilson’s platform emphasized neutrality and diplomatic solutions to conflict—his main campaign slogan was “He kept us out of war”.  Hughes criticized Wilson for not taking adequate preparations to face a conflict. 

Read more: The Preparedness Movement




Records compiled by the Office of the Adjutant General show that Illinois gave 351,153 men to the armed forces of the United States during the war, the third highest total number. To commemorate the centenary of our involvement in the Great War, the Illinois World War I Centennial Committee has a mission to:

ADVOCATE. Encourage other entities in Illinois to recognize the contributions of Illinois to the First World War.

EDUCATE. Develop tools to educate others about the contributions of Illinois to the First World War.

FACILITATE. Support other entities that are recognizing the contributions of Illinois to the First World War.

ELEVATE. Recognize and celebrate Illinois veterans and civilians for their sacrifices and contributions to the First World War.

PARTICIPATE Join other states in a national effort to recognize veterans and civilians for their sacrifices and contributions to the First World War throughout the United States.


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A growing number of institutions, companies, and universities are contributing their wartime stories for posterity. Learn more about them here.




An interim report on commemorative activities at Illinois cultural institutions can be found here.

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Illinois is fortunate indeed to be the home of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, whose commitment and sponsorship of Illinois and National World War One centenary commemoration efforts has been both tireless and unswerving.


On April 1, 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner issued a proclamation officially recognizing the Illinois World War One Centennial Committee

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