Wednesday, October 2, 2019

WWII Draft Lottery Capsule

Last week Mary Gallagher, Benton County Museum's Collections Manager, asked me to research the artifact pictured below.
This small capsule played a big role in the lives of many men during the 1940s.  In 1940, anticipating the the United States would be drawn into the war, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act.  It required all men ages 21 to 36 to register with their local selective service board by October 16, 1940.  Each was assigned a number from 1 to 9000 (though only numbers 1 to 7836 were actually used).  Each number was written on a paper and inserted into an opaque blue capsule.  At a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Secretary of War Henry Stimson was blindfolded with a strip of linen taken from the upholstery of a chair which sat in Independence Hall at signing of  the Constitution. He then stirred the bowl of capsules with a wooden spoon made from part of an Independence hall beam and drew out a capsule containing the number 158.  Men who held that number and passed the medical exam were drafted into the military.  Local boards could exempt some who were needed in war industries or for care of dependents. Additional men were drafted in the order in which their numbers had been drawn.

A second and lottery were held in July 1941 for those who had turned 21 since October 1940.  Officials chose red capsules for that lottery.  The capsule in the picture has faded to coral but it was one used in the second lottery.

Another was held in March, 1942 and included all men under the 46 who had not already registered.  That lottery used green capsules. 

A similar draft had been used during World War I.  The system continued in used until the United States switched to an all volunteer military in 1973.  The lottery was made a bit simpler by basing the selection on birthday, cutting down the number of capsules to be filled and mixed.

 By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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