Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

This issue of Pennsylvania Heritage marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the First World War in April 1917. The focus comes as part of PHMC’s Pennsylvania at War initiative, a multiyear commemoration of the centennial of World War I and the 75th anniversary of World War II.

The Keystone State contributed significantly to the Allied effort in World War I, with more than 297,000 Pennsylvanians serving in the conflict, many in the U.S. Army’s 28th, 79th and 80th divisions. The commonwealth was also a leading supplier of munitions and resources to the Allies during the war. An estimated one-half of the weapons and ammunition that went to the U.S. Army were manufactured in Pennsylvania. Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Delaware County, produced more than 6.5 million shells for the Allies in addition to building 5,551 locomotives. On the Baldwin property, Remington Arms Co. manufactured nearly 2 million rifles. More than 50 percent of the steel used by the Allies in the war was produced in Pittsburgh, most notably at U.S. Steel, where operations ran around the clock. Midvale Steel and Ordnance Co. of Philadelphia supplied 150,000 tons of steel for arms and automobiles. Ford’s Philadelphia plant made machine-gun trucks and, in collaboration with the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Co., all of the steel helmets used overseas by U.S. forces. Further north in the state, Bethlehem Steel produced hardened armor for battleships. Hundreds of millions of tons of coal extracted from the anthracite and bituminous mines of Pennsylvania powered the war effort.

Although production of weapons and materiel had been underway in the U.S. before the nation entered the war, the government perceived the need after a long period of neutrality to promote enlistment in the armed forces and encourage public support through resource conservation and war bond sales. A propaganda effort was established, and posters became the favored medium to mobilize the nation for war. Many of these posters are now preserved in the Pennsylvania State Archives, and a selection of them, including several produced in the commonwealth, will be featured in an exhibition opening on April 2 at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. In a companion article in this issue, “Recruitment, Conservation and Liberty Bonds: Posters and the War to End All Wars,” archivist and historian Richard C. Saylor focuses on the prevalent themes of the posters and highlights some of the most prominent examples.

In the other features in this edition, we touch on two sensational aspects of Pennsylvania history: disaster and crime. The early 20th century was marked by substantial advances in technology. Machines would make all systems faster, easier and typically more cost-efficient, but there would be a downside: the inherent danger involved in using them. In “A Tragic Day in Echo” author Rob Quay describes the wonders of electric interurban trolleys but also reveals their hazards. This slice-of-life narrative along the Southern Cambria Railway line between Johnstown and Ebensburg recounts a pleasant day in 1916 that is sadly disrupted and turns to catastrophe when the brakes fail in a state-of-the-art Niles Car Electric Pullman, causing it to escape and crash high-speed into another trolley traveling in the opposite direction.

As Pennsylvania’s story is not without its disasters, it is also not without its crimes. In some cases an exceptional individual appears to help set things right. Robert K. “Bob” Wittman is one such person. In his career of two decades as a special agent in the Philadelphia headquarters of the FBI, he was responsible for recovering stolen historic objects, documents and works of art worth hundreds of millions of dollars and returning them to their rightful owners. In an exclusive interview conducted by former Pennsylvania Heritage editor Michael J. O’Malley III [“Into the Dark World of Catching Crooks, Culprits and Convicts: An Interview with Robert K. Wittman“], Wittman recalls his training for the FBI, his founding and development of the agency’s Art Crime Team, and his major cases involving museums around the nation, including some of Pennsylvania’s most prestigious institutions.

In addition to these compelling stories, you can read more about Pennsylvania in World War I in the departments Marking Time [“Anna Wagner Keichline“], Our Documentary Heritage [“Leroy Horlacher: World War I Conscientious Objector“], A Place in Time [“Philadelphia Naval Shipyard“], Sharing the Common Wealth [“World War I Ambulances“] and Trailheads [“World War I Centennial Trails“]. Also look for more articles about the Keystone State’s vital role in both World Wars in forthcoming issues of Pennsylvania Heritage.

Kyle R. Weaver