Sam’s References Explained

BullDurham1. From Letter 7/12/1916: “Tell Burt I will be able to roll B.D. with one hand pretty soon, for it seems to be the standard in this part of the country.”

B.D. refers to Bull Durham tobacco. Sam Avery was the product of an upright Protestant family. In later years, when Sam would be chided for his continued smoking habit he would good-naturedly reply, “If you saw what I’ve seen, you would smoke, too.”


2. From Letter 7/15/1916: “I just received your post cards, and tell Bert I will have to wait until I get home before I buy that gulp, for this is no place to take a chance. Not for me anyway. Its here, but I want to be able to say ‘Here I come’ instead of ‘I can’t come back.'”

Buying that gulp refers to a large, refreshing quantity of beer. Sam had a zest for living and clearly enjoyed the night life including dancing, drinking and the company of women. However, he also showed great self-discipline and common sense out of respect for his position as a Sergeant and a professional sense of dignity as an Army volunteer.  He indicates that he would rather do without the temporary pleasure rather than run the risk of being detained on the Border under military discipline.


3. From Letter 7/18/1916: “And the ball games. I put the fellows that play this game down in a climate like this, in the same class as those that run in the Marathon every year, nuts.”

The Marathon refers to the Boston Marathon. Inspired by the first modern-day marathon at the 1896 Summer Olympics, the Boston Marathon started in 1897 and has been run annually every Patriot’s Day (the 3rd Monday of April) over a course of 26 miles from the suburbs of Boston into the heart of the city. Originally it was a local event for which the prize awarded was an olive wreath. Today the Boston Marathon continues under corporate sponsorship and management by the Boston Athletic Association as the world’s oldest annual marathon which draws participants from all over the globe.


4. From Letters 7/22/1916: “The companies are gathered together into its respective battalions and are drilled in close and extended order until half past eleven.”

Sam Avery kept a pocket diary from 1916-1918 in which he made the following Sergeant’s notes on the subject of Battalion formations; Battalion distance of companies in line 5 paces.  In close column 8 paces. In extended column 5 paces plus the interval of a company. In companies in line of column of squads 5 paces plus the interval of one company. In the battalion in column of squads 4 paces. In close line column of squads 7 paces. The major is always 20 paces ahead of the leading guide in column or in line. The color is always between the second and third companies in column and in line except when the companies get in close column, then the color is on the left of the second or centre company. The battalion as a unit never executes the loadings and firings only in salutary volleys. A battalion is the largest unit that executes a movement at the command of execution of its commander. Total # of men 260.

“Well the country was for (Preparedness) and we are practically paying for it by serving our young lives down here. But say it is going to make a grand lot of men out of us, and some of us will be glad it happened, when it is all over.”

Preparedness refers to the Preparedness Movement, a domestic campaign for national readiness championed by Gen. Leonard Wood, former President Theodore Roosevelt and other prominent social, industrial and establishment leaders that advocated U.S. military and economic mobilization for war after the start of the Great War in Europe.

Initially American public opinion was one of isolation and neutrality regarding the hostilities in Europe. With the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915 which took the lives of 1,200 civilians, American public opinion began to change. The Preparedness Movement aggressively promoted the view that America needed to build up strong military forces and the industrial sector for purposes of national defense and the increasing likelihood of eventual involvement in the international conflict.

The Preparedness Movement advocated augmenting the size of the U.S. military through Universal Military Service (UMT), a national service program designed to require a mandatory 6 months of military training and subsequent assignment to military reserve status for all male citizens turning 18 years old. While this specific policy was not enacted, the Preparedness Movement helped set the stage for Congress to pass the National Defense Act on June 3, 1916 which authorized an enormous increase in the size of the U.S. military including doubling the size of the Regular Army and quadrupling the size of the National Guard.


5. From Letter 7/23/1916: “…they have just finished the Y.M.C.A. building and from now on, as long as we are stationed here I advize you not to send any more stationary, news papers or stamps, for we got paid yesterday and Ive got enough money for these things anyway.”

The Y.M.C.A. refers to the Young Men’s Christian Association; a non-profit,  community organization established before the Civil War and which continues a unique tradition of volunteer service supporting the morale and well-being of uniformed members of the military and their families.

Following the Civil War the Y.M.C.A. delivered social services to the military in state militia camps. During the Spanish-American War the “Y” further extended its services with the troops overseas, providing office supplies and medicine. During the Great War the Y.M.C.A.  mobilized 13,000 workers who served troop trains, coordinated entertainment, operated 1500 canteens and exchanges, and provided humanitarian services for prisoners of war.


6. From Letter 7/27/1916: “A fire is built on which we cook our bacon potatoes, warm our beans and corned willie, and make coffee.”

Corned willie refers to corned beef hash. To prepare in authentic fashion, take corned beef and fry up in bacon grease in a meatcan. If you have onions add at the same time. Brown, then add can of tomatoes and bring to simmer. If you have a can of kernel corn, add that as well. Cook as long as you wish then eat. (Courtesy of the Great War Association).


7. From Letter 7/28/1916: “Before leaving Camp Cotton we were issued rations enough for two meals and they have got to do us for three. It consists of one can of beans a can of corned willie, also four hard tack per man for three meals.”

Hard Tack refers to hard biscuits. Made from flour, water and salt and baked hard, hard tack keeps for years if it is kept dry and was commonly used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods. It was a staple of the sailor’s and soldier’s diet from the 18th Century onwards into the early 20th Century. In its dried state hard tack was impossible to eat. To soften it, it was often dunked in coffee or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal.


8. From Postcard 8/5/1916: “I see that the Red Sox are in first place. I am going to be there for the Big Series.”

The Big Series refers to the 1916 World Series. The Red Sox did indeed win the American League pennant in 1916 and also went on to win the World Series Oct 7-12, 1916 beating the Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) four games to one thanks in part to the dominant pitching of Babe Ruth. A Red Sox fan like any true Boston native, Sam Avery hoped to see the 1916 World Series in person but would miss it while still South on the Border. When The Babe led the Red Sox to another World Series victory in 1918, Sam would miss it again while fighting in France.

Following the 1918 season Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees, which began the “Curse of the Bambino” era for Red Sox fans which lasted until 2004. Sam Avery would never have another chance to see the Red Sox win a World Series, but the tragedy of The Curse is another story…


9. From Letter 8/19/1916: “Just as soon as I seem to get used to this life, some one sings a song plays a tune, and then it is all off. I am back home in the front room near the graphophone or piano.” 

The graphophone or “talking machine” refers to an early version of the phonograph. First patented in the 1880’s, the graphophone both recorded and played back sounds including voices and music using either disks or cylinders of cardboard coated with wax. The machine had two diaphragms fitted with steel needles, one used in making the record and the other in reproducing the sound. No skill was required to operate the machine, the consistent rotation of the cylinder or disk being performed by a crank, treadle or automatic motion. This device was revolutionary in its implications including for home entertainment by enabling the first truly faithful and unlimited reproduction of the human voice in speech and song.


10. From Postcard 9/1/1916: “They say now that we will be on the move by the 15th in complience with the Old Dix law.”

The Old Dix Law refers to the Militia Act of 1903, also known as the “Dick Act.” Named for its author Senator/Maj. Gen. Charles Dick who was also commander of the Ohio National Guard, the Dick Act reorganized the old State Militia system under a new federal National Guard Bureau and established common military training standards for both Regular Army and National Guard troops.

The Act was further amended in 1908 and mandated a broad reform which gave the National Guard federal status, required N.G. units to attend 24 drills and 5 days of annual paid training per year and subjected N.G. units to inspections by the Regular Army. In accordance with Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the United States Constitution, it further provided for the calling-up of N.G. units to serve under Federal authority and pay either within or without the territory of the United States when they were needed to “execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” At the same time, such deployments were originally to be for a period not exceeding nine months. It appears to be the nine month time limit that Sam Avery is referring to in this passage.  (Thanks to John J. Hayden, Norwich University ’85).


11. From Letter 9/20/1916: “I will say that the dish towel and union suit is pretty near in threads, but I hope I can give Lena back her dish towel a little the worse from scrubbing but never the less a (dish towel). There have been times that I wished I took my safty, but (Safty First) you know.”

A union suit refers to a one-piece long underwear garment originally patented in 1868. Equipped with long arms and long legs, union suits typically buttoned up the front from the groin to the neck and also sometimes featured a button-up flap in the seat for added convenience in the latrine. A warm and practical garment still favored today by some cold weather outdoorsmen, the union suit was also redesigned as a 2-piece ensemble in the mid 20th Century now commonly known as “long johns.”

Safty refers to a safety razor as opposed to a straight razor. The safety razor with disposable blades was successfully marketed by Gillette in 1909. This device was designed with a thin double-edged disposable blade covered by a housing which protected the skin against the deep cuts which were all to easy with careless use of a straight razor. The invention of the safety razor revolutionized the personal grooming products industry by enabling a majority of people to safely shave themselves rather than rely on the services of a professional barber.

During World War I, Gillette safety razors were issued as standard equipment to all members of the U.S. Armed Forces deployed to Europe, thus converting an entire generation of American men to the use of the safety razor. Based on this passage Sam apparently had taken his straight razor for his stay on the Border but wished he had brought his safety razor instead.


12. From Letter 9/22/1916: “One of the boys just came in and said that he saw a Boston Post on the front page in large print which said that the Ninth and Fifth had got orders to leave and that the boys threw their hats in the air…”

Founded in 1831, the Boston Post was the most popular daily newspaper in New England for more than a century. In its heyday during the 1930’s, the Post was one of the largest newspapers in the United States with a circulation of more than one million readers. Ultimately it folded in 1956 due to competition from the Hearst papers in Boston and New York along with the increased popularity of radio and television news.

“…I was trotting around to the different post with a loaded gat on my right hip…”

“Gat” is a slang term for handgun (specifically a revolver). Derived from the Gatling Gun which operated with a revolving action and was the mid-19th Century predecessor to the machine gun.


13. From Letter 9/25/1916: “As ‘Teddy The Big Stick’ would say ‘Im Feeling Bully’ and say folks I am.”

“Teddy The Big Stick” refers to Theodore Roosevelt (also known as “T.R.”) who was the 26th President of the United States. “Feeling Bully”  refers to one of T.R.’s popular phrases. One of the Great Presidents in American history, T.R. was a leader of the Republican Party and the Progressive Movement. He was also a champion of the Preparedness Movement in the United States after the start of the Great War in Europe.  Teddy Roosevelt was known as “The Big Stick” based on his philosophy of international diplomacy; speak softly in negotiations and carry a big stick in the form of military power and resolve.

It is impossible to overstate the impact of T.R. on the American experience in the 20th Century whether speaking of politics, economics, military affairs, or America’s place in the world. With all his achievements, T.R. was perhaps most famous for his larger-than-life personality and embodiment of masculinity combined with an expansive intellect: In addition to being a statesman and reformer, T.R. was a historian, naturalist, explorer, prolific author and soldier. “Bully!” was one of T.R.’s favorite phrases, used to convey the meaning of “good” or “well done” with enthusiastic approval in similar fashion to the colloquial use of the terms “awesome”  or “terrific” today.


14. From Letter 9/29/1916: “I got up, jumped in to my shoes, and bolted for the street at a ten second clip. Up and down the street I tore and when I got back into my tent again I was feeling like Roughans on a Saturday night.”

Roughans refers to the old Oceanfront Ballroom in Revere Beach, which was originally known as Condits Ballroom or Roughans Ballroom. Built in 1904 by owners Condit and Roughan of Charlestown where Sam lived, the establishment was first known by the names of its owners. Later it was renamed the Spanish Gables based on its appearance. Reopened under the name Oceanfront Ballroom after World War II, it was destroyed by fire in December, 1959.

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Revere Beach was a popular summertime entertainment destination for New Englanders known as the “Coney Island of the East.” In addition to the beach itself, the Boulevard featured numerous attractions, amusements, movie theaters and dance halls. Often families would vacation in the area and stay at the many seasonal cottages and hotel accomodations.


15. From Letter 10/2/1916: “For our dinner (which we are carrying) we have a can of beans one package of H.J. to go for four men.”

H.J. refers to prepackaged beans and tomato sauce made by the H.J. Heinz company. Originally founded in 1869, the Heinz company began as a purveyor of processed condiments. In 1892 the famous slogan “57 Varieties” was introduced although the company was actually producing more than 60 different products. Canned beans, tomato sauce and ketchup are still staples of the Heinz product line today.


16. From Letter 9/8/1917: “The lieutenant that has charge of the section Im in is a Plattsburger, and his name is Frothingham. I guess Burt will remember when he played for Harvard.”

Plattsburger refers to an officer commissioned after attending the National Army’s Officer Candidate School in Plattsburg, New York in 1917. The Officer Candidate Schools ran from May 1917 through November 1918 at locations across the nation. Officer candidates, after careful screening, were given three months of intensive training. By June of 1918, more than 57,000 graduates had been commissioned and enrolled in the new National Army which was composed of draftees. Sometimes sarcastically labeled as “90-day wonders,” graduates of this officer training program actually provided the U.S. Army with a generation of combat leaders having superior quality, many of whom also served at senior command levels during World War II.

17. From Letter 11/9/1917: “One of the fellows bought a cake of washing soap the other day, and paid 1 franc 40 centimes for a cake as big as a cake of life bouy.”

Life Buoy refers to a brand of soap containing phenol marketed by Lever Brothers. Originally available in 1895 and popular for more than a century, Life Buoy brand soap is still widely available in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. The term “B.O.”, short for “body odor,” was popularized by a Life Buoy advertising campaign.


18. From Letter 11/22/1917: “The Sammies really are in the trenches Em and soon (to soon Im afraid) you folks will see some of these poor chaps back in the States badly bent after doing their bit…”

Sammies is short for “Uncle Sam’s boys,” an early nickname for the Volunteer troops (both Regular Army and National Guard) of the American Expeditionary Forces who were first in the fight. The term pre-dated the popular use of “doughboys” which was a later moniker that also included the drafted National Army troops.


19. From Letter 11/26/1917: “I’m knowing that that there’s more contained in this package than the actual contents but pen us a few lines will you if for nothing else than pass-time, and Im appreciating it more than a Morgan Memorial Christmas Tree to a nine year old Samuel Avery of 70 Shawmut Ave Boston Massachusetts…”

Morgan Memorial refers to the Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, a Boston-area thrift and employment assistance organization established in 1895 by Rev. Edgar J. Helms. Rev. Helms had the idea of collecting unwanted household goods and providing employment to the disadvantaged and disabled who refurbished the items for resale. This provided consumers of limited economic means with a reliable source of quality off-price home goods, and the revenue generated by the sales paid the employee’s wages. In a period of war-time inflation and economic hardship, Goodwill remains the place where people often shop for Christmas gifts as well as their own needs. Today, Goodwill is one of the largest employers of the disabled in New England with a global network of over 200 affiliates.


20. From Letter 12/4/1917: “Hows Roughan’s, Winter Hill, Castle Sq., Liggett’s, Madge’s and Life in general.”

Liggett’s refers to Liggett’s Drug Store which was a popular pharmacy chain in the early 20th Century. TIME Magazine of 12/7/1925 ran an article stating that at the time there were 300 U.S. stores, 40 in Canada and 700 more in England dba Boots Pure Drug Co., Ltd. Like all pharmacies of the time, Liggett’s also featured a soda fountain where customers could enjoy ice cream sodas as part of their social and shopping experience. Sam’s sister Em worked in this establishment, thus making sense of his references to her working overtime during the pre-Christmas shopping season.


21. From Letter 12/5/1917: “In this kitchen that we make our office and home there is a stone sink… we had a freeze up this morning. We had paper burning, axes flying hot water, and pokers. After a while it started to run. But, on the floor. Nuf ced.”

“Nuf Ced” was a common phrase of Boston baseball fans during the early 20th Century to indicate the definitive end of a discussion. The phrase was orignially coined by Michael T. McGreevey who operated the Third Base Saloon from 1884-1920 outside the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds (Fenway Park did not open until 1912). The Third Base Saloon was America’s first sports pub and baseball museum (The Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, NY did not open until 1939), and was the home of the Boston Royal Rooters fan club. McGreevey was a master of baseball knowledge and would umpire spirited debates and discussions about baseball while tending bar, shouting “Nuf Ced!” and thumping the bar with the authority of a judge to settle the patrons down.

The Boston Royal Rooters were led by McGreevey both at home and on the road. They supported the Boston Americans in the 1890s and continued with the Boston Red Sox during the Cy Young era in the early 1900s. Their heyday coincided with the run of Red Sox World Series victories beginning with the first World Series vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903. In this regard they were the ancestors of Red Sox Nation today. The song “Tessie” revitalized by the Dropkick Murphys during the 2004 World Series originated with the Royal Rooters. The Third Base Saloon was closed in 1920 with the beginning of Prohibition. In 2008 it was officially reopened at 911 Boylston Street in Boston and contains a replica of the original bar along with Boston Red Sox and Royal Rooters memorabilia. Today the Third Base Saloon remains the beating heart of Red Sox Nation and is once again often the last stop before home. Nuf Ced. (Image from the McGreevey Collection at Boston Public Library).


22. From Letter 12/21/1917: “Im going to tell you that youve got quite a scheme, addressing your letters with bleueing.”

Blueing refers to laundry bluing which in the early 1900’s was widely used to whiten fabrics and was found in virtually all laundries. Made of iron powder, bluing works as an optical whitener by staining fabrics with a light blue tinge that makes them appear brilliantly white to the eye. Before automatic washing machines, the process for bluing fabric involved dipping the newly-washed laundry in a separate “bluing kettle” before hanging to dry. One popular U.S. brand first established in 1883 was Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing which came in liquid form and therefore could also be used as a type of color-fast ink resistant to running and smearing in water. Em’s “scheme” was to address her letters to Sam with bluing so that rain, sleet or snow would not obscure his address and delay delivery. Although bluing has been largely replaced by laundry bleach and other whiteners in modern use, it is still available today.

“So the Ayer boys are going South. Well Em give them all the luck and sympathy you can, for their never getting any from the Sammies.”

Ayer Boys refers to National Army draftees of the 76th Division which was formed and trained at the Camp Devens cantonment in Ayer, Mass. The first National Army division to be activated in August 1917, the 76th Division did not complete its deployment to France until early August 1918, although a number of its men were reassigned to the 26th Division during the time of its original formation at Westfield, Mass. The 301st Infantry Regiment which was part of this division was also called “Boston’s Own Regiment” due to its composition of men from the metropolitan Boston area including Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett and Winthrop: At Camp Devens the doors to the barracks occupied by men of the 301st sported placards with the names of famous Boston hotels.

As Sam clearly indicates in his writings, both the Regular Army and National Guard troops of the AEF were experienced Volunteers highly suspicious of the fundamental patriotism and soldierly abilities of the “Draft men” forced into performing their duty as part of the National Army. As for “Boston’s Own,” Sam would point out in a later letter that while they were still dancing at home, he was busy dancing to avoid incoming German fire in the trenches.

“Lena is Hoverizing on food stuffs, and I guess Im doing some of this econimy stuff with this paper.”

Hooverizing refers to an American program of voluntary rationing devised and promoted by Herbert Hoover who managed the U.S. Food Administration during the Great War. Appointed to the post by President Woodrow Wilson after the United States entered the war in 1917, Hoover was charged with managing domestic agriculture and conservation efforts in order to both feed the troops of the American Expeditionary Forces and also assist Allied forces and civilians in war-ravaged Europe. Hoover’s plan was to encourage Americans to voluntarily cooperate in changing their eating habits in order to conserve food, eliminate waste and leave more food to be shipped abroad.

The national public relations campaign to conserve food was based on the slogan “Food Will Win the War,” and included various recommendations such as the observation of  “Meatless” Mondays and “Wheatless” Wednesdays, substituting plentiful for scarce ingredients and learning about nutrition. The “Doctrine of the Clean Plate” was promoted to encourage both children and adults to reduce waste, and the National War Garden Commission encouraged citizens to grow war gardens and preserve by canning and drying all perishable fruits and vegetables they could not use while fresh. Hoover’s program successfully reduced the domestic consumption of food by 15% in the United States without forced government rationing, while also creating guaranteed markets for surplus that ensured farmers received a “fair price” for their products. As a result, U.S. overseas food shipments tripled, which helped prevent a post-war famine in Europe.

“You spoke of a service flag outside the shop on which was nine stars. It is the first I heard about this flag, and I could name every one they represent.”

Service Flag refers to the Blue Star Service Banner, also originally known as the “Sons in the Service” banner. Originally designed and patented in 1917 by Capt. Robert Queisser of the 5th Ohio Infantry, these flags (and their corresponding Service Pins designed for individual wear) were first used during World War I to honor family members serving in harm’s way. One blue star is displayed for each loved one on active duty, and a gold star represents a service-related death.

The use of the Blue Star Banner and Service Pin was standardized by the end of World War II. While they were popular during the two World Wars, they were not widely used during the military “police actions” of Korea and Vietnam.  Since 9/11/01, the service flags have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with widespread overseas deployment of the National Guard and military reservists to forward combat zones in the Global War on Terror.


23. From Letter 12/22/1917: “Its work Em hard work from the time you get up in the morning until you hit the cootie nest at night, and then its work to sleep.”

Cooties are body lice, the bane of the common soldier during the Great War and no respecter of rank. Infestations were the result of going prolonged periods without bathing, wearing filthy clothing for days and weeks at a time and dwelling in unsanitary conditions. All soldiers who occupied the trenches or common billets suffered from them.  Lice hunts were a common activity which soldiers frequently engaged in and made into a form of recreation. Where possible the AEF arranged in rear areas for the men to have baths in vats of hot water while their clothes were sanitized in steam delousing machines. Unfortunately this was only a temporary respite since a large proportion of the eggs remained embedded in the seams of clothes and within 2-3 hours a man’s body heat would hatch them out again. Furthermore, the straw mats the men slept on in billets were teeming with the parasitic bugs, and anyone returning from the baths would quickly be invaded again while attempting to sleep.


24. From Letter 12/26/1917: “Bingville Band or the Maine Hayshakers is a very fitting name, but at that there isn’t a better band organized than this same 103rd Inf.”

Bingville refers to the “Bingville Bugle,” a syndicated humor feature which ran in major newspapers during the early 1900s. Formatted as a full-page comic in Sunday editions including the Boston Sunday Post, the “Bugle” was written by humorist Newton Newkirk as a parody of a hillbilly newsletter including gossipy tidbits, minstrel quips, creative spellings and mock advertisements. The leading protagonist of the “Bugle” was a character named Bingo who was distinguished by protruding ears similar to Sam’s. This makes the comedy of Sam’s reference even more hilarious by combining the backwoods character of the 103rd’s musicians with Sam’s jutting ears as he leads the nightly march ’round the Ville…

“Also got a package of tobacco from Bill, (my side kick at the shop,) a letter from a sister of one of the boys at the shop (stating that she was sending a package,) and a letter from a party in S.B.”

S.B. is an abbreviation for South Boston.


25. From Letter 2/19/1918: “The thrill of this, and the big Jack Johnson have all worn off now.”

“Jack Johnson” was the Allied nickname for a large artillery shell because the power and large amount of dark smoke given off by the explosions were reminiscent of black Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Arthur John Johnson (1878-1946) was known as “Jack” Johnson and the “Galveston Giant.” This American boxer was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World (1908-1915). Here Sam indicates that the novelty of heavy artillery has quickly worn off for him, especially when friends are killed on the receiving end.


26. From Letter 3/1/1918: “Im sending a copy of the “Stars & Stripes” in which you will get all the news as straight as any A.E.F. could hand it to you.”

“Stars & Stripes” refers to the AEF newspaper published by order of Gen. John J. Pershing for the troops in France from Feb. 8, 1918 to June 13, 1919. The mission of this 8-page weekly newspaper was to support morale by providing American troops with a sense of unity and understanding of their part in the overall war effort. This was especially important because in many cases American forces had been widely dispersed and mixed at the unit level with British, French and Italian forces.

The publication featured news both from home and across the theatres of operation, sports, poetry and cartoons including a large amount of content contributed by the troops themselves. The staff included renowned journalists Alexander Woollcott, Harold Ross and Grantland Rice. The paper was printed in Paris on borrowed presses and widely distributed across the front using a network of trains, autos, trucks and motorcycles. During its peak circulation the Stars & Stripes had a circulation of more than 525,000 readers.


27. From Letter 3/3/1918: “I never thought that Ingersol would remind you of me but I can say that this watch reminds me of you, Lena and Bert every time Im asked what time it is or when I use it for my own information.”

Ingersol refers to a watch sold by the Ingersoll Watch Company which grew out of a mail-order business started in New York City in 1882. Started by Robert and Charles Ingersoll, the company introduced watches to the catalog in 1892 which were originally supplied by the Waterbury Clock Company of Connecticut.  In 1896, Ingersoll introduced the affordable “Yankee” watch which was mass produced from stamped parts and priced at just $1.00. By 1899 more than 8,000 per day of these “dollar watches” were produced to keep up with popular demand. Over the next 20 years nearly 40 million of these watches were sold, and Ingersoll coined the catchphrase “The watch that made the dollar famous!” Ingersoll expanded by acquiring the Trenton Watch Company in 1908 and the New England Watch Company in 1914. By 1916 Ingersoll produced 10 different watch models and continued to thrive until it went bankrupt in 1921 during the recession that followed World War I. Em apparently used an Ingersoll watch while in a later letter Sam indicates that his own pocket watch was a Waltham model made by the Waltham Watch Company in Massachusetts.


28. From Letter 4/22/1918: “That day light saving idea is an old one in France and our time changed Easter, also.”

Daylight Savings Time (or Summer Time in British usage) is the convention of advancing clocks so that afternoons have more daylight and mornings have less between April and October. Typically clocks are adjusted forward one hour in the Spring and are adjusted backward one hour in the Fall. An early goal of Daylight Savings Time (DST) was energy conservation by reducing the evening use of incandescent lighting.

During the Great War, DST was promoted as a way to alleviate economic hardships from wartime coal shortages (either for home use or commercial energy production). Germany led the way with implementing the practice, followed by Great Britain on May 21, 1916. The United States finally implemented DST in 1918 after a lengthy public campaign led by industrialist Robert Garland on behalf of manufacturing and retailing interests.

After the First World War, states and local communities in the United States made their own decisions whether to continue the practice of observing the time change. During World War II the federal government again mandated universal DST. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act which standardized the implementation and length of Daylight Savings Time as it continues today.


29. From Letter 4/30/1918: “A carton of Perfections was very welcomly received by me also and beleive me they didnt last long for a ready made cigarette to us right here is a gold mine.”

“Perfections” refers to Perfection Cigarettes, an American Tobacco Company brand in the early 20th Century.


30. From Letter 5/5/1918: “That drive for the Liberty Loan must be making things very interesting, especially the Tank you speak of, and the airships. From all accounts every one is taking hold in the real American Spirit, which is very incouraging to us.”

The Liberty Loan Drives promoted the sale of Liberty Bonds which were securities sold by the United States government to support the war effort during the First World War. Originally authorized by the Emergency Loan Act on April 24, 1917, there were four issues of Liberty Bonds form 1917-1918 with tax-exempt interest up to $30,000 and yields of 3.5 to 4.5 percent.

Subscribing to the bonds became a symbol of patriotic duty and introduced the idea of financial securities to a broad segment of society. The government commissioned famous artists to design promotional posters and also used movie stars to host Bond Rallies. Contemporary celebrities including Al Jolson, Elsie Janis, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin made public appearances to promote the patriotism of purchasing Liberty Bonds.

The Liberty Loan Drives spurred community efforts to sell the bonds nationwide and were such a success that the U.S. government raised around 17 billion dollars for the war effort, or approximately $170 for each American citizen living during that time.


31. From Letter 5/29/1918: “Last night we had the pleasure (and pleasure it was Em) to see a real American woman, hear real American singing, and some real American jokes, and from a real American actress Elsie Janis…”

Elsie Janis (1889-1956) was an American singer, songwriter, actress and screenwriter. In the days before the creation of the USO, entertaining the troops during World War I immortalized her as the “sweetheart of the AEF.” An international star, Janis was a headliner both on Broadway and in London who tirelessly advocated for British and American troops during the Great War. She helped promote Liberty Bonds and also took her act on the road as one of the first popular American celebrities to entertain the troops in forward areas during a foreign war.


32. From Letter 11/5/1918: “What seems to worry us boys over here the most is the epidemic that is raging over there, for in letters every one gets this is mentioned and Ive seen more than one poor chap that has lost either a mother, sister or wife.”

The influenza pandemic of 1918 spread worldwide at the end of the Great War and was caused by an unusually virulent strain of H1N1 flu virus. The pandemic officially lasted from March, 1918 – June, 1920 and killed anywhere from 20-100 million people worldwide.

Commonly known as the Spanish Flu (the Spanish press was not censored and provided extensive coverage after the Flu moved from France to Spain in November, 1918), the more virulent strain of the disease was first recorded in the U.S. among Navy sailors in Boston during late August. Within three days there were 58 cases at the Chelsea Naval Hospital. Within two weeks, over 2,000 military officers and men stationed in the Boston area had influenza. By the first week of September, the disease had reached Camp Devens where it quickly decimated the population of 50,000 troops at a rate of approximately 100 deaths per day. An entire barracks building was converted to use as a morgue and special trains were used to carry away the dead.

At the same time, the Flu spread rapidly across the entire state of Massachusetts with numerous deaths reported in many communities by the end of September. In Boston alone, 333 deaths from Flu were registered during just one week in September, and in Everett (where Sam’s family lived) there were 698 reported cases and 7 deaths by the end of the month. During the first week of October, 1,023 additional Flu deaths were reported in Boston by public health officials, although the city’s death rate had reduced to about 50 per day by the end of that month. Overall, the death toll in Boston from the Flu was estimated to be at least 4,000 from September 8 – October 25. Statewide the death toll in Massachusetts was estimated to be 45,000 from September 1, 1918 – January 16, 1919.

The victims of the 1918 Flu pandemic were primarily people under 65 years old with more than half being young adults 20-40 years old. This is in contrast to most influenzas which more greatly impact juveniles, the elderly and the infirm. The high death rate of the 1918 Flu was due to both a very high infection rate and the severity of the symptoms. Certainly troop concentrations both in close quarters and adverse environmental conditions hastened the progress of the pandemic. Likewise, civilian populations concentrated in cities such as Boston were more severely impacted than outlying areas.

Interestingly, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 was merely a footnote to the history of the Great War until public awareness of a new pandemic threat was raised during the more recent outbreaks of bird flu and swine flu in the past decade.


33. From Letter 2/5/1919: “Orders can be changed very quickly and as much as I dislike to think of it Russia is a big job on our hands just now and things there are getting worse. The boys of this division will not put it by them to shoot us up there if things get rough.”

Following the abdication of Czar Nicholas II of Russia in 1917, the new Bolshevik government signed a peace treaty with Germany which then allowed the German military to reallocate troops to the Western Front and also provided access to stockpiles of military supplies that had been accumulated at Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostok.

The ongoing Russian Civil War between “Red” and “White” factions further added to the urgency of the situation, and led Britain and France to intervene militarily against the Bolshevik government. Upon the request of Britain and France and in collaboration with both Japan and China, the United States also supplied troops for two separate expeditionary forces in Russia: 5,000 troops for the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (also known as the “Polar Bear Expedition”) and 10,000 more troops for the American Expeditionary Force Siberia.

The “Polar Bear Expedition” arrived in Archangel on September 4, 1918 and was initially placed under British command. The troops immediately went into action against Bolshevik forces and remained on the offensive for six weeks along the Dvina River and Vologda Railroad, but eventually became overextended and took up defensive positions for the winter. The Bolsheviks then took advantage of the winter conditions and drove the Allied troops back with numerous casualties. The troops of the “Polar Bear Expedition” were relieved and returned home by late June, 1919.

The lead elements of the AEF Siberia arrived in Vladivostok in mid-August, 1918 and guarded the Trans-Siberian Railway from attack by Bolshevik forces. The experience for the troops was miserable, including widespread problems with fuel, ammunition, supplies and food. Equipment and horses froze in the sub-zero conditions and were useless. The troops of AEF Siberia remained for 19 months until April, 1920.

“We won’t go home until after Peace has been signed anyway and as none of the divisions that took part in any of the fighting have as yet left for home, there must be something unforseen by us in the wind.”

The Treaty of Versailles formally ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. Although the hostilities of the Great War had been suspended on November 11, 1918 with the signing of the Armistice, it required an additional six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to finalize the Treaty which was signed on June 28, 1919.

The Treaty contained provisions (Articles 231-248 known as the War Guilt clauses) that required Germany to accept sole responsibility for causing the Great War, disarm, make territorial concessions and pay reparations. These terms were considered so onerous to German pride and damaging to Germany’s politico-economic viability that they directly contributed to the start of World War II only two decades later.

Ironically, although President Woodrow Wilson had been directly involved in the Treaty negotiations on behalf of the United States, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty on November 19, 1919 and thereby precluded membership of the United States in the League of Nations.

Published on June 4, 2008 at 5:54 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great work Rick. This is a fantastic historical opportunity. Keep it up.


  2. This is a wonderful site. So much to discover. I’ll definitely be back to read more.

  3. I enjoyed looking through your site. I think that the reference to “Hooverizing” is meant to mean the Food Administration and its leader, Herbert Hoover. This makes more sense in the context of the letter from 12/21/1917 where Sam reports Lena is “Hoverizing” on food stuffs and he too is “econimizing” on paper. A quick look at the Wiki article on Hoover reveals that his detractors, at least, referred to his economy drive as “Hooverizing”.

    Have you been to France or thought of visiting the sites where Sam served? We had a wonderful trip last fall visiting the places where family members served with the 26th Division.


  4. “nuf ced” appears in Bagley’s Pens ads in Scientific American magazine in a Sept. 1846 issue. This would predate the “coining” date that you list here by more than fifty years.

  5. I am in fact grateful to the holder of this web page who has shared
    this wonderful post at this place.

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