As the United States entered World War I, Gaithersburg was in a growth cycle. The expansion that had begun in the years following the opening of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B & O) in 1873 was bolstered by the war. The world needed food and we were ready with farms, mills, a new cannery, and transportation: the railroad.
While jobs in farming and related industries represented the largest employers in the area, the B & O brought rail and communication jobs which in turn brought manufacturing industries which provided well-paying jobs. All of this meant an increase in the service and medical industries, home workers for the well to-do families that had those jobs, and white-collar professions – clerks, accountants, insurance agents, lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc. – as well as the skilled labor needed for building trades. The war also increased the size of the federal government and Gaithersburg was conveniently located on the rail line to DC, to make a salubrious suburban home life possible for commuters.
In some ways, the war had little impact on the everyday lives of Gaithersburg residents. The war effort called for increases in agriculture and industry, all of which we were already engaged in doing. The minutes from City Council meetings during this period do not even reference the war or its impact. Nonetheless, a close look at the historical record shows us the effect the war had on our community.
On the Homefront: Gaithersburg in World War 1 is on display in the Gaithersburg Community Museum through June 2019. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00-3:00.