Intervention of the United States in the First World War

Intervention of the United States in the First World War

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  • An American Field Service ambulance, Ford car, 1917.

  • The # 1 section of the American Field Service in Cappy-sur-Somme.

    WHITE Victor

  • Poster for the American Field Service: You drive a car here - why not a transport in France?


An American Field Service ambulance, Ford car, 1917.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

The # 1 section of the American Field Service in Cappy-sur-Somme.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / All rights reserved

Poster for the American Field Service: You drive a car here - why not a transport in France?

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: October 2005

Historical context

"La Fayette, here we are", the first American participations in the First World War
The donation of material from the United States and the effective presence of young Americans on French soil gave, from its beginnings, a particular color to the First World War. It was, following the work of Dr Evans and Henri Dunand, one of the first large-scale humanitarian aid companies.
At the very moment of the announcement of the declaration of war, the French Ambassador to the United States, Jusserand, received numerous letters, the authors of which wished to assure the French of their sympathy. A large number of philanthropic works were created, both in America, where there were seventy-five in May 1915, and in France, where, among the forty-nine organizations listed on the same date, theAmerican Field Service plays a leading role. It uses Ford "Model T" cars, whose reliability and ease of use are very valuable.

Image Analysis

A staged object
The recent photograph, taken in an exhibition hall at the Blérancourt Museum, shows a "neutral" image of the Ford T, a utilitarian image whose role is limited to showing a state of preservation. It should be noted that the car benefited from restoration work carried out in 1999. It was dusted, its peeling paintwork was consolidated, the corroded parts were cleaned, and its period appearance recreated using special products. . The signs of wear have been observed, as they bear witness to the use of the vehicle. They can be compared to the representation left by Victor White, an American painter who was counted among the volunteer paramedics. A few gaps will appear to the careful observer. In the painting, for example, a spare tire appears on the car, a detail that one searches in vain on the object on display at the museum.
The poster, for its part, recalls what may have been the recruitment campaigns for ambulance drivers, campaigns that were launched on American campuses from the beginning of the conflict. The slogan is dreamy: “You drive a car here [in the United States] - why don't you get behind the wheel in France [to rescue injured soldiers]? The candidates are very numerous. They come from wealthy backgrounds in the metropolises of the Northeast, which moreover provided the bulk of the student populations at the turn of the 20th century.e century. The memories that some drivers have left evoke their motivations. It seems that we are not dealing with "hot heads", but with young people concerned with alleviating the misery of the world. While some are militant pacifists, most simply feel that they are doing a duty. The shots taken by the anonymous photographers of the A.F.S. also attest to the will, greatness of soul and good humor which reigned over the entire company.


A popular item on the battlefield
The beginnings ofAmerican Field Service are modest: Mrs. K. Vanderbilt offers the first cars, Mr. Harold White, director of the Ford assembly plant in Levallois-Perret, arranges for ten model T chassis. With the help of a local bodybuilder , the few men still present at the factory built a simple body: a cabin large enough to accommodate four stretchers, with a canvas roof stretched over a wooden slatted structure. A board on the gas tank serves as a seat for the driver, who drives in the open air. Under the command of A. Piatt Andrew, a Princeton graduate, former Harvard professor of economics and President Taft's Under Secretary of State for the Treasury from 1909 to 1911, the volunteer paramedics formed sections of twenty to thirty individuals, assigned to French combat units and sent directly to the front. At the start of 1917 there were more than two hundred cars in operation.
Nicknamed the "spider" because of its high frame, the machine, which can carry three passengers lying down or four in a seated position, shows its efficiency in transporting the wounded on sometimes very bumpy paths from the front to hospitals; it is considered particularly comfortable. After covering himself with glory on the battlefield, he will meet a brilliant fate in peacetime.
It must be said that the chassis of the Model T, launched by the American manufacturer Henry Ford, was mass-produced in 1913 using Taylorization methods. This work organization system, inspired by the ideas of engineer Taylor, consisted of breaking down the assembly of the vehicle into 45 operations, each carried out by a worker on the production line. With this device, the rates of work have increased, the assembly time of a car has been reduced from twelve hours and thirty minutes to one and a half hours, and the selling price has fallen, making it possible to make a good accessible to popular purchasing power. Its total production eventually approached fifteen million copies from 1915 to 1927.

  • automobile
  • United States
  • War of 14-18
  • American intervention
  • Anne Morgan


Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, World War I, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.Mario ISNENGHILWorld War IParis-Florence, Casterman-Giunti, 1993.Historial of the Great WarThe Posters of the Great WarAmiens, Martelle Editions , 1998.

To cite this article

Hervé CULTRU, "Intervention of the United States in the First World War"

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