The American Legion was chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization. Focusing on service to veterans, service members 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.
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 the 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.
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
July 17, 1925
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.
June 23, 1935
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.
June 1, 1938
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.
Dec. 15, 1943
Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery starts to write in longhand, on Mayflower Hotel stationery in Washington, DC, the first draft of what will later become the "GI Bill of Rights" – considered the Legion's single greatest legislative achievement.
June 22, 1944
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs into law the original GI Bill, or Servicemen's Readjustment Act.
May 29, 1946
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.
May 4, 1950
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.
July 9, 1954
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.
May 1, 1972
The Legion implements a Halloween safety program for children; it remains the only national program of its kind.
April 1, 1975
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.
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.
Oct. 16, 1989
The long-standing objective of the Legion to improve adjudication procedures for veterans claims is achieved when the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals becomes operational. Most of the provisions contained in the law creating the court were originally included in the Veterans Reassurance Act.
Aug. 2, 1990
The Legion files suit against the federal government for failure to conduct a Congress-mandated study about the effects of Agent Orange on veterans who served in Vietnam.
Oct. 11, 1990
The Legion creates the Family Support Network to assist families of service members deployed for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East. Through local posts, the network offers a wide range of assistance, including financial assistance, mowing lawns, baby-sitting and more.
Sept. 24, 1994: The American Legion announces partnership with the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum to develop an exhibit for the bomber Enola Gay, which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Jan. 30, Japan.1995: The American Legion announces acceptance without political commentary” for the Enola Gay, ending the greatest controversy in the Smithsonian Institute’s 149-year history.
Oct. 1, 1995
The Legion forms the Persian Gulf Task Force to enhance service for the newest generation of wartime veterans, thousands of whom suffer from illnesses linked to their service in the region.
Sept. 5, 2000: The American Legion presents the first “Spirit of Service” Awards to active duty service members for their off-duty volunteer activities.
Oct. 10-11, 2001: The American Legion creates the American Legacy Scholarship Fund for children of military members killed on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Sept 19, 2004: The American Legion launches a national program, the Blue Star Salute, where posts across the country hold public events to recognize troops, their families and local businesses on Armed Forces Day
June 30, 2008
President George W. Bush signs into law the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, a next-generation GI Bill strongly supported by the Legion. The bill renews the federal government's commitment to veterans by providing them with substantially better education benefits.
Oct. 22, 2009: President Obama signs the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act of 2009, guaranteeing “advance funding” for VA appropriations, a formula that The American Legion has strongly supported for many years. The new law sets funding for VA one year in advance.
August 2017: The Legion assists in the creation and eventual passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which modernizes the current appeals process at the Department of Veterans Affairs, forcing VA to render a decision on a veterans claim within one year.
August 2017: Denise H. Rohan of Wisconsin is elected national commander, the first woman to hold the role in the Legion's history.