EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
An item in the 50 years ago column a few weeks ago with regard to the appointment of a draft board for Findlay and Hancock County for World War I stirred memories.
It was not long after the United States had joined forces with the Allies in the war against Germany and the central powers in Europe. Congress enacted draft legislation setting up machinery by which to summon men into the military service. The draft had been employed in the Civil War and it was decided to institute such a system in the new conflict.
President Woodrow Wilson requested the governors of the 48 states to have the members of draft boards named for each community. Counties of the size of Hancock were to have one board. Larger areas were to have more boards. Gov. James W. Cox in turn asked the presiding common pleas judges in the various counties to select the members of the selective service or draft boards. Judge William F. Duncan, in Hancock County, named Oliver P. Shaw, a veteran of the Civil War and former county treasurer and former legislative representative, then retired; Charles F. Coe, floorwalker at the C.J. Jackson Department Store and a veteran of the Spanish-American War; and Dr. J.P. Baker, prominent Findlay physician, to serve as the three-man board for Hancock County.
The local board immediately went to work with headquarters on the top floor of the city hall in the offices then occupied by the Hancock County Board of Elections. Washington ordered a registration of all men between the ages of 21 and 31 years to be held on June 5, 1917 in every county in each states. The registration took place in the precinct voting booths in the city and county.
A total of 2,811 young men appeared and had their names enrolled. The names were then assembled by the draft board and each man was assigned a number, beginning with one. At Washington, it was to be determined the order in which the men would be called for military service. The board in the country with the largest number of registrants had some 10,000 enrolled. So 10,000 numbers were printed on individual cards, one number to a card. These cards were deposited in a mammoth glass bowl at Washington and stirred up. Then, a high official of the government wearing a blindfold started pulling out numbers.
Hancock County, of course, was only interested in numbers up to around 2,800 instead of the whole 10,000. So when the first number that came out below the 2,800 level, that meant that the individual with that number would be the first to go into military service. In Hancock County this was Edwin Henry Wilch, of Jenera. His number in the general assignment of order numbers was 258 and that was the first number below the 2,800 level to come out of the glass bowl at the national capital. The second one in order from here was Otis Lorenzo Bright, of Findlay. His number was 2,522.
The proceedings at Washington were watched very excitedly all over the United States and the press wires carried the order of the drawings the day they were conducted. The old Morning Republican, whose Associated Press wires did not ordinarily open until 6 o’clock in the evening, obtained permission from the news service to open its leased wire at the start of the drawings and the numbers were posted on the side of the brick building which then stood just north of the newspaper plant. Great crowds gathered around the wire reports and observed them closely. Every registrant knew his order number, of course, and was anxious to know when his number came out of the glass bowl at Washington, for that mean just how soon he would be called for duty. He had to do his own figuring of course when the drawings got well into the 10,000 numbers. He had to pass over some 7,500 numbers that were higher than those within Findlay and Hancock County of course.
When it was all over after many hours the newspapers that printed the full list from Washington were in great demand for further scanning. The Morning Republican of successive days printed the full list of Hancock County registrants, with the order in which their numbers had been drawn.