MILLIONAIRES AT WAR

Inside Stories: First Yale Unit

Kathleen Hanser reveals how privileged Yale University students formed the first US naval aviation unit during World War One

First Yale Unit personnel pulling a Curtiss R floatplane out of the water at Huntington base.
PHOTOS YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY • LIBRARY OF CONGRESS • VORYS ARCHIVE • NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

In 1916, two years into the war in Europe, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, was among America’s most highly rated schools and a bastion of elitism. Students, almost all white Anglo- Saxon Protestants, came from the highest echelons of US society; the ultra-wealthy crowd, the privileged few. Their fathers were the barons of banking and industry and their mothers were heiresses. They were football players, crewed on the rowing team and belonged to Yale’s invitation-only secret societies and fraternities. To most, the war in Europe was a distant event that didn’t concern them.

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