WW1 America: Exhibit Experience

For immediate release

Release dated: 
January 27, 2017
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Lauren Peck, Minnesota Historical Society 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

WW1 America: Exhibit Experience

“WW1 America” presents the stories of a divisive and transformational America told through original artifacts, images, voices, music, hands-on exploration and multimedia presentations.

Before the War
Americans watched warily as Europe’s armies went to war in the summer of 1914. Although more than two years would pass before the country engaged militarily, the United States began providing support for war-torn Europe almost immediately. Advocates for “preparedness” clashed with newly formed groups seeking peace.

  • A recreated newsstand features a multimedia show on the ongoing war in Europe before American entry.
  • At a wharf interactive visitors can explore the variety and scale of U.S. products shipped overseas, including horses, locomotives, steel, weapons and donations of grain and flour produced in large part by Minneapolis mills.
  • A short animation and original artifacts from the sinking of the RMS Lusitania--including a deck chair from the ship--show the threats of submarine warfare.
  • A multimedia environment tells stories of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to northern cities, and how these migrants sought jobs in booming war industries.

At War
Within a compressed 19-month period beginning in April 1917, the United States amassed a military force of more than four million men. Nearly two million served overseas. Opposition to the war continued, but the government stirred up patriotism through its Committee on Public Information. War recruitment surged and dissent was forcibly suppressed.

  • A Red Cross ambulance sets the scene for an immersive battlefield environment where visitors hear stories from soldiers and nurses.
  • Original artifacts and stories from “doughboys,” like Charles Whittlesey of the famed “Lost Battalion,” which was trapped behind German lines for almost a week, and Mexican-American soldier Jose de la Luz Saenz who fought for democracy in France and against racial segregation in the United States.
  • Artifacts and images show the impact of new, terrifying technologies, such as poison gas, machine guns, tanks and airplanes.
  • An interactive quiz reveals the government’s swift suppression of dissent from Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs and others.
  • The struggle for woman suffrage was intertwined with American involvement in the war. A multimedia environment features original artifacts and stories from the movement.
  • At a music store with an interactive Victrola and in a sit-down movie theater, visitors can explore popular culture of the era.

After the War
With the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Americans celebrated victory even while extraordinary challenges loomed. Anarchist bombings, racial violence, labor unrest and a return of the influenza epidemic made 1919 one of the most volatile years in American history.

  • A recreated walk-through victory arch emphasizes the brutal contrasts of 1919: civic celebrations clashing with bombings and riots.
  • Images show some of the thousands of strikes during the year, focusing on the Seattle General Strike.
  • A recreated hospital ward shows the peak of the influenza outbreak in 1919.
  • A setting suggestive of a veteran’s hospital features original prosthetics and rehabilitation items.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors encounter “Witnesses,”people who represent the complex and divergent stories of the day. Some famous, others little-known, stories include social reformer Jane Addams, African-American activist W. E. B. DuBois, evangelist Billy Sunday, WW1 volunteer nurse and driver Alice O’Brien, movie star Mary Pickford and entrepreneur-activist Madam C. J. Walker. Original artifacts, quotes and stories remind visitors of the powerful role of individuals in an era characterized by mass movements.

In this section visitors are reminded of the war’s lasting impact on America: the expansion of the military; state surveillance of private citizens and the creation of the American Civil Liberties Union; the power of the peace movement; the global dominance of Wall Street; the successful push for Constitutional amendments for Prohibition and woman suffrage; severe restrictions placed on immigrants; and increased government oversight of the economy.