Today in History – October 16, 1940 – Got your draft card?

16 October 1940 – “For many mid-20th century Americans, October 16, 1940, was and is R-Day—the date on which all men between ages 21 and 35 were required to register for the draft. As long lines formed, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation on radio. “On this day, more than 16 million young Americans are reviving the 300-year-old American custom of the muster,” FDR said. “On this day, we Americans proclaim the vitality of our history, the singleness of our will, and the unity of our nation.”

Secretary of War Henry Stimson, blindfolded, picks No. 158 from the fishbowl for President Franklin Roosevelt to announce. (National Archives)

The District of Columbia opened 47 registration centers to accommodate the 113,371 men who lined up to register in a cold rain. Almost half a million registered in Chicago. The level of cooperation achieved by a nation still split between isolation and intervention was remarkable. Newspapers set up special bureaus of draft information to answer questions about registration, and radio stations made sure their listeners knew how and where to register.

The registration form itself was simple, with 12 boxes to be filled in by examiners who asked a dozen basic questions. An examiner then eyeballed each registrant to determine whether his build was slender, medium, or stout. In characterizing race, examiners had five choices: White, Negro, Oriental, Indian, and Filipino.

A wallet-size card handed back to the registrant contained basic information, including their date of birth. This document was proof that the signer had registered, and he was advised to keep it with him at all times. Known immediately as the “draft card,” it came into immediate use in verifying age when buying alcoholic beverages. If you were not 21—the legal drinking age in many states and lesser jurisdictions—you did not have a card and could not be served.” (1)

Source: (1)

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