1917: WWI


The U.S. Army asked Teamsters to train soldiers to drive and repair motor trucks at the start of WWI. Tobin helps develop what later becomes the Quartermaster General Truck Corps, which play a huge roll in both world wars.

Tobin, along with 79 international union presidents, met with members of the AFL executive council in March 1917, a month before the United States entered the war, to pledge their support to the war effort (should war happen).  The decision to extend support to the Wilson administration was in part a demand that the federal government accept the presence of labor leaders on boards dealing with national defense questions.

Wilson made every attempt to bow to the desires of labor during the war.  He knew that the U.S. could not effectively support her allies or herself without the nation’s workforce determined effort to help produce much needed military goods during wartime.  Wilson appeared at the AFL Convention in November 1917. Tobin, who escorted President Wilson from the train station to the convention hall in Buffalo, noted that “Every word he uttered was full of determination and feeling.”  His message was one of hope, one seeking cooperation and unity, one expressing trust. 

The War Effort

As the country entered into World War I, the government realized that in order to establish and sustain the war effort, a gigantic national undertaking was required. Of course, the full cooperation of the Teamsters would be needed to deliver manpower and equipment. General “Black Jack” Pershing asked Tobin to help teach soldiers to drive and help develop techniques for modern supply lines. Teamsters enlisted by the thousands to help the military transition from cavalry to motorized units, teaching soldiers learn new skills overseas and laying the foundation for the Quarter Master General Truck corps.

General “Black Jack” Pershing writes in praise of the Teamsters.

On the home front, Tobin encouraged Teamsters to assist in the war effort in various ways. Many rank-and-file members collected and delivered supplies, attended rallies, purchased war bonds, served on service committees in their local areas, and helped in relief efforts for families of soldiers overseas. Tobin also advocated forwarding dues buttons to the membership serving “over there” in order that they might wear them as a symbol of their unionism. It was estimated that four out of five Teamsters purchased liberty bonds, due in large part to the push from the General President.

Also in 1917:

AFL Board, 1917.

At the AFL convention that year, Tobin defeats John B. Lennon in the race for treasurer of the AFL. He quickly became one of the inner circle of AFL vice presidents and he and AFL president Samuel Gompers quickly became close friends and supporters of one another.