American Memory  |  The Stars and Stripes, 1918-1919

About the Collection

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"The Owner of the Stars and Stripes." Illustration by Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge. The Stars and Stripes, February 7, 1919, p. 1, col. 3..

The Stars and Stripes was published in France by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) of the United States Army from February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919. General John J. Pershing wanted a newspaper written by servicemen for the soldiers on the battlefront. On the front page of the first issue, Pershing endorsed the newspaper and characterized its purpose and content: "In this initial number of The Stars and Stripes, published by the men of the Overseas Command, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces extends his greetings through the editing staff to the readers from the first line trenches to the base ports. These readers are mainly the men who have been honored by being the first contingent of Americans to fight on European soil for the honor of their country. . . . The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it."

The newspaper's mission was to strengthen the morale of the troops and to promote unity within the American forces, then widely scattered and fulfilling many apparently unrelated functions. The venture was immediately popular with the soldiers, quickly selling out its first issue of one thousand copies. Although designated as the "official newspaper of the AEF," its independent editorial voice earned the confidence and affection of common soldiers.

The Stars and Stripes, published exclusively in France during its seventeen-month run, used a layout typical of American newspapers of the day, with wide columns, "all-cap" headlines, and lots of illustrations. The editorial staff assigned to the newspaper was composed mostly of enlisted men, including several career journalists. Second Lieutenant Guy T. Viskniskki from the Wheeler Newspaper Syndicate, New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott, bibliophile John Winterich, and cartoonist Abian "Wally" Wallgren of the Washington Post were among those who contributed their experience and skill.

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"First papers off the press starting for the men in hospitals. These were distributed by the American Red Cross." Photograph. From Harry L. Katz, A Brief History of The Stars and Stripes, Official Newspaper of the American Expeditionary Forces in France (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Publishing Co., 1921), p. 37.

Beginning with an initial printing of one thousand copies, The Stars and Stripes grew to a high-circulation newspaper, reaching well over half a million readers by its one-year anniversary. The newspaper's content contributed to its success, as did its distribution system. By a feat of ingenuity and perseverance, agents delivered the paper to the majority of the subscribers on the date of publication. Captain Richard H. Waldo, who had worked at the New York Times and Good Housekeeping before his enlistment, devised a system by which soldier distributors, or "field agents," at each Army Post Office coordinated distribution by rail, truck, and automobile (including three Cadillacs). French news dealers also delivered copies of the weekly to field agents and to hospitality centers staffed by the YMCA known as "YMCA huts." In addition, distributors mailed more than two hundred thousand copies to military bases and individual subscribers back home in the United States.

Appearing during a pivotal period in world and American history, The Stars and Stripes is a unique type of newspaper: a military newspaper published by the United States government. Documenting the experience of American soldiers during wartime, The Stars and Stripes represents a remarkable achievement in twentieth-century journalism.

Very few original issues of The Stars and Stripes exist because of the difficulty in acquiring and preserving newspapers during the conflict. However, in 1920, the AEF Publishing Association in Minneapolis produced a bound volume containing facsimile reproductions of each page of the World War I edition. The library of Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio, acquired one copy of this facsimile. A training center for U.S. troops going overseas, Camp Sherman was known as "the soldier factory" of World War I.

The Library of Congress's Serial and Government Publications Division received a commemorative facsimile volume from Camp Sherman. From this 1920 facsimile edition, the Library prepared a microfilm copy. The bound volume originally used to produce the microfilm copy had about eighty torn pages, causing the microfilmed images of those pages to be incomplete. For the online collection, these images were scanned from a second bound facsimile volume, donated to the Library in the 1990s. The Library of Congress's Rare Book and Special Collections Division is custodian of two bound sets of printings of the original World War I edition of The Stars and Stripes, which are in fragile condition and were not used in preparing the digital collection.

American Memory  |  The Stars and Stripes, 1918-1919