Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The B&O Railroad Goes to War
Part 1: April - May 1917

On April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and entered the First World War. The prospect of going to war had been very real since the war first broke out in 1914. While the United States had remained "neutral" for nearly three years, the nation was mobilizing - sending material overseas, building ships, and building up the military. This mobilization was extremely beneficial to the B&O Railroad. The total revenue increased with each year that the war went on.

Total Gross Earnings of the B&O Railroad: 
1914 - 1918






No sooner had the Declaration of War been signed by President Woodrow Wilson that American Railroaders began to mobilize for the war effort. The performance of railroads was critical to the success of the United States. In the following weeks the "Railroad War Board" was formed as a collective agency in which the nation's railroads could effectively operate. B&O President Daniel Willard began sending hundreds of telegrams to fellow railroad presidents across the country. On April 11, nearly seventy executives met for the first time as a part of this "War Board" at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C .

"Resolved, That the railroads of the United States, acting through their chief executive officers here and now assembled and stirred by a high sense of their opportunity to be of the greatest service to their country in the present national crisis do hereby pledge themselves, with the government of the United States, with the governments of the several States, and one with another, that during the present war they will coordinate all their operations in a continental railway system, merging during such period all their merely individual and competitive activities end they hereby agree to create an organization which shall have general authority to formulate in detail and from time to time a policy of operation of all or any of the railroads, which policy, when and as announced by such temporary organization, shall be accepted and earnestly made effective by the several managements of the individual railroad companies here represented."
In the first months of the war, no American industry gave more support to the war effort than the Railroads of the United States. Within two weeks of the declaration of war, 635 railroads gave over control to the Railroad War Board, uniting 260,000 miles of rail.

In those early weeks of the war the B&O ran dozens of troop trains. Many of these shuttled new recruits to newly created army camps. Several of these army "cantonments", as they were called, were directly serviced by the B&O Railroad, including the newly created Camp Meade in May 1917, as well as Camp Taylor, and Camp Sherman. Among the thousands of new recruits pouring into these camps in the first weeks of the war were several hundred B&O employees. In some cases, entire offices enlisted or were drafted.
American "Doughboys" stand on either side of the tracks at the railroad station at Camp Meade, circa 1917. In the background appears to be a row of box cars on a separate track. The newly constructed station is little more than a small shed. During World War I, around 400,000 soldiers trained at Camp Meade. The training facility also processed more than 20,000 horses and mules. This cantonment was directly served by the B&O Railroad.
 In addition to the B&O employees who joined the military, workers who remained in their positions at home signed up to have parts of their salary go towards the buying of war bonds. Others maintained "Victory Gardens" at home and along the B&O right-of-way in many instances. This was directly promoted by President Daniel Willard. As became fairly common during the war, the more women took up the jobs that men left behind. In just under four weeks, one hundred women filled positions for the B&O Railroad. At first these were mostly clerical and cleaning positions. Within a few months, however, women were working drill presses, assisted in the blacksmith shop and much more.
These are some of the first B&O women to fill jobs left by men following the Declaration of War. This group worked at the B&O shops in Lorain, Ohio.

On April 2, four days prior to the declaration of war, the workers at the Mount Clare Shops gathered to raise the American Flag. Several speeches were given and a large band played a series of well-known patriotic tunes. This "rally" was the first of many at the Mount Clare Shops in spring-summer 1917.

In the May Employee Magazine issue, the editor called a run from Washington to Chicago "perhaps the most important train movement, in point of public interest, made in the last fifty years over the Baltimore and Ohio was that of the special train carrying the French Mission..." In late April, both the British and the French traveled to the United States with the goal of visiting various historical sites, politicians, and military commanders to raise support for the war effort. The French Mission, traveled up and down the east coast, before heading west, ultimately meeting with General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.

In the first two months of America's entry into World War I, the B&O Railroad performed as a leading railroad under the leadership of President Daniel Willard.

By Harrison Van Waes
B&O Railroad Museum

The B&O Railroad Goes to War is a multi-part blog series commemorating the centennial of American involvement in World War I. Follow along with this series through November 2018.


B&O Railroad Museum Archives.

Baltimore & Ohio Employee Magazine: February - June 1917.

Hungerford, Edward. The Story of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1987.

U.S. Army. "Fort Meade History." Accessed May 27, 2017.

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