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Blog Post: Burke-Wadsworth Act

What is the Burke-Wadsworth Act? 

With rising tensions in Europe and Asia, the United States Congress passed the Burke-Wadsworth Act on September 16, 1940. Also known as the Selective Service Act of 1940, this legislation required men who had reached their 18th birthday to register for the draft with local draft boards. Initially, registration was no longer required when males reached age 36. After the United States entered World War II, registration age was extended to 65. The Burke-Wadsworth Act is significant as it was the first peacetime conscription in the United States.

Drafts are Unpopular

The draft has been historically unpopular. In 1863, a draft occurred in an attempt to fulfill the manpower needs of the Union Army during the Civil War. As a result of a substitution policy which allowed wealthy individuals to hire another able-bodied man to take one’s place that existed at the time, draft riots occurred in New York.

During the Vietnam War, many protests of the draft occurred across the United States due to the overall unpopularity of the conflict with the American populace.

The Draft Today

Currently, the United States is an all-volunteer army and has been since 1973. The various branches actively recruit individuals to volunteer for service and an overall incentive is the benefits provided in the G.I. Bill. Some occupational specialties have bonuses attached to them and bonuses for voluntary reenlistment also exist. Major General Johnny K. Davis recently discussed the many challenges of recruitment for an all-volunteer force at the PMML.


Draft Cartoons by Bill Mauldin

For More on Bill Mauldin

Drawing Fire: The Editorial Cartoons of Bill Mauldin

The first career-spanning volume of the work of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin, featuring comic art from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm, along with a half-century of graphic commentary on civil rights, free speech, the Cold War, and other issues.




Holt Oral Histories 

Ben Arnold Nicks Jr., Captain

From Kansas to the skies of the Pacific, Captain Ben Nicks would fly thirty-five missions in the last chapter of World War II, commanding a B-29 Superfortress. His multiple bombing missions were vital in strangling the Japanese war efforts in the closing days of the war. His story gives an insight into the life of a pilot and the dangers that come with it; not only from the enemy, but also from the equipment.

Learn More


Marvin Sussman, Corporal

From scouting the St. Marcouf Island, across from Utah Beach hours before the D-Day invasion to help securing the town of Bogheim, Germany, Sussman discovered that being part of the 4th Cavalry Squadron was nothing like his World War I image of infantry charging with fixed bayonets.

Learn More


Gerald Goodman, Captain

At a mere seventeen years of age, Gerald Goodman started his military career in 1938 as part of the 110th Engineers 35th Division of the National Guard. He continued in his US Army service from December 1940 until January 1946 as a member of the 20th Combat Engineer Regiment 2nd Battalion and finally of the 20th Engineer Battalion. He participated in campaigns in Africa, Sicily, and Europe, including D-day.

Learn More


Howell Joseph Malham, Private First Class

From a US Marine, serving in the Battle of Okinawa and a recipient of the Purple Heart award, to becoming an award-winning TV and radio salesman, Howell Malham's life is full of twists and turns. 

Learn More



John William “Bill” Petrisko, Petty Officer, 3rd Class

Zigzagging across the Pacific to avoid kamikazes during World War II, the small but strong minesweeper USS Steady, was lucky to count John “Bill” Petrisko, the dedicated seventeen year old, among its crew.

Learn More


For further reading, check out these books from our Library:

Print Books:

Celler, Emanuel. The Draft and You. New York: Viking Press, 1940.

Clifford, J. Garry, Samuel R Spencer, and Samuel R Spencer. The First Peacetime Draft. Modern War Studies. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

Flynn, George Q. The Draft, 1940-1973. Modern War Studies. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

Wagner, Viqi. Military Draft. Edited by Viqi Wagner. Opposing Viewpoints Series. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008.


Celler, Emanuel. The Draft and You. New York: Viking Press, 1940.

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