Area 8: The U.S. During the First World War (1910s-1920s)
Background for teachers and students
Wyoming was a predominantly rural state before the Great War, better known now as World War I. Wyoming had been a state for only 25 years in 1915 and could still be considered “the frontier.” In 1910, the state’s population was 145,965; with a mere seven towns considered to be urban and only a single city—Cheyenne—with a population of more than 25,000. More than 70 percent of Wyoming’s population was counted as rural.
The predominant industry was agriculture, primarily cattle and sheep. By 1908, Wyoming led the nation in wool production with more than 6 million sheep valued at $32 million—or $757 million in 2016 dollars. The value of cattle in Wyoming in 1910 was estimated at $26.2 million, according to a 1913 supplement to the 1910 U.S. Census. In 1920, Wyoming had about 875,000 cattle or calves and nearly 200,000 horses and colts—more horses than people!
The petroleum industry was on the verge of becoming significant, with major oil fields coming into production. The Salt Creek Oil Field started producing in 1908. By 1917, there were five operating petroleum refineries in Wyoming. Natrona County was the center of the burgeoning petroleum industry, and World War I demands for fuel would shortly lead to an economic boom for Casper.
Highways in 1914 in Wyoming were few and poor. But automobile ownership was growing quickly and with it, the demand for better roads. The Wyoming Department of Transportation was established in 1917.
Even though the state was young and sparsely populated, Wyoming was at the forefront of the nation in many ways: particularly in areas such as women’s suffrage and patriotism—as measured by the proportion of the population that joined the armed services.
During the Great War, later known as World War I, Wyoming contributed more soldiers per capita than any other state in the United States. This was a remarkable accomplishment.