American Industry
Under Attack

We are at our wits’ end to defend ourselves against American ammunition.
—Telegram from Germany’s Supreme Army Command, Western Front, to Berlin, 1915
image icon - click to for more details about the image Ford Motor Company assembly line; Watchtower guards; Factory worker at the U.S. Cartridge Company

The surge in America’s overseas trade generated explosive growth in U.S. industrial production. The United States Cartridge Company alone expanded its workforce by ten-fold to fulfill overseas munitions orders, while the Bethlehem Steel Company produced over 500,000 tons of steel, nearly five percent of the country’s total production, for tanks, guns, and artillery ammunition. With British naval dominance in the Atlantic, German ports were essentially cut off from merchant shipping, unable to import any overseas goods. American production thus overwhelmingly favored the Allies, and claims of purported neutrality rang hollow to the irked Germans.

In late 1914, Berlin concocted a plan to curb this unimpeded flow of munitions, secretly tasking its Embassy in the United States with conducting warlike acts on American soil. With dozens of interned German ships – crewed by thousands of sailors – anchored in American harbors, German seamen and Americans of German and Irish ancestry (many Irish were bitterly opposed to British rule and were thus sympathetic to the Germans) residing in New York City, Baltimore, San Francisco, and other U.S. cities were recruited to organize sabotage networks and coordinate other subversive activities against major manufacturing and transportation hubs. More than ten million first- and second-generation German-Americans resided in the United States, comprising approximately ten percent of the population. The orders from Berlin came with a stern warning: such activities must not be linked by American authorities back to the German Embassy, as such an association would likely draw the United States into the war on the side of the Allies.

The operations began in early 1915 and proved an initial success, resulting in fires and explosions at stateside munitions plants and aboard munition ships operating on the East Coast. It was just the beginning of Germany’s undeclared war on the United States.

image icon - click to for more details about the image Stevedores at the Port of Baltimore