The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, servicemembers and communities, the Legion evolved from a group of war-weary veterans of World War I into one of the most influential nonprofit groups in the United States. Membership swiftly grew to over 1 million, and local posts sprang up across the country. Today, membership stands at over 2.4 million in 14, 000 posts worldwide. The posts are organized into 55 departments: one each for the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, France, Mexico and the Philippines.
Over the years, the Legion has influenced considerable social change in America, won hundreds of benefits for veterans and produced many important programs for children and youth. Following is a chronology of significant dates in Legion history:
Members of the American Expeditionary Force convene in Paris for the first American Legion caucus.
St. Louis Caucus. "The American Legion" is adopted as the organization's official name. The Legion's draft preamble and constitution are approved.
The National Executive Committee adopts the Legion emblem.
Congress charters The American Legion.
First Legion convention convenes in Minneapolis. The Constitution and preamble are adopted. Delegates vote 361-323 to locate the Legion's national headquarters in Indianapolis, instead of Washington. A resolution is passed in support of Boy Scouts of America. Today, the Legion is the chartering agency for more than 1, 700 Scouting units made up of approximately 64, 000 youths.
Aug. 9, 1921
The Legion's efforts result in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of the Veterans Administration. Today, the Legion continues to lobby for adequate funding to cover medical, disability, education and other benefits for veterans.
The first "Flag Code" is drafted during a Legion conference in Washington. Congress adopts the code in 1942. Today, the Legion is at the forefront of efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag from physical desecration.
The Legion creates the American Legion Baseball program. Today, more than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. About 82, 000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams each year.
The Sons of The American Legion is officially recognized during the 1932 National Convention in Portland, Ore.
The first American Legion Boys State convenes in Springfield, Ill., to help youths gain an understanding of the structure and operation of the federal government. The first Boys Nation, bringing together youth leadership from all the Boys State programs, convenes in 1946. Today, more than 19, 500 young men participate in Boys State, and 98 in Boys Nation, from 49 of the 50 states.
The final round of the Legion's first annual National High School Oratorical Contest is conducted in Norman, Okla. Today, more than 3, 400 high-school students from around the country compete annually in the contest, which promotes a greater understanding of the U.S. Constitution. Winners receive thousands of dollars in college scholarships.
Sept. 19-21, 1942: Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion is changed for the first and only time since it was written in 1919. The word “War” is changed to “Wars.”
Dec. 15, 1943
Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery starts to write in longhand, on Mayflower Hotel stationery in Washington, the first draft of what will later become the "GI Bill of Rights" – considered the Legion's single greatest legislative achievement.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the original GI Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act, ushering in monumental changes in U.S. society. Higher education becomes democratized after 8 million veterans go to school on the GI Bill, get better jobs, buy houses in the suburbs and raise families. For every dollar spent on educating veterans, the U.S. economy eventually gets $7 back.
The Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary present a small, struggling organization called the American Heart Association with a $50, 000 grant. The grant inaugurates a nationwide program for the study, prevention and treatment of rheumatic heart disease.
The Legion votes to contribute funds to the field of mental health, thereby playing a key role in launching the National Association for Mental Health.
The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation is formed. Today, more than $11 million has been awarded to youth organizations and projects designed to help America's children.
Sept. 1, 1966
The Legion voices great concern over the fate of prisoners of war in Vietnam. Today, the Legion urges a full accounting of all POWs and troops missing in action; and has formed a special group from among the nation's major veterans organizations to continue pressing for further resolution of this issue.
Aug. 24, 1969
The Legion's National Executive Committee establishes the National Emergency Fund as a result of the effects of Hurricane Camille.
The Legion implements a Halloween safety program for children; it remains the only national program of its kind.
The Legion-sponsored Freedom Bell goes aboard the Freedom Train during its tour of the country in celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial. Six years later, the bell is dedicated at its permanent home in Columbus Plaza, opposite Union Station in Washington.
Aug. 26, 1982
The Legion presents a $1 million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund for construction of the Wall in Washington, becoming the largest single contributor to the project.
The Legion announces its sponsorship of an independent study on the effects of exposure to Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans. Congress receives the results of the "American Legion-Columbia University Study of Vietnam-era Veterans" in 1989.
Jan. 1, 1989
The Veterans Administration is elevated to Cabinet-level status as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Legion fought hard for the change, arguing that veterans deserve representation at the highest levels of government.