Doughboys and Their Helmets

Making Helmets for WW-1 Soldiers Visual Arts American History Social Studies World War I

Americans fighting in World War I were called “doughboys.” How the term “doughboys” came to signify American soldiers, during WWI, seems lost to history. This is one of many theories:

The definition of the term "Doughboy" has a number of variations.

One definition states that the term goes back to the Civil War, "when the cavalry derided foot soldiers as doughboys, perhaps because their globular buttons resembled flour dumplings or because soldiers used flour to polish their white belts" Smithsonian (April 1998, at page 22).

Laurence Stallings, in his book, "The Doughboys" (New York, 1963, p. 15), claims that "there can be little dispute as to the derivation of the name. In Texas, U.S. Infantry along the Rio Grande were powdered white with the dust of adobe soil, and hence were called 'adobes' by mounted troops. It was a short step to 'dobies' and then, by metathesis, the word was Doughboys." (See “They Answered the Call - Military Service in the United States Army During World War I, 1917-1919,” by Mitchell Yockelson; online via the U.S. National Archives.)

WWI was a costly endeavor for the men who fought, for their families and for America. By the time it was over, around 4 million Americans had served during WWI.

Beyond the difficult world of the trenches, in France, they endured other maladies (like Spanish Flu). We learn more from the U.S. National Archives:

When the war ended, more than four million "Doughboys" had served in the United States Army with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Half of those participated overseas.

According to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, "over 25 per cent of the entire male population of the country between the ages of 18 and 31 were in military service." (See Yockelson’s article, footnote 1.)

In the space of 19 months—the amount of time the U.S. was involved in the First World War—about 117,000 American troops died.

Doughboys wore distinctive hats.  This image depicts a company, in Philadelphia, which made them. The U.S. National Archives gives us this description:

Manufacturing helmets. Large power press for shaping helmets in the plant of Hale & Kilburn Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Hale & Kilburn Company., ca. 1918

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jan 21, 2020

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy U.S. National Archives.  NARA identifier:  533469




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