Our list of 17 gift ideas for every kind of history lovers. This list includes gift ideas for the Revolutionary War fan, gifts for Civil War buffs, presents for supporters of the Suffrage Movement and Women's Rights, gifts for World War II enthusiasts, and Space Age fans.
1. "Eagles over the Pacific" Series
South West Pacific theatre of World War II
According to an entry in Wikipedia:
"The South West Pacific theatre, during World War II, was a major theatre of the war between the Allies and the Axis. It included the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies (except for Sumatra), Borneo, Australia and its mandate Territory of New Guinea (including the Bismarck Archipelago) and the western part of the Solomon Islands. This area was defined by the Allied powers' South West Pacific Area (SWPA) command.
In the South West Pacific theatre, Japanese forces fought primarily against the forces of the United States and Australia. New Zealand, the Netherlands (mainly the Dutch East Indies), the Philippines, United Kingdom, and other Allied nations also contributed forces.
The South Pacific became a major theatre of the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Initially, US war plans called for a counteroffensive across the Central Pacific, but this was disrupted by the loss of battleships at Pearl Harbor. During the First South Pacific Campaign, US forces sought to establish a defensive perimeter against additional Japanese attacks. This was followed by the Second South Pacific Campaign, which began with the Battle of Guadalcanal."
The Eagles over the Pacific book series takes the reader on an unforgettable journey with America's young airmen across the war zones of the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II. Starting from the 345th Bomb Group, the famous Air Apaches, up to the story of the 43rd Bomb Group in 1943. The series has become a classic, the standard by which combat aviation literature is judged. Top aviation historians consider it to be the best book on an air combat units ever produced. Exhaustively researched both from archival sources and through interviews and correspondence with hundreds of unit veterans, Larry Hickey has created in Eagles over the Pacific, a book that reads like an exciting adventure novel, but that is actually the most carefully researched and written history possible.
Get your "Eagles over the Pacific" books
2. "History Nerd" with World War II Paratrooper Crewneck Sweatshirt
About the Operation Overlord
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website:
"Operation Overlord included the largest seaborne invasion in history. Code-named Operation Neptune, nearly 160,000 troops and more than 5,000 vessels crossed the English Channel. They had been preceded by a 1,200-plane airborne assault that dropped more than 23,000 paratroopers and pathfinders over Normandy. Eleven months later, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender, ending the war in Europe that had begun on September 1, 1939.
At dawn on 6 June, nearly 7,000 U.S. and British ships and craft carrying close to 160,000 troops lay off the Normandy beaches, surprising German commanders, who had overestimated the adverse weather’s impact and were also expecting landings to the northeast, in the Pas-de-Calais area. Following assembly, and a 24-hour delay, the invasion fleet had proceeded across the English Channel along five lanes cleared by minesweepers toward the French coast. The waters off of the U.S. (Utah, Omaha) and British-Canadian (Gold, Juno, Sword) landing beaches had been divided into transport off-loading areas, fire-support channels and areas, and lanes for the assault craft. Cruisers and battleships bombarded enemy coastal fortifications and strongpoints, followed by tactical air strikes. In each of the initial attack waves, LCTs (landing craft, tank) carried specially configured amphibious tanks that were to serve as immediate infantry fire support once ashore. Patrol boats served as control vessels off of each beach. Destroyers and other small combatants stood by to provide gunfire support, and loaded landing craft proceeded from their line of departure (“Dixie line”) toward the beaches.
Operation Neptune, the naval component of Overlord—mine sweeping, the massive cross-Channel movement, the amphibious landings, and fire and logistics support—and subsequent hard-fought Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead into German-occupied France set the stage for the liberation of western Europe and final victory in May 1945."
Get your "History Nerd" with WWII Paratrooper Crewneck Sweatshirt and explore our complete collection of World War II-era items
3. When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland's Freedom
The outlandish, untold story of the Irish American revolutionaries who tried to free Ireland by invading Canada
Just over a year after Robert E. Lee relinquished his sword, a band of Union and Confederate veterans dusted off their guns. But these former foes had no intention of reigniting the Civil War. Instead, they fought side by side to undertake one of the most fantastical missions in military history: to seize the British province of Canada and to hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.
By the time that these invasions--known collectively as the Fenian raids--began in 1866, Ireland had been Britain's unwilling colony for seven hundred years. Thousands of Civil War veterans who had fled to the United States rather than perish in the wake of the Great Hunger still considered themselves Irishmen first, Americans second. With the tacit support of the U.S. government and inspired by a previous generation of successful American revolutionaries, the group that carried out a series of five attacks on Canada between 1866 and 1871—the Fenian Brotherhood—established a state in exile, planned prison breaks, weathered infighting, stockpiled weapons, and assassinated enemies. Defiantly, this motley group, including a one-armed war hero, an English spy infiltrating rebel forces, and a radical who staged his own funeral, managed to seize a piece of Canada--if only for three days.
When the Irish Invaded Canada is the untold tale of a band of fiercely patriotic Irish Americans and their chapter in Ireland's centuries-long fight for independence. Inspiring, lively, and often undeniably comic, this is a story of fighting for what's right in the face of impossible odds.
Get a signed and inscribed copy of the book, When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland's Freedom
4. History Nerd with Ben Franklin Caps
On this day in December 4, 1777: News of the Victory at Saratoga reaches Paris
According to the Revolutionary War and Beyond website:
Earlier in 1777, British General John Burgoyne had embarked on a strategy to split the American colonies in two by invading from Canada. The plan worked fine at first, but then, the American resistance began to mount effective resistance in various skirmishes. The American forces began to swell as Indians allied with the British began to attack civilian settlers and the fall of Ticonderoga stirred up American resolve.
General Burgoyne's strategy began to be plagued by desertion from his Indian allies, news that General Howe would take his main force to Philadelphia instead of sending them to Albany; and the loss of 1,000 men at the Battle of Bennington. Meanwhile, the American troops swelled to nearly 15,000 men as militia and Continental troops arrived from all over New England. Burgoyne had only half this number.
Two main battles, which together are generally called the Battles of Saratoga, took place. One at Freeman's Farm on September 19 and the second at Bemis Heights on October 7. Over 1,000 British soldiers were killed or captured in the battles, while the Americans lost only a third of this number. General Burgoyne was forced to draw back to Saratoga where his troops were quickly surrounded. On October 17, he surrendered his army of over 6,000 men.
While Americans celebrated and London scrambled to reassess its strategy, word of the victory arrived in Paris on December 4, 1777. Benjamin Franklin received the news from the Continental Congress and went immediately to the French government. France desperately wanted to enter the war against its archrival, Britain, but believed it should wait until the American colonists first proved they could resist or even defeat the British without outside assistance. The victory at Saratoga gave the world proof that the Americans had the tenacity and resolve to stand up to Great Britain and two days after the word arrived in Paris, King Louis XVI announced his intention to join the war on the side of the Americans.
Get your "History Nerd" with Ben Franklin caps and explore our complete collection of "History Nerd" with Ben Franklin items.
5. "Knox Moving Co."
On December 5, 1775 Henry Knox wrote to George Washington:
“The garrison at Ticonderoga is so weak, the conveyance from the fort to the landing is so difficult, the passage across the lake so precarious, that I am afraid it will be ten days at least before I can get them on this side. When they are here, the conveyance from hence will depend entirely on the sledding; if that is wood, they shall immediately move forward; with out sledding, the roads are so much gullied that it will be impossible to move a step.”
Bookseller turned soldier Henry Knox and his men moved 59 cannon and mortars more than 300 miles in 56 days, arriving outside of Boston on January 25, 1776. The largest canon were mounted on Dorchester Heights and aimed down at the British fleet. On March 17, the British loaded their ships and withdrew to Halifax, Nova Scotia, ending an eleven-month siege.
Henry Knox was 25 years old.
Take a close look at the shirt and you'll see several references to those historic achievements. It's the perfect shirt for someone who loves history.
Each shirt includes a hang tag with an excerpt of another letter Knox wrote Washington, a map showing the route, and a portrait of him later in life.
6. "Declaration of Independence" from the Printing Office of Edes & Gill
The Declaration of Independence
"The Declaration of Independence is the founding document of The United States of America. Written by Thomas Jefferson, (one of the five members of the Committee that Congress had appointed to draft the document. Other members being: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman) between June 11th and June 28th 1776.
Congress voted for Independency on July 2nd and then took up Jefferson’s draft for the next two days. Eighty-six alterations were made to the draft and congress approved the document on July 4th, 1776.
Congress then ordered the committee that drafted the Declaration to oversee the printing of the Declaration. A fair copy was made of the amended draft and hand carried by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to the printing office of John Dunlap in Philadelphia on the afternoon of the 4th. The Declaration was printed that night into the early morning of July 5th. John Hancock, President of Congress began to send out “official copies” on the 5th and 6th of July to all thirteen Colonies, ordering them to print the Declaration in their newspapers and generally distribute the news as they saw fit.
The first printing of the Declaration in Boston
According to The Printing Office of Edes & Gill website:
"The 'official' copy of the Declaration arrived about July 15th in Boston. The patriot printer John Gill set it in type on the 16th and printed on the 17th ready for distribution on the 18th of July. On the 18th, the Declaration was read from the balcony of the Old State House for the first time. Large crowds gathered to hear the address.
Just two editions of the Boston Printing of the Declaration broadside were published by Gill and then it disappeared from history. Only three copies from this John Gill edition have survived. In June 2009 Christie's auctioned a rare Boston imprint of the Declaration.
One original copy was located in the collection of the Bostonian Society by Gary Gregory, founder and Shop Master of the recreated Edes & Gill. Gary then had all 9.000 characters of type meticulously cast in lead to match the original document.
This recreation was first printed by the Printing Office of Edes and Gill on July 3rd 2012, marking the first time since July 1776 that anyone had printed the Boston Broadside of the Declaration of Independence.
This print was printed by hand on the Wooden Common Press using 100% Cotton Linen, Very-Fine Crane paper in the Printing Office of Edes & Gill.
The Printing Office of Edes & Gill is non-profit 50(c)3 corporation funded entirely by donations, gifts, and the sale of materials printed on their historic press. A portion of the proceeds of this sale will go to them."
Get your own copy of the "Declaration of Independence" from the Printing Office of Edes & Gill in Boston
7. "She's a W.O.W."
The history of the Women Ordnance Workers insignia
Acording to the US Army website:
"In 1942, Westinghouse Company's War Production Coordinating Committee created a series of posters to encourage support for the war effort. One of these posters became the 'We Can Do It' poster. This image was based on a United Press International wire service photograph taken of Ann Arbor, Michigan, factory worker Geraldine Hoff who worked as a metal-stamping machine operator. In later years, this image would be associated with the Rosie the Riveter legend, however this image only appeared for a few weeks to Westinghouse employees in the Midwest in 1943. An Ordnance Department Women Ordnance Worker (WOW) bandana is clearly visible on her head. This image has largely replaced the Norman Rockwell's image of Rosie the Riveter. . . .
The "Rosie the Riveter" movement is credited with helping push the number of working women to 20,000,000 during four years of war, a 57 percent jump from 1940. About 300,000 women were employed in War Department activities in November 1943. The WOW bandanna became a well-known symbol of the 85,000 women who worked directly for the Ordnance Department. . . .
From an advertisement in the July-August 1943 issue of Army Ordnance:
"... and she wears the WOW bandanna. Water Repellent. Washable. Dust Proof. The "WOW" Bandanna, designed in accordance with U.S. Army specification, is an attractive, safe, and unifying head covering to identify Women Ordnance Workers. About 27" square, it is available either in Ordnance red with white Ordnance insignia, or in white with red Ordnance insignia. Every woman in your plant will want one--it's a "WOW" for morale! $3.75 per dozen, net F.O.B., New York. Manufactured under authorization from the Army Ordnance Department. We invite your inquiry. BRIAN FABRICS CORPORATION, 1441 BROADWAY, NEW YORK CITY."
Source: US Army
8. "History Nerd" with Civil War Soldier and "History Nerd" with Abraham Lincoln
This day in history on 1863, Lincoln Issues Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction
According to the Civil War Book of Days website:
In his December 8, 1863 annual message to Congress, President Lincoln offered, as historian Harold Holzer explained, “a new policy that looked past the fighting to the eventual restoration of the Union. Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction proposed to re-establish state governments in the rebellious states upon approval of only 10 percent of all voters who had participated in the 1860 election. And it offered to pardon all rebels who took an oath of loyalty to the Union. But Lincoln’s magnanimity went only so far. The proclamation specifically excluded high-ranking Confederate military and naval officers, ‘officers or agents of the so-called confederate government’ (small ‘c’ intentional), and ‘all who have engaged in any way in treating colored persons or white persons . . . unlawfully as prisoners of war.'”
9. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of History" Tote bag
According to Wikipedia:
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and then edited by the Committee of Five, which consisted of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. It was then further edited and adopted by the Committee of the Whole of the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The second paragraph of the first article in the Declaration of Independence contains the phrase "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These powerful words and the concepts behind them helped to establish a platform for democracy in the United States of America and elsewhere in the world.
At The History List, we have adopted these powerful words with a slight edit to embody our passion. Our rallying cry and our credo, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of history."
10. History Camp Gift Certificate
About History Camp
The name “History Camp” is an adaptation of “BarCamp,” which is the name many in the tech industry use for events with this “unconference” format. One of the principles that defines an unconference is that anyone can present. You don’t have to submit papers months in advance. No committee screens submissions. There is no specific theme. The topics that are presented are the ones of interest to the presenters. The sessions that are well-attended are the ones that are of interest to the attendees. It’s an incredibly democratic way to gather and share information.
History Camp started in late 2013, when Lee Wright approached three authors and bloggers in the Boston area and proposed that they adapt the format that he’d seen work at Boston BarCamp to the topic of history. John Bell, Sam Forman, and Liz Covart got things started by posting sessions they would present to a wiki so that others could get an idea of what to expect. Things came together fairly quickly, and on March 8, 2014 they held the first History Camp. It took place in Cambridge at a facility that IBM donated for the day. One hundred twenty-nine people attended 23 sessions and two panels.
This year, History Camp took place in six cities, with more cities in the works for next year.
History Camp brings together adults from all walks of life who have a passion for history. They come to share what they’ve learned and to learn from others. You don’t have to have a particular degree or occupation, or belong to a particular organization. Sessions cover all aspects of history, plus ways to communicate and engage others with history. If you love history, History Camp is for you.
Your gift to them will cover their full registration and more. Because the costs for the different locations vary, they’ll receive a credit at The History List Store for the difference between the $100 value of your gift and the cost of the registration for the History Camp that they choose. They can select one in 2020 or in any future year, at any of our locations. There is no expiration date.
11. "History Nerd" with Apollo 11 Astronaut
According to the NASA website:
"On the morning of July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sit atop another Saturn V at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The three-stage 363-foot rocket will use its 7.5 million pounds of thrust to propel them into space and into history.
At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the engines fire and Apollo 11 clears the tower. About 12 minutes later, the crew is in Earth orbit. Three days later the crew is in lunar orbit. A day after that, Armstrong and Aldrin climb into the lunar module Eagle and begin the descent, while Collins orbits in the command module Columbia.
When it comes time to set Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility, Armstrong improvises, manually piloting the ship past an area littered with boulders. During the final seconds of descent, Eagle's computer is sounding alarms. It turns out to be a simple case of the computer trying to do too many things at once, but as Aldrin will later point out, "unfortunately it came up when we did not want to be trying to solve these particular problems."
When the lunar module lands at 4:17 p.m EDT, only 30 seconds of fuel remain. Armstrong radios "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Mission control erupts in celebration as the tension breaks, and a controller tells the crew "You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we're breathing again."
At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Aldrin joins him shortly, and offers a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: "magnificent desolation." They explore the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs.
They leave behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs. It reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Over the next three and a half years, 10 astronauts will follow in their footsteps. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission leaves the lunar surface with these words: "We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind."
12. Women's Suffrage
According to The National Museum of American History website:
"In January 1917, discouraged by President Wilson’s continued opposition to the suffrage amendment, Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) posted pickets at the White House gates—the first people to ever picket the White House. These 'silent sentinels' stayed on duty in all weather and in the face of threats, taunts, and physical violence. Using their banners and their quiet courage they asked, 'Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait for their Liberty?' and "'Mr. President What Will you do for Woman Suffrage?' Hoping to provoke a response, the language on the banners became more inflammatory.
"They used the president’s own words against him and pointed out the hypocrisy of his leading the country into the First World War to defend freedom while denying it to the women of his own country. Crowds who believed the pickets’ activities were disloyal in a time of war attacked the suffragists and destroyed their banners.
"In July the police began arresting the pickets for 'obstruction of traffic.' When they refused to pay fines they were imprisoned. When they went on hunger strikes to demand the rights of political prisoners they were forcibly fed—a painful and invasive procedure. The pickets continued despite the risk. Paul had endured such treatment while she was in England. Although she knew what lay ahead and that she, as the organizer of the picketing, would receive a harsher sentence, she insisted on taking her place on the picket line. She was arrested in October. While in jail she was forcibly fed and threatened with commitment to an insane asylum. Reports of the long sentences, abuse, and the courage of the suffragists became public and all prisoners were released in November.
"In a December ceremony the imprisoned suffragists were awarded with small silver pins in the shape of prison doors with heart-shaped locks. The 'Jailed for Freedom' pins were designed by Nina Allender.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution enfranchising women was ratified in August 1920."
The ceremony where the pins were awarded
According to the book "Jailed for Freedom" by Doris Stevens:
"The Woman’s Party conference came to a dramatic close during that first week in December , with an enormous mass meeting in the Belasco Theatre in Washington. On that quiet Sunday afternoon, as the President came through his gates for his afternoon drive, a passageway had to be opened for his motor car through the crowd of four thousand people who were blocking Madison Place in an effort to get inside the Belasco Theatre.
'Inside the building was packed to the rafters. The President saw squads of police reserves, who had been for the past six months arresting pickets for him, battling with a crowd that was literally storming the theatre in their eagerness to do honor to those who had been arrested. Inside there was a fever heat of enthusiasm, bursting cheers, and thundering applause which shook the building. America has never before nor since seen such a suffrage meeting.
'Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, chairman, opened the meeting by saying: 'We are here this afternoon to do honor to a hundred gallant women, who have endured the hardship and humiliation of imprisonment because they love liberty.
'The suffrage pickets stood at the White House gates for ten months and dramatized the women’s agitation for political liberty. Self-respecting and patriotic American women will no longer tolerate a government which denies women the right to govern themselves. A flame of rebellion is abroad among women, and the stupidity and brutality of the government in this revolt have only served to increase its heat.
'As President Wilson wrote, "Governments have been very successful in parrying agitation, diverting it, in seeming to yield to it and then cheating it, tiring it out or evading it. But the end, whether it comes soon or late, is quite certain to be the same." While the government has endeavored to parry, tire, divert, and cheat us of our goal, the country has risen in protest against this evasive policy of suppression until to-day the indomitable pickets with their historic legends stand triumphant before the nation.' Mrs. William Kent, who had led the last picket line of forty-one women, was chosen to decorate the prisoners.
'In honoring these women, who were willing to go to jail for liberty,' said Mrs. Kent, 'we are showing our love of country and devotion to democracy.' The long line of prisoners filed past her and amidst constant cheers and applause, received a tiny silver replica of a cell door . . . .
"The amendment passed the House January 10, 1918, by a vote of 274 to 136—a two-thirds majority with one vote to spare-exactly forty years to a day from the time the suffrage amendment was first introduced into Congress, and exactly one year to a day from the time the first picket banner appeared at the gates of the White House."
From: Jailed for Freedom, Doris Stevens (1920)
13. "History Nerd" with Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. He was one the most accomplished American minds, not only of the 18th century, but possibly of all time. He made a major contribution in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War. He was paramount in obtaining support from King Louis XVI of France and was largely responsible for his signing the important military alliance of 1778. A known polymath, Franklin was a printer, a writer known for his wit and wisdom, and the publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanack. He also pursued investigations into electricity, mathematics, mapmaking, invented bifocal glasses, and organized the first successful American lending library.
1787, in his final significant act of public service, he was a delegate to the convention that produced the U.S. Constitution.
14. "Revolutionary Superheroes"
Abigail & John Adams An inseparable couple. We know this because John’s political work separated them for years at a time and they wrote wonderful letters to each other.
George Washington Colonel of the Virginia regiment, generalissimo of the Continental Army, chairman of the Constitutional Convention, President of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin Printer, essayist, bureaucrat, scientist, lobbyist in London. And at the age of 69, he started a new career as an American statesman.
Alexander Hamilton Most famous native of the island of Nevis, first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. Had great powers of perspicuity and persuasion but was not bullet-proof.
Thanks to J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 for his help on this project and his notes about these Revolutionary Superheroes.
15. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of History"
The image is based on a wood carving in the collection of the Newport Historical Society in Newport, Rhode Island, where this carving is on display. The Society attributes the carving to Alexander Swasey (1820-1860), boat builder, and explains that it is made of mixed woods, paint, and gilt. It is used under license.
Read more about the wood carving and see more pictures in our blog post: Patriotic Carving by Alexander Swasey from the collection of the Newport Historical Society
See all products from our "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of History" Collection
16. "1773 Boston Tea Party"
The historic event behind the design
"The Tea Act of 1773 gave the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in America.
On the evening of December 16th, 1773, Bostonians, following the lead of the Sons of Liberty and disguised as Narragansett or Mohawk Indians (sources disagree), boarded three ships and destroyed 342 chests of East India Company tea, which they dumped in the harbor.
The destruction of the tea was the final straw for Parliament and led to the Intolerable Acts of 1774. These closed the port of Boston, instituted a military government, quartered troops among the population, and allowed all British officials charged with a crime to stand trial in Great Britain instead of the Colonies.
Many years later George Hewes, a 31–year–old shoemaker and participant, recalled "We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard. And we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water."
17. "History Nerd" with WWII Soldier
According to the National WWII Museum website:
"America's isolation from war ended on December 7, 1941, when Japan staged a surprise attack on American military installations in the Pacific. The most devastating strike came at Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian naval base where much of the US Pacific Fleet was moored. In a two-hour attack, Japanese warplanes sank or damaged 18 warships and destroyed 164 aircraft. Over 2,400 servicemen and civilians lost their lives.
Though stunned by the events of December 7, Americans were also resolute. On December 8, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war against Japan. The declaration passed with just one dissenting vote. Three days later, Germany and Italy, allied with Japan, declared war on the United States.
The United States faced a mammoth job in December 1941. Ill-equipped and wounded, the nation was at war with three formidable adversaries. It had to prepare to fight on two distant and very different fronts, Europe and the Pacific.
America needed to quickly raise, train, and outfit a vast military force. At the same time, it had to find a way to provide material aid to its hard-pressed allies in Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
Meeting these challenges would require massive government spending, conversion of existing industries to wartime production, construction of huge new factories, changes in consumption, and restrictions on many aspects of American life. Government, industry, and labor would need to cooperate. Contributions from all Americans, young and old, men and women, would be necessary to build up what President Roosevelt called the "Arsenal of Democracy."
The primary task facing America in 1941 was raising and training a credible military force. Concern over the threat of war had spurred President Roosevelt and Congress to approve the nation's first peacetime military draft in September 1940. By December 1941 America's military had grown to nearly 2.2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
America's armed forces consisted largely of "citizen soldiers",men and women drawn from civilian life. They came from every state in the nation and all economic and social strata. Many were volunteers, but the majority,roughly 10 million,entered the military through the draft. Most draftees were assigned to the army. The other services attracted enough volunteers at first, but eventually their ranks also included draftees.
By late 1942 all men aged 18 to 64 were required to register for the draft, though in practice the system concentrated on men under 38. Eventually 36 million men registered. Individuals were selected from this manpower pool for examination by one of over 6,000 local draft boards. These boards, comprised of citizens from individual communities, determined if a man was fit to enter the military. They considered factors like the importance of a man's occupation to the war effort, his health, and his family situation. Many men volunteered rather than wait to be drafted. That way, they could choose their branch of service.
Potential servicemen reported to military induction centers to undergo physical and psychiatric examinations. If a man passed these exams, he was fingerprinted and asked which type of service he preferred, though his assignment would be based on the military's needs. After signing his induction papers, he was issued a serial number. The final step was the administration of the oath. He was now in the military. After a short furlough, he reported to a reception center before being shipped to a training camp. New recruits faced more medical examinations, inoculations, and aptitude tests.
The training camp was the forge in which civilians began to become military men and women. In the training camps new servicemen and women underwent rigorous physical conditioning. They were drilled in the basic elements of military life and trained to work as part of a team. They learned to operate and maintain weapons. They took tests to determine their talents and were taught more specialized skills. Paratroopers, antiaircraft teams, desert troops, and other unique units received additional instruction at special training centers.
World War II on the Homefront
Raising an armed force was just part of America's war effort. That force had to be supplied with the uniforms, guns, tanks, ships, warplanes, and other weapons and equipment needed to fight. With its vast human and material resources, the United States had the potential to supply both itself and its allies. But first the American economy had to be converted to war production.
The war production effort brought immense changes to American life. As millions of men and women entered the service and production boomed, unemployment virtually disappeared. The need for labor opened up new opportunities for women and African Americans and other minorities. Millions of Americans left home to take jobs in war plants that sprang up around the nation. Economic output skyrocketed.
The war effort on the "Home Front" required sacrifices and cooperation. "Don't you know there's a war on?" was a common expression. Rationing became part of everyday life. Americans learned to conserve vital resources. They lived with price controls, dealt with shortages of everything from nylons to housing, and volunteered for jobs ranging from air raid warden to Red Cross worker."
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