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Rep. James Hay of Virginia, Chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs.

The National Defense Act of 1916, Pub.L. 64–85, 39 United States Statutes at Large 166, enacted June 3, 1916, was a federal law that updated the organization of the military, including an expansion of the Army and the National Guard, the creation of an Officers' and an Enlisted Reserve Corps, and the creation of a Reserve Officers' Training Corps. The President was also given expanded authority to federalize the National Guard, with changes to the duration and the circumstances under which he could call it up. The Army began the creation of an Aviation arm, and the federal government took steps to ensure the immediate availability of wartime weapons and equipment by contracting in advance for production of gunpowder and other materiel.


Rep. Julius Kahn of California

The act was passed amidst the "preparedness controversy", after Pancho Villa's cross-border raid on Columbus, New Mexico and prior to U.S. entry into World War I. Its chief proponent was James Hay of Virginia, the Chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs.[1]

Sponsored by the committee's ranking member, Julius Kahn of California and drafted by Hay, the 1916 law authorized an expanded Army of 175,000, and an enlarged National Guard of 450,000.[2]

Reserve Officer Training Corps

William Oxley Thompson, Ohio State University President, ROTC advocate.

The provision to establish the Reserve Officer Training Corps was advocated by a delegation from Ohio including William Oxley Thompson, President of the Ohio State University.[3] On February 7, 1916, Ralph D. Mershon, a graduate of Ohio State, testified before the Committee as a professional engineer. Present to testify as an advocate of a Reserve Engineers Corps, he expanded his remarks to argue in favor of the "Ohio Plan." Mershon noted:

"...the transformation that will take place in one term of drill in a man just off the farm and very clumsy when he enters college, and who at the end of a term is 'set up', carries himself well, looks neat in his uniform, and has acquired a measure of self-respect, and the respect of his colleagues, to an extent he would not have had without the military training."[4]

Congress agreed, and the ROTC provision was included in the final version of the law.[5][6]

National Guard

William Abram Mann, first head of the expanded and reorganized Militia Bureau.

The 1916 Act also authorized the National Guard to use federal funds to pay for 48 days of drill a year, as well as 15 days of annual training, an improvement over the previous authorization of five days of summer camp, with no federal funds for drills.[7]

The new law also made the Army's Division of Militia Affairs the expanded and reorganized Militia Bureau, which oversaw federal funding and other requirements for the National Guard in each state.[8]

The 1916 Act also authorized the President to mobilize the National Guard in case of war or other national emergency, and for the duration of the event. The National Guard had previously been limited to service within each state, or federal activation within the United States for up to nine months. Under the 1916 Act, the National Guard could be federalized for overseas service and could be called up for an unlimited duration.[9] In addition, the Army was prevented from recruiting volunteer units to expand the organization in time of war until after the National Guard had been called up.[10]

The provisions for National Guard activation were used during the Pancho Villa Expedition[11] and World War I.[12] When the National Guard was federalized for World War I, efforts to create volunteer units, which had been used from the Mexican-American War to the Spanish-American War as a way to bypass the issue of when the National Guard could be federalized, came to an end.[13]

Additional results

Samuel Pierpont Langley, namesake of Langley Field.

The 1916 Act also allocated over $17 million for the Army to field 375 new airplanes, and created the Army's first Air Division, which was based at Langley Field.[14]

The President also requested that the National Academy of Sciences establish the National Research Council to conduct research into the potential of mathematical, biological, and physical science applications for defense.[15]

As part of the debate over preparedness, Congress was concerned with ensuring the supply of nitrates (used to make munitions), so the 1916 Act authorized the construction of two nitrate-manufacturing plants and a dam to provide them hydropower.[16] President Wilson chose Muscle Shoals, Alabama as the site of the dam.[17] The dam was later named for him, and the dam and nitrate plants built in Muscle Shoals were absorbed into the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.[18]

Subsequent changes

The National Defense Act Amendments of 1920, Pub.L. 66–242, 41 United States Statutes at Large 759, enacted June 4, 1920, a.k.a. the National Defense Act of 1920, amended the National Defense Act of 1916, including the creation of the United States Army Air Service and the Chemical and Finance branches.[19] The 1920 act also included a provision that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau be a National Guard officer, and allowed for National Guard officers to serve on the Army General staff.[20]

The National Defense Act Amendments of 1933, Pub.L. 73–64, 48 United States Statutes at Large 153, enacted June 15, 1933, provided that the National Guard is considered a component of the Army at all times. Beginning with this law, each National Guard member has two military statuses—a member of the National Guard of his or her state, or a member of the National Guard of the United States when federalized. This enhanced the 1916 Act's mobilization provisions, making it possible to deploy National Guard units and individual members directly for overseas service in the event of a war.[21][22]

See also


  1. Meriden Daily Journal, Wilson Hurries Defense Sessions Prior to Wedding, October 26, 1915
  2. U.S. Government Printing Office, Politics of Our Military National Defense: History of the Action of Political Forces Within the United States which Has Shaped Our Military National Defense Policies from 1783 to 1940 Together with the Defense Acts of 1916 and 1920 as Case Studies. Presented by Mr. Austin, 1940, page 30
  3. Edith D. Cockins, Ralph Davenport Mershon, Volume 1, 1956, page 35
  4. Edith D. Cockins (1956) Ralph Davenport Mershon, v 1, p 30, Ohio State University Press
  5. Eugene Register-Guard, College Heads are Called to Meeting at War Department, Systematic Method of Training Officers for United States Army to be Discussed by Educators], October 12, 1916
  6. Jerold E. Brown, Historical Dictionary of the United States Army, 2001, page 40
  7. The Day (New London, Connecticut), Regular Pay for National Guard, January 11, 1916
  8. Harrison Summers Kerrick, Military and Naval America, 1916, page 174
  9. New York Times, Empowers Guard to Invade: Hay resolution in House Gives Wilson Right to Draft Militia, June 23, 1916
  10. Anne Cipriano Venzon, Paul L. Miles, editors, The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia, 1995, pages 399-400
  11. New York Times, Legalizes the Use of Guard in Mexico, June 20, 1916
  12. Lawrence Journal-World, Soldiers From all States in France: National Guard Units Have Arrived Safely, November 30, 1917
  13. St. Petersburgh Evening Independent, Teddy Releases His Volunteers: Says President's Refusal Ends Matter and Calls for Loyalty, May 21, 1917
  14. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Air Division, Volume 3, January 1, 1918, page 767
  15. New York Times, Engineers Assist Research Council, October 8, 1916
  16. Milwaukee Journal, U.S. to Rush New Air Nitrate Plants, July 16, 1917
  17. Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, Nitrate Plant Wins in House With Changes, May 9, 1916
  18. Florence Times, Alabama Plays Host to 'North Country', May 22, 1957
  19. Gregory J. W. Urwin, The United States Cavalry: An Illustrated History, 1776-1944, 1983, page 181
  20. Michael Dale Doubler, John W. Listman, Jr., The National Guard: An Illustrated History of America's Citizen-Soldiers, 2007, page 68
  21. Jeffrey A. Jacobs, The Future of the Citizen-Soldier Force: Issues and Answers, 1994, pages 39-40
  22. Wisconsin Secretary of State, Wisconsin Blue Book, 1993, page 483

External resources

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