The Origins of America’s Unlucky Lottery- The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917:

The Origins of America’s Unlucky Lottery- The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917:

Second Draft—Secretary of War Newton Baker picking the first capsule out of the bowl, June, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 533713)

The draft—the lottery no one wants to win.

On April 6, 1917, the United States formally joined World War I, which had been raging in Europe for three years. While the United States willingly provided economic and material aid to our allies, soldiers were a resource we struggled to supply.

America entered the war with a tiny army by European standards. We had just 100,000 volunteer troops—hardly enough to have any real impact on the fighting in Europe. That changed on May 18, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Selective Service Act to draft soldiers.

The new Selective Service Act compelled all men from ages 21 to 30 to register with the Selective Service System. More than 10 million men were registered with the service within several months of the law’s passage.

World War I Draft Registration Card for Louis Armstrong, 9/12/1918 (National Archives Identifier 596218)

By the war’s end in November 1918, 24 million American men had registered for the draft, and of the 4.8 million American troops who served in World War I, more than half had been conscripted.

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