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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. 

A number of cities throughout the U.S. held Preparedness parades and rallies; Chicago held several in the spring and summer of 1916. 

postcard chicago michigan ave preparedness parade getting people ready for ww i 1916

Postcard of Preparedness parade down Michigan Avenue, June, 1916.

The Plattsburg Movement

A main tenet of the Preparedness Movement was UMT, Universal Military Training.  Advocates proposed a national service program. Young men, 18 years old, would be required to spend six months in military training, and afterwards be assigned to reserve units. The small regular army would primarily serve as a training agency.

The UMT proposal failed, but it fostered the Plattsburg Movement, a series of summer training camps that in 1915 and 1916 hosted some 40,000 men, largely young businessmen and professionals. The camps were based in Plattsburg, New York.

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Postcard of the camp at Plattsburg, Company F, 1916.

From a contemporary account of training in Plattsburg:


Plattsburg. New York

The Pullman delegation to the Plattsburg training camp is now settled down to hard work. This is an ideal location for the purpose-two mountain ranges in sight, plenty of rough country for maneuvers and an army post alongside the camp.

The thirty men sent to camp by the Pullman Company had a special sleeper on the Plattsburg special. Splendid meals were served enroute and everyone enjoyed the trip. Some consternation was caused when Chris. Madsen appeared clad in daintily beribboned pink pajamas, but the porter managed to prevent a panic.

Breakfast in a camp shack was first on the program upon arrival here, followed by enrollment and assignment to companies. Here was where the Pullman Company boys met their first disappointment- the bunch was split up, so that no more than five were assigned to one company. The division was completed when the companies were tented according to height, so that there are Pullman men scattered from one end of the camp to the other.

Men who have attended a previous camp are permitted to elect work in other branches than the infantry. These men are assigned to companies of regulars and live, work and eat with them. Charlie Teach of the Timekeeper's office is with a company of cavalry, H. F. Peterson, Planning Dept. and H. Roe of the Mechanical Engineer's office are with a company of U. S. engineers. All three now look down upon the poor "Dough Boys."

About three thousand "Rookies" are enrolled in the present camp. They are all busy.

Things open up at 5:45 a. m. when the first call sounds and we fall in for reveille. Calisthenic exercises, drill, noon mess, more drill, retreat, supper, lecture, follow so closely upon one another that it is a problem to find time to keep rifles, tents and bunks in order, write home, and get a bit of rest.

The companies are getting whipped into shape so that maneuvering and the more interesting problems of actual field work will be taken up in the near future.

Everyone is looking forward to work on the rifle range, and to the long hike the last six or eight days.

Pullman Car Works Standard, September, 1916, p. 12.