October 29, 1940 – First Peacetime Draftees Selected From a Glass Bowl

On September 16, 1940, the Burke-Wadsworth Act was passed by Congress. More formally known as “The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940,” Pub.L. 76–783, 54 Stat. 885 authorized the first peacetime conscription in United States history. This Selective Service Act required that men between the ages of 21 and 35 register with local draft boards.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Service Training Act

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Service Training Act

One month after the passage of the act, on this day in history, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson began drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl. The numbers were handed to President Franklin Roosevelt, who read them aloud in a public announcement.

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl

Later, when the U.S. entered World War II, the draft ages expanded at both ends of the age range. The terminal point of service was extended to six months after the war. From 1940 until 1947 — when the wartime selective service act expired after extensions by Congress, approximately 34 million men had registered, and over 10,000,000 men were inducted.

At first, blacks were passed over for the draft because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. But more men were invariably required, and in 1943, a “quota” was imposed for recruitment of blacks, to be approximately equivalent to their percentage of the population as a whole. Initially, blacks were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally used in combat.

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