War broke out in Europe in 1914. This war was then known as the “Great War,” but not because it was a wonderful war. It was called the Great War because so many nations participated in the war. There were the Allies (England, France, Belgium, Russia, and Italy) and the Axis Powers (Germany, Austria and their dependent nations.) It would soon be known as the World War.
The United States was officially neutral from 1914 to April 1917, but most of its food exports went to the Allies. However, so many citizens of the United States had been born in Germany or were of German descent that there was also much support and concern for Germany.
When the war began, it brought good times to United States farmers. The warring nations (belligerents) needed food, horses, and other supplies. North Dakota farmers could supply wheat and other grains. Ranchers sold horses to the Army. The war forced the price of wheat up to the unheard of price of $2.50 per bushel.
The United States entered the warNorth Dakota’s leaders sent telegrams and letters to the congressional delegation asking them to oppose the war. Senator Asle Gronna noted that hundreds of thousands of messages had been sent to congress in opposition to war. When Congress voted on the war resolution, Senator Gronna was one of only six members of Congress to vote against the war. North Dakota Senator Porter J. McCumber and Representatives Patrick D. Norton and George Young voted for war. Representative Henry T. Helgesen opposed the war, but was not on the floor of the House to vote on that day because he was ill. on April 6, 1917. By then, France had been invaded and devastated by the fighting. English and German troops were stuck in a stalemate, fighting from trenches over small patches of “no man’s land.” Russian soldiers were beginning to walk away from the eastern front. In Russia, revolution would soon break out and Russia would withdraw from the war and sign a separate peace.
When the U.S. entered the war, North Dakota was well into its first two years of the Nonpartisan League (NPL) government. However, even before state government was influenced by the Nonpartisan League, North Dakotans had held isolationist and pacifist views. Many North Dakotans believed that the only Americans who wanted to get into the European war were leaders of corporations and banks. Despite these views, once war was declared, North Dakota contributed soldiers, nurses, and money to the war effort.
On the home front, farmers learned to manage their operations with fewer human hands; they purchased more machinery and found more efficient means of operations. Women managed households to conserve meat, fats, and wheat so that those foods could be sent overseas to “the boys,” and to the relief of French and Belgian families.
During the war, Spanish influenza broke out. It first appeared in Army camps and then spread into communities across the nation. North Dakota families suffered from the flu. So many doctors had entered the Army that there were not enough doctors to help treat the sick. The epidemic affected people world-wide and killed more people than any epidemic in history.
Men and women who served overseas had entirely new experiences. They met people from other parts of the United States. They learned something of the customs of the countries they served in. They enjoyed seeing Paris and London. And they returned home with a new outlook on life in North Dakota.