Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
Among the wonderful sources at the National Archives for the study of World War I are the records of the Council of National Defense (Record Group 62). This Council touched the lives of every American, whether they realized it or not. The records, contained within one thousand boxes, provide a wealth of information about gearing up for war and about the home front during the war, particularly efforts for the mobilization of industries, resources, and the people of the United States for the effective conduct of the war.
The Council of National Defense was established by section 2 of the Army Appropriation Act of August 29, 1916 (39 Stat. 649), to coordinate industries and resources for the national security and welfare. The Council was to investigate and make recommendations regarding the availability, production, and increase of war supplies and transportation. It was the first of the large emergency Government agencies of World War I and became, in turn, the parent organization of most of the other special war agencies. The Council and an Advisory Commission, to be nominated later, were headed by a Chairman, and the administrative duties were exercised by a Director and a secretary.
The Council consisted of six Cabinet members: the Secretaries of Agriculture— David F. Houston, 1916-20, and Edwin T. Meredith, 1920-21; Commerce— William C. Redfield, 1916-19, and Joshua W. Alexander, 1919-21; the Interior— Franklin K. Lane, 1916-20, and John Barton Payne, 1920-21; Labor— William B. Wilson, 1916-21; the Navy— Josephus Daniels, 1916-21; and War— Newton Baker, 1916-21. Secretary of War Baker was Chairman of the Council.
The Council had its first meeting on December 6, 1916. The Council nominated to the President for appointment to an Advisory Commission seven persons, “each of whom shall have special knowledge of some industry, public utility, or the development of some natural resource, or be otherwise specifically qualified.” The Advisory Commission was to advise and assist the Council in the execution of its functions and to create relations that would render possible the immediate concentration and utilization of the resources of the Nation. The seven members of the Advisory Commission, appointed by the President on October 11, 1916, were Bernard Baruch, financier; Howard E. Coffin, vice president of the Hudson Motor Co.; Hollis Godfrey, president of the Drexel Institute; Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor; Franklin H. Martin, secretary-general of the American College of Surgeons; Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.; and Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The Advisory Commission had its first meeting on December 6, 1916, and Godfrey served as Chairman of the Advisory Commission until March 3, 1917, when he was replaced by Willard.
Walter S. Gifford, chief statistician of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., served as temporary Director from December 7, 1916, to March 3, 1917, becoming permanent Director on the latter date. Gifford was succeeded in October 1918 by Grosvenor B. Clarkson, who was followed by Herbert N. Shenton in March 1920 and by Emmons K. Ellsworth who served from November 1920 until June 1921. Baruch served as secretary pro tempore of the Council and the Advisory Commission for the first two meetings on December 6 and 7, 1916, until he was succeeded by D. Dana Bartlett on December 16, 1916, who served as temporary secretary until Clarkson became permanent secretary on March 3, 1917. Upon Clarkson’s appointment as Director, in October 1918, the position of secretary was abolished and the Director assumed its duties. Gifford, Clarkson, and Advisory Commission member Coffin had served together in 1916 as secretary, assistant to the Chairman, and Chairman, respectively, of the U.S. Naval Consulting Board’s Committee on Production, Organization, Manufacturing, and Standardization. This body, which was better known as the Committee on Initial Preparedness, not only served as a model for the Council of National Defense but, on the Committee’s termination during the winter of 1916-17, provided many of its personnel to committees created by the Council and Advisory Commission.
Council of National Defense and Advisory Commission. Seated left to right, Secy. David F. Houston, (Agriculture) Secy. Josephus Daniels (Navy) Secy. Newton d. Baker, (War) Secy. Franklin K. Lane (Interior) Secy. Wm. B. Wilson (Labor), Standing: Grosvenor B. Clarkson, Secy, Julius Rosenwald, Bernard N. Baruch, Daniel Willard, Dr. F.H. Martin, Dr. Hollis Godfrey, Howard E. Coffin and W. S. Gifford, Director. (NAID 26432759)