On January 11, 1918, Emory Gearhart recieved his draft notice for service in World War I. How do I know? Well, believe it or not, Emory kept his draft card on file for the rest of his life. I’m holding it right now. Its paper-clipped to another card which we’ll get to in a moment.
Draft registration was likely a huge event back then (maybe even now also) because it was only a year earlier, on May 18, 1917, that Congress passed the Selective Service Act authorizing the President to draft men into military service. So, receipt of a draft card would have been significant, and especially worrisome since the war in Europe had by now turned into trench warfare, complete with mustard gas and machine guns.
Emory was 30 years old. Too old you think? Not so, according to World War I statistics. During World War I, there were three registrations. The first was on June 5, 1917, registering men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second was on June 5, 1918, registering men who had turned 21 since June 5, 1917 (A supplemental registration on Aug. 24, 1918, registered those becoming 21 since June 5, 1918.). The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, and registered men 18 through 45. So, all men born between 1872 and September 1900 who were not in active military service by June 1917 filled out draft registration cards, whether they were native born, naturalized, or alien.
Emory was classified as A1 – Fit For Service, No Restrictions. He then filed for a deferred classification. 24 million draft cards were issued during World War I, so I think this was not as unusual as it might seem at first.
Each draft board used a set of standard “principles” to place men in the deferred classes, including dependency, sundry specific vocations, necessary agricultural and industrial workers, or moral disqualification. Alien citizens, termed alienage by the SSS, were placed in class 5. Enemy aliens were also classified 5s. The rest of registered “noncombatant” and “neutral” aliens were dispersed across Class 1 and other deferred classes. Dependency deferment was based on family support needs, if someone else was able to support family members, and if the man had children or how recently he had married.
Emory fell into two deferment classes. A registrant found to be a necessary highly specialized technical or mechanical expert of a necessary industrial enterprise was assigned to Class 3. A registrant found to be a necessary sole managing, controlling, or directing head of a necessary industrial enterprise was assigned to Class 4. Emory was assigned to Class 4.
If you were Class 1, you were on your way to the war. The remaining classes 2-5 were the deferment classes, but that did not mean they could not be drafted. The report states, “After exhausting class 1, men would be called from the first registration from Class 2, 3, and 4, with practically accurate knowledge that they were being called in direct order of their availability and in inverse order of their need for the social and economic life of the country.” Class 5 was the only class not subject to induction.
With this, we can fill in a little bit more of the history of the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company during World War I. As noted in the lower left corner of his deferment card, the Gearhart Knitting Machine Company was considered a Necessary War Industry. By the way, that’s his future wife’s (my grandmother’s) handwriting. She must have been relieved.