On September 16, 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. This was the first peacetime draft in United States' history. Those who were selected from the draft lottery were required to serve at least one year in the armed forces. Once the U.S. entered WWII, draft terms extended through the duration of the fighting. By the end of the war in 1945, 50 million men between eighteen and forty-five had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted in the military.
Although the United States was not at war, many people in the government and in the country believed that the United States would eventually be drawn into the wars that were being fought in Europe and East Asia. Isolationism, or the belief that American should do whatever it could to stay out of the war, was still strong. But with the fall of France to the Nazis in June 1940, Americans were growing uneasy about Great Britain’s ability to defeat Germany on its own. Our own military was woefully unprepared to fight a global war should it called upon to do so. National polls showed a growing majority in favor of instituting a draft.
Take a look at some of the primary documents related to the draft from the Museum’s Education Collection.