World War One and Atlantic City

In response to this photo and Bat-Signal request for more info, I wanted to post a link to an Atlantic City history column I’d written for Casino Connection a few (nine) years back. Turns out that it’s one of the 10 or so AC history pieces not in the Casino Connection archives.

Looking at the sixty or so articles I wrote for Casino Connection over the years, I think I have the core of a pretty good book. But some articles will need some revision, both for content and style.

So here is the entire article, which has the answer to the original question, “What is this?”…after the jump.

Atlantic City and World War I

David G. Schwartz


The United States joined World War I in April 1917.  After three years of hostilities between the Allies (principally Great Britain, France, and Russia) and the Central powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), the United States entered on the side of the Allies.  Although all fighting took place in Europe,Atlantic City would contribute greatly to the war effort.  Reminders of the impact of “the Great War” on Atlantic City remain to this day.

When the United States joined the war, Congress authorized a draft; by June, nearly 10 million men had registered for the draft. Atlantic City contributed more than its share, as Atlantic County stood seventh in the number of enlistments for New Jersey.  In addition to sending men to join the American Expeditionary Force, which fought in France, residents of Atlantic City organized a home guard to maintain the peace at home.  Notably, Atlantic City’s black community proudly supported the effort, contributing two complete companies.

By 1917, Atlantic City was well established as a convention town, and it hosted the first major meeting of businessmen during the war.  This meeting, held in September of that year, saw the attendees discuss how they could better coordinate domestic business to help the war effort. Herbert Hoover, then Federal Food Administrator but later president, spoke forcefully at the conference about the dangers of socialism, should the businessmen not voluntarily aid the government. Hoover’s “volunteerism” would become a watchword of government/business relations in the Roaring 1920s.

During the war,Atlantic Cityremained a favored destination, though much of the happy-go-lucky mood of the vacation town was obscured by wartime exigencies.  Women—and even men—who summered at the shore no longer lazed around on beaches or in hotels: they knitted to help “the boys over there.”

Though the Central Powers launched no attacks on the New Jersey mainland, submarine and naval warfare was an important part of hostilities.  Germans actually laid mines near Lewes,Delaware, in an attempt to incapacitate the port of Philadelphia.  The specter of naval combat came even closer to Atlantic City in June 1918, when a fleet of fishing boats based in the town was thought to have fallen prey to a German warship.  Fortunately, the ships evaded sinking and returned safely home.

For the rest of the war,Atlantic City continued to pitch in, sending men to fight, conserving materials needed by the military, and hosting a number of national conventions to discuss the war, ranging from brewers to military engineers.  All told, the city admirably assisted the rest of the nation during a time of national crisis, from the initial call to combat until the war-ending armistice silenced the guns on November 11, 1918.

Five years after the armistice, Atlantic City unveiled a monument to those who served during the First World War.  Located at Albany and Ventnor Avenues, it still welcomes those who use the nearby bridge; for years, it watched over Atlantic City High School, which opened in 1923, just as the monument was completed.

Originally, the war memorial was at the center of a traffic circle, bane to many a young or unconfident driver, but in 1988, the city realigned the streets to eliminate the circle.   For the curious, the monument was intended to be a Greek temple (hence the 16 Doric columns along its perimeter); the statute inside is called “Liberty in Distress,” a fitting tribute to the soldiers of a war to make the world safe for democracy.  Around the outside of the “Greek temple,” the names of World War I battles are carved into the marble.  Though memories of the war are fading (how many WWI veterans do you know today?), the monument serves as a constant reminder that, when asked, Atlantic City has always served its country.

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