The initial shots of WWI were fired in eastern Europe in the summer of 1914, but for the first years of the war the United States tried to remain neutral. Then on April 6, 1917, hoping to help “make the world safe for democracy”, the U. S. declared war on Germany. Soon American doughboys, as the soldiers were called, were fighting in Europe on the side of the Allies.
As more soldiers were needed, Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917. Local draft boards were established in each county, as well as for every 30,000 people in larger cities. Over 24 million men were registered for the draft, but only about 18 percent of those either enlisted or were drafted to serve in the military. These registrations serve as somewhat of a census of young to middle-aged men living in America between the census years of 1910 and 1920; those 24 million men represent nearly one-fourth of the total U.S. population at that time.
There were three separate registrations, each asking for slightly different information. For all three, the data was recorded on two-sided cards, which have been kept by the federal government in various agencies. In 1989 they were transferred to the Atlanta branch of the National Archives. The cards are arranged alphabetically by state, and then by county or city, and then alphabetically by surname. Occasionally a name will be somewhat out of place, so it’s a good idea to look both before and after the spot where your name should be, either to find the object of your search or to see who else from the county shared that surname.
The first registration was on June 5, 1917, and registered men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second was on June 5, 1918, and registered men who had turned 21 since June 5, 1917. Two months later, a supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, registering those becoming 21 since June 5, 1918. The third registration was held on September 12, 1918 and registered men 18 through 45. So all men born between 1872 and September 1900 who were not in active military service by June 1917 filled out draft registration cards, whether they were native born, naturalized, or alien.
Most of the questions were asked for all three registrations, but some were specific to either registration 1, 2, or 3. The following categories were for all three registrations, unless noted:
FRONT OF CARD: name of registrant, address, date of birth, age, race, citizenship status, birthplace (1 & 2 only), occupation (1 & 3 only), place of employment, name of employer, dependent relative (1 only), marital status (1 only), father’s birthplace (2 only), name and address of nearest relative (2 & 3 only).
BACK OF CARD (physical description): tall, medium, or short; slender, medium, or stout; color of eyes; color of hair.
The cards are on microfilm, and are available at the National Archives and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. To find the film numbers, go to FamilySearch.org, then to the Family History Library, and then enter the name of the state. The films for Pierce County are listed under “Wisconsin – Military Records – World War, 1914-1918”. Several counties are split between two films. Pierce Co. names A to H are on FHL film no. 1674883. The names from I to Z are on film no. 1674885, along with those from Polk County, A to L. Click on a letter below for surnames starting with that letter.