War Industries Board (WIB)

views updated May 18 2018


Participation in World War I (19141918) required not only the mobilization of people, but of materials in the United States. The country entered the conflict on April 6, 1917, when Congress declared war on Germany, and the United States joined the Allied nations (France, Great Britain, Russia, Serbia, and twenty other nations, including Japan) to fight the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria). The U.S. war effort demanded that industry join with the federal government to ensure an adequate flow of supplies to the front and to keep things moving smoothly on the home front. President Woodrow Wilson (19131921) declared that "it is not an army that we must shape and train for war, it is a nation." Of all the committees and agencies that were established to advise and oversee the production and movement of materials, raw and finished, the most important was the War Industries Board (WIB), which, for the duration of the war, ran the nation's economy.

Formed in July 1917, the WIB was originally led by F.A. Scott (18731949); he resigned under the enormous pressure of the job. Succeeded by Daniel Willard (18611942), he too resigned, complaining of the War Industries Board's lack of power. In 1918 Wilson secured broader authority for the board when Congress passed the Overman Act. The president tapped American businessman Bernard Baruch (18701965), who was then serving on the Allied Purchasing Commission, to head the WIB.

Under Baruch's leadership the WIB faced with the challenge of converting the nation's industry to wartime production. The wartime agency allocated supplies (war-related items received first priority on production lines), fixed prices (to ensure that manufacturers had a means to pay wages high enough that workers would not strike), ordered the standardization of goods (so resources would not be wasted), and made purchases, sending enough goodsabout one quarter of all American productionto the European front. While the Selective Service Act (1917) and local draft boards had successfully mobilized the troops, the WIB mobilized the economy, ensuring the Allied nations' defeat of the Central Powers in November 1918. On December 31, President Wilson directed that the board be dissolved. It was officially disbanded in mid-1919. The war effort was a catalyst for U.S. economic growth: By the end of the decade, the gross national product (GNP) was 237 percent higher than it was in 1914, when fighting first broke out.

See also: Bernard Baruch, Overman Act, Selective Service

Woodrow Wilson, on U.S. mobilization for World War I">

it is not an army that we must shape and train for war, it is a nation.

president woodrow wilson, on u.s. mobilization for world war i

War Industries Board

views updated May 23 2018


WAR INDUSTRIES BOARD. The War Industries Board was a wartime agency of 1917–1918 designed to coordinate the war role of American industry. Its parent body, the Council of National Defense, enjoyed only advisory powers and could not compel anyone to accept its advice. There were five procurement agencies in the War Department, and they frequently competed for the same materials and manufacturing facilities, leading to shortages of transportation, labor, and material that seriously slowed the war program in the winter of 1917–1918.

The War Industries Board, formed in July 1917, was as powerless as the other agencies had been. When Congress discussed the extremely limited production of military equipment early in 1918, many leaders aimed to establish a munitions ministry on the English model. In order to forestall this thinly veiled censure, President Woodrow Wilson, on 4 March 1918, appointed Bernard M. Baruch as chairman of the War Industries Board and greatly augmented its powers. This enabled the War Industries Board to use all the agencies of the Council of National Defense, to mobilize industry, and to force adoption of its orders. This board controlled all available resources and manufacturing facilities, fixed prices, raised the volume of munitions produced, and brought order out of industrial chaos. It was terminated by executive order on 1 January 1919.


Baruch, Bernard M. American Industry in the War: A Report of the War Industries Board. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1941.

Leuchtenburg, William E. The Perils of Prosperity, 1914–32. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

H. A.DeWeerd/c. w.

See alsoCouncil of National Defense ; Munitions ; War Department ; World War I, Economic Mobilization for .