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The First World War and the International Economy

Edited by Chris Wrigley

This book provides a fresh assessment of the impact of the First World War on the international economy. Leading academics offer new perspectives on the effects of the War on the long-term growth rates of the belligerent countries and examine its impact on individual sectors within these economies.
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Chapter 3: Manufacturing industry in the United States during the First World War

Peter Fearon


Peter Fearon The First World War did not have the dramatic social and economic impact on the United States that it had on the European belligerents. It was not the mounting casualty lists from France but the Great Depression which provided Americans with their first major shock of the twentieth century. America had a short war, becoming a direct participant on 6 April 1917, a role that was to last for just 19 months. However, as we shall see, there had been a large-scale shift of resources into war-related industries even before Woodrow Wilson, who had been re-elected in 1916 as the President ‘who kept America out of the war’, joined the Allied cause. But in a conflict with such a horrifying death toll for Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Britain, US losses, which totalled 48,000 killed in action and 2,900 missing, were relatively modest. Indeed the 56,000 Americans who died of disease outnumbered those who fell in battle.1 The impact of war is, however, not limited to the powerful emotions so evident in the homes of the young men who perished, distressing though they undoubtedly were. In order to analyse the economic effect of the Great War on the manufacturing sector, we must first assess America’s absolute and relative position as an industrial power on the eve of the conflict, for only then can both the short- and long-run changes which resulted from the war be separated from trends already clearly in place. THE...

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