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American Legion History

Birth of the American Legion


After World War I ended in November 1918, some American officers who had fought in the conflict began to think about creating an organization for the two million men who had been on European duty. The need for an organization for former members of the American Expeditionary Forces was pressing and immediate. At the wars end, hundreds of thousands of impatient servicemen found themselves trapped in France and pining for home, certain that weeks or months lay ahead of them before their return home would be logistically possible. Morale plummeted. Cautionary voices were raised about an apparent correlation between disaffected and discharged troops and the Bolshevik / Communist uprisings taking place in Russia and across Europe.

Preparations for a convention in Paris with Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., eldest son of the 26th President.   A convention call was prepared and "invitations" distributed to about 2,000 officers and enlisted men and publicized in the March 14, 1919 issue of Stars and Stripes.  The convention call expressed the desire to form "one permanent nation-wide organization...composed of all parties, all creeds, and all ranks who wish to perpetuate the relationships formed while in military service.  The American Legion was started on March 15, 1919.

The first post of the Legion was, General John Joseph Pershing Post Number 1 in Washington, DC, organized on March 7, 1919, and obtained the first charter issued to any post of the Legion on May 19, 1919.  The St. Louis caucus that same year decided that Legion posts should not be named after living persons, and the first post changed its name to George Washington Post 1.  

On May 20, 1919, Colonel Ernest Lester Jones received a petition from enlisted women of the United States Naval Reserve Force, for a charter to organize a Post to be known as the "Betsy Ross Post Number l, composed entirely of Yeomen (F) of the U.S. Navy. Congress granted The American Legion a national charter in September 1919.

The American Legion has maintained a strictly nonpartisan orientation towards electoral politics. The group wrote a specific prohibition of the endorsement of political candidates into its constitution, declaring:

... this organization shall be absolutely non-political and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles or for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking public office or preferment; and no candidate for or incumbent of a salaried elective public office shall hold any office in The American Legion or in any branch or post thereof.

The Legion was very active in the 1920s. The organization was formally non-partisan, endorsing no political party. Instead the group worked to the spread of the ideology of Americanism and acted as a lobbying organization on behalf of issues of importance to veterans, with particular emphasis on winning a "soldier's bonus" payment from the government and for the alleviation of the unemployment to which many soldiers returned. The Legion also served a strong social function, building and buying "clubhouses" in communities across America at which its members could gather, reflect, network, and socialize.

Veterans Bureau

The American Legion was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs through lobbying for Veterans rights & services.

The first Federal agency to provide medical care to veterans was the Naval Home in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania. The home was created in 1812 and was followed by the creation of Soldiers Home in 1853 and St. Elizabeth's Hospital in 1855. Congress created the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1865 in response to the high number of Civil War casualties. These homes were initially intended to be room and board for disabled veterans. However, by the late 1920s, the homes were providing a level of care comparable to hospitals.

President Hoover created the Veterans Administration (VA) in 1930 to consolidate all veteran services. General Omar N. Bradley was appointed to VA administrator and Bradley appointed Major General Paul Hawley as director of VA medicine, both in 1945.   Hawley successfully established a policy that affiliated new VA hospitals with medical schools. By 1947, 97 hospitals were in operation and 29 new hospitals had been built. As a result, the VA health system was able to serve a much larger population of veterans than it had served in previous years.

In 1988, President Reagan signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, which elevated the VA to Cabinet-level, then becoming known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the Veterans Health Administration.

The G.I. Bill

On June 22, 1944,  Before the surrender of Japan or Germany,  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944,  Or "The Harry W. Colmery act" and originally referred to as the G.I. Bill of Rights or "G.I. Bill" for short,  and is  known as the"G.I. Forever Bill."

Harry W. Colmery, a former National Commander of the American Legion, is credited with writing the first draft of the G.I. Bill.  He reportedly jotted down his ideas on stationery and a napkin.         

U.S. Senator Ernest McFarland, and Warren Atherton, National Commander of the American Legion, were actively involved in the bill's passage and are known the "fathers of the G.I. Bill."  Edith Nourse Rogers, who helped write and who co-sponsored the legislation, is known as the "mother of the G.I. Bill".  

The bill that President Roosevelt initially proposed had a means test—only poor veterans would get one year of funding; only top-scorers on a written exam would get four years of paid college. The American Legion proposal provided full benefits for all veterans, including women and minorities, regardless of their wealth.

An important provision of the G.I. Bill was low interest, zero down payment home loans for servicemen, with more favorable terms for new construction compared to existing housing.  This encouraged millions of American families to move out of urban apartments and into suburban homes.  

Benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation, and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational school. These benefits were available to all veterans who had been on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days and had not been dishonorably discharged.

The original G.I. Bill expired in 1956, but the term "G.I. Bill" is still used to refer to programs created to assist U.S. military veterans.

National Poppy Day

Poppy Day is celebrated in countries around the world. The American Legion brought National Poppy Day® to the United States by asking Congress to designate the Friday before Memorial Day, as National Poppy Day.

On May 24, wear a red poppy to honor the fallen and support the living who have worn our nation's uniform.


Veterans Day 

Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is a federal holiday in the United States observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans, that is, persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces (and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable).  It coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day which are celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.   

Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. At the urging of major U.S. veteran organizations, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

Veterans Day began in 1919, with President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation of Armistice Day, to be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”  In 1954, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing the name of the federal holiday to Veterans Day, acknowledging millions of World War II and Korean War veterans in addition to those of World War I.  “On that day,” Eisenhower said, “let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom.” When Congress changed the date of observance to the fourth Monday in October, starting in 1971, state legislatures, veterans groups and the American people urged a return to the original date, and in 1975, President Ford signed legislation authorizing the change. In 1978, the nation’s Veterans Day observance reverted to Nov. 11.

Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, a U.S. public holiday in May. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who have died while in military service.[3] There is another military holiday, Armed Forces Day, a U.S. remembrance that also occurs in May, which honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.


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