Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.
Studebaker M1909 ambulance wagon at the Pennsylvania Military Museum, Boalsburg, Centre County. PHMC

Studebaker M1909 ambulance wagon at the Pennsylvania Military Museum, Boalsburg, Centre County. PHMC

The face of warfare had changed by the time America entered World War I. For better or worse, the conflict was characterized by advances in technology, including air combat, chemical weaponry, and more effective firearms such as machine guns and automatic rifles. Automobiles also began supplementing horse-drawn wagons for a number of uses on the battlefront, including ambulatory medical care.

In May 1917 the U.S. Army Ambulance Service was formed, incorporating volunteer corps that had been established earlier. Subsequently, an Army training facility for ambulance drivers, mechanics and orderlies, Camp Crane in Allentown, Lehigh County, was set up at the Allentown Fairgrounds. During the course of America’s involvement in the Great War, 20,310 officers and enlisted soldiers were trained at the camp. Each Army division at war was supported by a medical battalion called a sanitary train that included an ambulance section as well as a field hospital section and a medical supply unit.

General Motors K-16 ambulance. PHMC

General Motors K-16 ambulance. PHMC

The new motorized ambulances were not yet wholly reliable, especially on hilly terrain, so ambulance wagons continued serving alongside trucks throughout the war. The Studebaker M1909 wagon was the last of its type. It would have included a canvas-covered upper framework for hanging stretchers that carried wounded soldiers.

The first motorized ambulances in the war were supplied by the Red Cross. In the U.S., Ford manufactured thousands of Model T ambulances. General Motors Corporation supplied 8,512 motorized vehicles to the U.S. Army during the war, including many 3/4-ton ambulances, such as this K-16 model. The 30-horsepower vehicle had a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. Six wounded men could be transported in the K-16, with four on hanging stretchers and two on the floor. This particular K-16 served with the 28th Division until 1935.

In 1972 the M1909 and the K-16 were transferred from Fort Indiantown Gap, the National Guard training center in Lebanon County, to the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, Centre County. An exhibit of vehicles at the museum reflects the transition from wagon to truck and commemorates the vital services provided by the ambulance corps during World War I.

 

Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.