Exhibition Previews Hauber Collection of WWI Machine Guns and Related Objects

“Man & Machine: The German Soldier in World War I” offers rare insight.

The special exhibition “Man and Machine: The German Soldier in World War I” tells a tale that no American museum has ever told before – the story of the Great War from the German viewpoint.
The exhibition opens September 3, 2010 at the National World War I Museum. It will be housed in Exhibit Hall, one of the two original 1926 buildings which flank the Liberty Memorial Tower. Access to the special exhibition is included with admission to the National World War I Museum.
This new perspective – one that only ninety years after the war can provide – will explore the machines of war and the men who used them. Visitors will see the war through the eyes of the German soldier – his words, his technology, and the actual objects used by him to fight and survive.
Nearly all of the objects and documents will be on display to the public for the first time.
“This is a truly unique exhibition for this country. It explores this pivotal world event from a total new perspective,” says Vice President of Museum Programs Eli Paul. “Not only are you seeing the Great War through the eyes of those who fought against America and its Allies, you are seeing how machines transformed the war. When you look at this material you wonder who is in control…the man or the machine.”
In 2009 during the conceptual development of this special exhibition an extraordinary historical collection was donated to National World War I Museum. The Carl H. Hauber donation holds the record as the largest number of historical objects ever given by one donor in the Museum’s ninety-year history. The private collection of 1,700 objects, collected with a discriminating curatorial eye and almost encyclopedic in nature, essentially told the story of the machine gun during WWI. A stunning addition to the most comprehensive WWI collection in America, several of the historical objects from this donation have been integrated into “Man and Machine” The exhibition serves as a preview of this significant acquisition to the museum collections.
“I was thrilled to see the tremendous number of personal items that were part of the donation from the Hauber family,” explains Curator Doran Cart. “It’s not just weapons. Objects from the German home front, equally poignant, are included in the exhibition. Surprisingly, the soldiers carried many personal items throughout this intense conflict.”

Some of the most distinctive items included in the exhibition are:

  • a Christmas cigar box that was given to soldiers with patriotic images of Kaiser Wilhelm II on the lid
  • a handmade calendar for 1918
  • a stoneware schnapps bottle and glasses
  • a pull toy of a machine gunner
  • a small Imperial German flag which was silk-screened on wool
  • a collar for a German service dog
  • a paper sign from a trench that warned “do not use this route”

At the beginning of the war, the common German infantryman still retained equipment and traditions from decades before. As the war progressed, many innovative changes occurred in the German infantryman’s equipment and uniform. Steel helmets replaced leather. Body armor, trench clubs, hand grenades, knives for close combat, and even submachine guns were used on the battlefield. Gas masks protected against the terror weapon of poison gas.

This exhibition is partially funded by the Kansas City, Missouri Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.

Man & Machine – Insight through the German Soldier’s Own Words

How better to understand the experiences of one’s adversary than through their own words? These quotes, which are integrated into the exhibition, also give insight into how those fighting the war felt about the advance in technology.

“Life is one hell, death is a mere trifle; we are all screws in a machine that wallows forward, nobody knows where to.”
– German soldier Ernst Toller, 1916, describing service at the front

“After only ten minutes, the battle of the Somme was working away like a giant machine. Everything operated with a terrible rhythm. . . .Splinters clattered against our steel helmets but we took no notice. An attack absorbs all the senses. . . .”
– Unteroffizier (Corporal) Feuge, 6th Company, 68th Infantry Regiment, 1916

“Whose heart was not in his mouth at times during this appalling storm of steel? All were seized by a deep bitterness at the inhuman machine of destruction which hammered endlessly.”
– Landwehr Leutnant (Territorial Army Lieutenant) M. Gerster, 119th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 30 June 1916

“When I joined the army in the spring of 1916, I carried presumptions that the war would be fought like the 1870 War between German and France. Man-to-man combat, for instance. But in the trenches friend and foe alike suffer from the effects of invisible machinery. It is not enough to conquer the enemy. He has to be totally destroyed.”
– Reinhold Spengler, 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment.

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