World War I artifacts, from personal letters and photographs to a Dayton-built tank, are being sought for a local exhibit marking the centennial of the Great War.
“There are things that are easier to find than a World War I tank,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, who’s on the lookout for an M1917 model. The two-man tanks were assembled in Dayton by the Maxwell Motor Company and C.L. Best Co.
It’s the everyday items that will help show how Daytonians and the world were changed by the “war to end all wars” said Paul Lockhart, a Wright State University history professor.
“The problem is a lot of diaries, letters from soldiers and from folks at home who experienced the war on the home front don’t appear to have made it in the public collection. So we’re hoping to involve the greater Dayton community in this project,” Lockhart said.
Dayton History and several departments at Wright State are collaborating to tell the region’s role in the exhibit, “Dayton in the Great War,” scheduled to open in the spring of 2016 at Carillon Historical Park. The exhibition will run until spring of 2019.
“The First World War was both an important event in shaping the modern United States and a highly traumatic event, and we see that reflected right here in Dayton,” Lockhart said.
The war began July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The war eventually enmeshed some 50 countries and territories and took the lives of more than 9 million of those fighting and another 7 million civilians.
Although the U.S. didn’t enter the war until April 7, 1917, the war had already changed America, Lockhart said. Some people were opposed to the war altogether, while other Americans – many still with strong ties to their home countries — supported one side or the other of the warring parties in Europe. This was true of southwest Ohioans, he said.
Aspects of the war — fights over “what constitutes patriotism, what constitutes American national identity” — had a very modern tone, according to Lockhart
Southwest Ohio, through industry, aviation and technology, played a significant role in the war effort, Kress and Lockhart said.
Edward Deeds, the founder of Carillon Historical Park, was the nation’s head of aircraft procurement during the war, becoming a colonel in the process. Deeds oversaw the development of the Liberty engine as well the plane it powered: the British de Havilland DH-4 bi-plane bomber. The plane was manufactured locally for the Allied effort by the Dayton-Wright Airplane Co. Artillery ammunition made in Dayton was also sent to Czarist Russia before America’s war declaration.
Kress said the museum hopes to display representative parts — if not the entire M1917 tank and DH-4 bi-plane — along with weapons and optical equipment also made here.
“If we could bring in and acquire a good section or an entire DH-4 we could put it in that section. If we could locate one of these tanks, we would gladly put that in the exhibit,” Kress said.
Kress said the personal stories of those affected by the war, preserved in diaries, letters and photographs, are as important as the machinery used to fight it.
“It gives us a better sense of what locals were going through, struggling with, whether they were in one of the factories here or out on the front lines,” Kress said.
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