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Clark Special Collections

World War I Materials in Clark Special Collections

World War I, also called First World War or Great War, was an international conflict that embroiled most of the nations of Europe along with Russia, the United States, the Middle East, and other regions between 1914 and 1918. The war pitted the Central Powers (mainly Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey) against the Allies (mainly France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States). It ended with the defeat of the Central Powers and the fall of great imperial dynasties in Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. It resulted in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and, with its destabilization of European society, laid the groundwork for World War II. The war was unprecedented in the slaughter, carnage, and destruction it caused.

One of the primary reasons for its destructive power was the implementation of aerial warfare. Tethered observation balloons had been used for artillery spotting in several previous wars, including the American Civil War, but only sparsely and never in combat. World War I was the first major conflict involving the large-scale use of airplanes as instruments of destruction and, as pilots and engineers learned from experience, led to the development of many specialized aircraft types including fighters and bombers.

Clark Special Collections houses several important collections covering many aspects of World War I aviation. These include materials from the L'Escadrille Lafayette Flying Corps Association (MS 19), which represented World War I American volunteers who flew with the French before America entered the war. There are also several collections that were donated by pilots and their families who flew and served with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) when the United States officially joined the war in April 1917. These collections consist of memorabilia, photographs, personal letters, telegrams, and newspapers of the day. The Gimbel Collection also contains many items regarding World War I aviation, as well as a copy of Colonel Gorrell's History of the A.E.F. Air Service 1917-1919 on microfilm rolls. 

Links to several of our World War I collection finding aids are included below, though there are many more resources that are not yet available online. Please contact special collections staff for more information, or visit us on the 6th floor of the McDermott Library to view these materials yourself.

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