by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After maintaining a strict neutrality, including President Woodrow Wilson’s promise to keep it intanct as he ran for reelection in 1916, the United States, subject to attacks by Germany on American ships in the Atlantic, declared war on that nation in April 1917. For a country of our size and economic might, standing military forces were quite small and funding low, so the campaign for a massive mobilization for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), under the command of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, not only took an immense amount of planning and execution logistically, but the raising of an enormous level of money.
A major way to raise funds, as Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo was against incurring debt through printing money, as was done in the Civil War, was, aside from substantial progressive income tax increases generating almost $9 billion, through the Liberty Loan bond program, in which some 20 million Americans subscribed to about $17 billion in bonds during four wartime issues (a fifth was enactd after the end of the conflict), some of them callable after fifteen years and payable by twenty (this would become a problem when the federal government, dealing with the tremendous economic challenges of the Great Depression, defaulted on those payments) and thereby supplied a great deal of the capital needed to pursue the war effort.
One of the locals who invested heavily in the Liberty Loan program was Walter P. Temple, whose oil revenue began to flow from wells dug on his lease to Standard Oil Company of California, now Chevron, at the Montebello field once the first well was brought in to production in late June 1917. As we saw in a previous post on an early 1921 financial statement, Temple possessed nearly $130,000 in these bonds, this being both an investment vehicle and a means to demonstrate ample patriotism.
Patriotism was, naturally, at a peak in May 1918 when a third Liberty Loan drive came to a crescendo after Congress enacted legislation for the issue early the prior month. The first two issues were successful in that they were oversubscribed and the pronouncement the prior year of Secretary McAdoo that “we must be willing to give up something of personal convenience, something of personal comfort, something of our treasure,” resonated with a great many Americans. A huge public relations effort was also effective, including door-to-door solicitation, fliers, print ads, billboards, and the use of film starts like Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Charles Chaplin, who made a propaganda short film, The Bond, for the purpose, to drum up enthusiasm for the Liberty bond.
By this date in 1918, the Los Angeles Times reported that the quota for greater Los Angeles and southern California was about $38.5 million, a little more than two-thirds of that to come from the Angel City, but the subscribed amount was $20 million more with the number of subscribers topping 256,000. To celebrate this achievement, local planners for the Liberty Loan campaign held a two-part event, with bond sales, a concert and a flag-raising held at Central Park, while a parade featuring some 2,000 military personnel was to wend through downtown.
The doings at the park included an afternoon component and an evening segment, with the concert band from Camp Kearny, north of San Diego, and including seventy-five musicians and an eight-piece “jazz” band, giving a concert at 2 p.m. This was folowed by the bond sale overseen by actor Julian Eltinge, whose career began on vaudeville with his very popular female impersonations while he also pursued film work. The flag raising was held at 4 so that those seeing the parade could, if desired, attend the ceremony.
After another concert by the jazz and military bands at 7:30, famed film producer and director, D.W. Griffith (whose Birth of a Nation was both technologically advanced and blatantly racist as it promoted the cause of the South in the Civil War) “and the stars from every motion picture studio” were on hand to sell bonds until midnight. Paramount Pictures had, in March, released a Griffith-made propaganda film, Hearts of the World, starring the sisters Lillian and Dorothy Gish in a love story that played up purported German barbarism and which purportedly included the director filming in actual battlefield trenches in Europe, though he used other footage and then shot scenes in England and in Hollywood.
With respect to the parade, the Times reported that
In a burst of enthusiasm and patriotic rejoicing at the successful completion of the Liberty Loan campaign, Los Angeles turned out en masse yesterday afternoon to view the Flag Day parade.
The parade, headed by a police escort, left from the intersection of Main and 9th streets, just a block south of where, five years later, Walter P. Temple and fellow investors built a pair of office buildings. The Times noted that “for an hour, brass bands, naval and military detachments, floats of flowers and patriotic pictures in life, committees from every war service society of every nation now allied under the cause of democracy, gaily-decked automobiles carrying the representatives of the different nations passed through lines of cheering humanity.”
The parade was in four parts, including the military; local officials such as Mayor Frederick T. Woodman, the police chief and Liberty Loan committee members; two battalions of soldiers from Fort MacArthur at San Pedro led by a fire department band, another ensemble from the submarine base at San Pedro which played for two battalions of sailors from that installation and four battalions of Navy personnel accompanied by a sixty-piece band comprised of their fellows; and then Quartermaster Corps signal men carrying the flags used to communicate at sea between ships along with personnel from the Army and Navy hospitals from Fort MacArthur and San Pedro.
The paper noted “no unit received more applause than the small group of veterans of the Civil War,” then ended more than a half-century previously, and it added, “as they marched carrying the national flag for which they fought in 1861 they were given ovation after ovation from the crowd.” There was also representation from veterans, including a band, of the Spanish-American War, which ended two decades before.
Also marching were cadets from Hollywood and Manual Arts high schools, boys from the Urban and California military academies and the Times observed that this representation showed “that the younger generation is awake to the military needs of the country, and that many of them are now training themselves for future military service.”
There was also a contingent of foreign-born soldiers from Greece, Scotland, and Canada, while “the Chinese section proudly carried a banner stating that 185,000 of their race are now fighting on the side of the allies.” The paper mentioned that “no more brilliant group was there than the Japanese contingent, the autos bearing Consul Oyama and other leading citizens of the land of the rising sun being decorated as only the skilled hands of the Japanese could do.”
Floats were also representative of the allies fighting against “Prussianism,” including those denoting the French and the British, along with those of the Red Cross, Greeks fighting in the AEF, Poles, and Italians also marched with floats. Given President Biden’s recent public recognition of the genocide committed by Turkey against Armenians at that time, it is striking to see mention of the fact that “Armenia presented a striking picture of the ruthless slaughter of its people by the Turks. Japanese and Chinese men marched with themed floats, as well, and the latter had a banner reading, “We Are Ready When Needed.”
Finally, there were floats for the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Needlework Guild of America, women’s organizations of various kinds, “the foreign colonies,” and components of the Council of Labor. The last segment of marchers comprised members of organizations “all of whom have taken an active part in the great campaign for the third Liberty Loan.” A short article noted there were three reported injuries connected to parade watchers. One man had a small piece of steel from something in the procession strike his eye, another was run over on his left leg by a motorcycle officer, and the most serious was Augusta Guthrie, who worked in a building at Broadway and 6th and who was watching the event from the roof when she was pushed backward and crashed through a skylight, causing a concussion and other injuries.
The Los Angeles Express was not as exuberant in its coverage, though it did report that
Jubilant, patriotic, cheering thousands lined the principal down-town streets today as marchers threaded these thoroughfares to the accompaniment of martial strains and the fluttering of Old Glory and the emblems of the nations associated with the United States in the war against Germany.
Heading the procession were the honor flags, carried by Governor William D. Stephens and loan drive officials, and which were later raised at Central Park, while the paper stated that bonds continued to be sold during the parade. Flags and other patriotic decorations were in abundance on the structures lining the route and the paper reiterated the various groups, including military personnel, who marched. What it added that the Times did not mention was that “the motion picture studios turned out in strength, several companies being represented by cowboy and Indian bands,” though why that theme was employed seems strange–unless the allies were the former and the Germans the latter!
A recent post here covered the late April 1916 benefit concert, sponsored by a German-language paper in the Angel City, and performed by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra and soloists who had a connection with Germany, with the proceeds going to the German Red Cross. Two years later, with America at war against that country, the attitude was completely different and the Express of 4 May had several short articles of note.
A couple were wire service reports from the Associated Press about an Oakland man, whose father owned a large iron works and who pled guilty in federal court for attempting to cause disloyalty and insubordination to America’s military by publicly stating that “the whole world will be compelled to bow before the rule of the Kaiser,” and a San Jose man who turned himself in to the police for his own protection after a threatening note was slipped under his door from a group called the Knights of Liberty. It was added that the man was holder of a Liberty bond.
Another article discussed the reported coordination by Mayor Woodman and the City Council, headed by Bert L. Farmer, “to cooperate with the Federal Government in suppressing sedition in Los Angeles.” The pair stated that, if they were asked by the federal district attorney, they would quickly seek the enactment of an ordinance “to deal drastically with disloyalty.” This was after the latter official said he would do so, citing a Texas act, which made disloyalty a misdemeanor calling for “the heaviest penalty legally possible.” The paper noted that existing laws relating to disturbing the peace and vagrancy were not enough to combat those who were seditious.
That same day, it was reported that the United States Senate was reviewing a conference report on a sedition bill to punish disloyal behavior and statements, though it was noted that Senator Hiram Johnson of California was opposed, decrying that the bill “strikes a blow at democracy, free speech and the press,” while encouraging hypocrisy. For example, the senator pointed to a punishment of 20 years for those “questioning causes of death at aviation training camps” as Johnson read from a news article claiming an Army pilot was killed because his plane was not properly inspected.
Two weeks later, as an amendment to a 1917 espionage act, the sedition bill was passed and among the main targets for enforcement were those who were opposed to America’s entry in the war and pacifists, anarchists and socialists were particularly in the sights of federal authorities. Some 2,000 cases were prosecuted with about half yielding convictions and the punishment could be as much as twenty years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine. While there were first amendment challenges to the law, the Supreme Court upheld many convictions.
The law was repealed in 1920, though much of the espionage act remained on the books, and it is important to note that the Red Scare which followed the war was part of the conservative movement to fight purported threats from those perceived as anti-American and anti-democratic. The move to the right continued to manifest through the ensuing decade as conservative Republican dominated the political landscape nationally and locally.
The featured objects from the museum’s holdings for this post are three snapshots taken of Red Cross, Army and Navy personnel marching in formation. Remarkably, these images were taken across Broadway from where Augusta Guthrie suffered her terrible injuries and the photo showing the Army soldiers as they marched down Broadway shows the first two floors of that structure where she fell.
Note, in that photo, that there is a sign for the close out of the local branch of the Sing Fat Company, a San Francisco-based Chinese store in that building at 615 S. Broadway. This is now the site of the Los Angeles Theatre, while the photo may well have been taken from the Orpheum Theatre, which then became the Palace Theatre.
These trio of images are excellent documents of an important series of events taking place during the First World War and we shouldn’t conclude this post without observing that Central Park, where the bond sales and honor flag raising took place that day, was, soon after war’s end, renamed Pershing Square in honor of the AEF’s commander and national hero.