In Living Color: World War I Through New Lenses

May 7, 2024

Woman Working in Machine Shop to Support War Effort

World War I was a pivotal point in history marked by new innovations in weaponry, communication, transportation, and more. Being the first war to occur after the Industrial Revolution, a lot of the common warfare tactics known today were being deployed for the first time, including chemical warfare, trench warfare, and the use of airplanes and submarines.

Today we're looking at history in a new way - in color. These images allow us to see World War I in a new light, one that makes this horrific moment in time all the more engrossing. From the front lines to factories back in the States, we're taking you through history in a whole new way.

national archives

The First World War came at a strange time in American history. The women's suffrage movement was in full swing, and domestic production was at an all-time high after coming out of the Industrial Revolution. When the first wave of troops was shipped overseas in the summer of 1917, many Americans assumed the war would be "over by Christmas," which obviously wasn't the case.

As more countries joined the war on both sides, the demand for combat-ready soldiers, food, and weapons grew even more. By necessity, an entire generation of women stepped up to fill vacant roles traditionally held by men. While husbands and brothers were in combat, American women joined the war effort. They served as switchboard operators, welders, truck drivers, and shipbuilders. To encourage more women to do their part, newspapers often released images of women like the one shown in this photograph, makeup-free while wearing protective goggles and gloves with their hair pulled back. The tactic worked, and from 1914 to 1918 the percentage of women in the workforce increased by an estimated 9%. 

A Tearful Goodbye: U.S. Soldier Leaving to Fight


This photo from the U.S. National Archives shows a soldier saying goodbye to his wife and children before heading off to war. This is a universal scene experienced by every generation, whether they are the soldier saying goodbye or the family left behind. In this case, the soldier is holding his son and his weapons at the same time while his daughter holds an American flag.

This may surprise modern sensibilities, but during WWI, soldiers were instructed to keep their weapons on their person at all times, even at home with their own children. The prominent display of the American flag is also indicative of the times. During WWI, nationalism was an important strategy for recruiting men, and many Americans chose to go to war out of a sense of duty for their country.