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Chapter XXVIII

Books and Documents > Medical Department of the U.S. Army in the World War, Volume III, Finance & Supply



The question of acceptance by the Federal Government of donations of motor ambulances early came before the War Department. The first of these offers was made by the citizens of Fort Wayne, Ind., who, on April 2, 1917, offered to the Medical Department a modern motor-driven ambulance.1 On April 6, 1917, The Stutz Automobile Co., of Indianapolis, md., offered six motor ambulances complete for use by one of the ambulance companies of the Indiana National Guard.2 The Surgeon General, thereupon, requested authority from the Secretary of War to accept the particular gifts and general authority to accept similar donations in the future.3 The Stutz Co. was willing to provide bodies conforming to the standard of the Medical Department.3 The action of the Secretary of War upon this request appears in the following indorsement:

[Fourth indorsement]


April 17, 1917.


The second indorsement hereon, being approved, this being in accordance with the general policy approved by the Secretary of War, which authorizes the Surgeon General “to accept such gifts when they conform to the plans and specifications in his office, mounted on a suitable chassis; such gifts to be taken up and accounted for as medical property.”

By order of the Secretary of War:

Adjutant General.

1 inclosure.

A body conforming to that of the standard Army motor ambulance was always required as requisite to the acceptance of the gift. In the earlier acceptances the donors were advised that any commercial chassis upon which such a body could be well affixed would be acceptable. They were notified that the ¾-ton chassis made by the General Motors Truck Co. was preferred.4 This policy, naturally, resulted in the acceptance of a heterogeneous lot of motor vehicles. Many ambulances were given to ambulance companies and camps without the knowledge of the Surgeon General’s Office. Many ambulances which did not conform to Army standards were also brought to camps for which no authority had been given and for which gas, oil, greases, and spare parts could not be supplied. Great difficulty was experienced in determining the number of donated ambulances at the camps. Many of the Red Cross ambulance companies accepted into the service were provided with the model 15 equipment, which could not be sent overseas. This equipment had to be left behind and the units equipped from the overseas base.


The evils of this policy soon made themselves known, and acceptances were limited to chassis and bodies not only conforming to the Medical Department standard but to those manufactured by the firms supplying them to the Army. Absolute standardization both in the United States and with the forces overseas was thereby assured. Arrangements were made by the Surgeon General’s Office with the manufacturers to furnish the equipment to prospective donors at the same price as to the Government. The General Motors Truck Co. notified all its dealers and salesmen in April, 1918, that all ambulances purchased for the service must be exact duplicates of the model 16; that thereafter all ambulances bought by the Red Cross would be deducted from the Government’s allotment and must be sold at the price the Government paid; that all inquirers concerning gifts of ambulances were to be referred to the Surgeon General’s Office; that all purchases of both chassis and body must he made direct at the price paid by the Government. This eliminated the charge of middlemen’s profit and manipulation of ambulance prices in connection with the donation of ambulances.5

A final report of the General Motors Truck Co. states that 78 model 16 chassis, included in their total of 5,900, were donated by various organizations and persons. Others were given to organizations and not reported to the Surgeon General’s Office.

The donation of Ford ambulances was also authorized, but later suspended on cabled information that they were not needed in France and that shipments of them should be discontinued.

Donors were permitted to have a suitably inscribed plate attached to the ambulances given by them, but the gift had to be made outright without any restrictions as to place of use or by whom used.

The outstanding lesson of the ambulance donation experience is clear. The donation of miscellaneous ambulances, by various persons at various places was, on the whole, a waste of effort and money. Some had a limited use in this country; others were of little or no value. The Ford ambulances were intended for use with the French Army, and a sufficient number was received early. There was but one ambulance that it was worth while to purchase and donate; in fact but one that could be made, the G. M. C. model 16. As the Government was taking the factory output of this model, the simple and effective method of donating an ambulance was to send a certified check of $1,600, the cost of one ambulance.

The following circular, issued by the Surgeon General on May 30, 1918, gives in full the requirements as to donations.


1. General. - The Medical Department, since the beginning of the war, has been in receipt of many patriotic offers of assistance in the way of purchasing and equipping motor ambulances for service with the United States Army. Citizens, clubs, schools, societies, associations, have generously given of time and funds, and their efforts have, in the majority of cases, been of great assistance to the Medical Department, and have been appreciated thereby.
In general, however, the tremendous problems involved in the supply, equipment, upkeep, operation, and repair of motor ambulances, with a large army, are not understood.


The importance of standard types, interchangeable parts, uniform equipment, and standard shipments is not appreciated.
The information contained herein is furnished with the idea of assisting prospective donors, and making their efforts and gifts of maximum value and service of the Government.

2. Ambulance gifts. - The Medical Department, through the Office of the Surgeon General, will accept for service with the United States Army one or more ambulances, provided such ambulances are complete and standard in chassis, body, equipment, and boxing for shipment as specified hereinafter.
Due to the impracticability of successful operation, upkeep, and repair of other than standard ambulances, miscellaneous types can not be accepted.

3. Standard ambulance. - The United States standard ambulance, complete, includes the following:
  1. United States standard ambulance chassis, complete.
  2. United States standard ambulance body, complete.
  3. Ambulance spare parts A.
4. Purchase and price. - For the assistance of prospective donors of ambulances, and in order to enable them to secure the standard ambulance at a low price, arrangements have been made with the manufacturers of the chassis and body, respectively, by which sale of chassis and body will be made by the manufacturers thereof to the persons desiring to give an ambulance or ambulances to the Medical Department for service with the United States Army at the same price as that charged the Medical Department under its contracts with such manufacturers.

In order to secure this low price, the following conditions must be observed:
  (1) The chassis must be ordered direct from the General Motors Truck Co., Pontiac, Mich.; and the body must be ordered direct from the Anderson Electric Car Co., at Detroit, Mich.
  (2) The delivery of the chassis and body to the Medical Department must be made at the factory of the respective manufacturer.
  (3) Payment for the chassis and body must be made to the respective manufacturer by the donor in advance of delivery.
  The present prices of the chassis and body are stated on the leaflet inclosed herewith. 
The observance of the foregoing conditions (1) eliminates selling expense to the manufacturer, (2) reduces correspondence and bookkeeping expense to a minimum, and (3) permits the handling and shipping to be conducted in the same routine manner as is pursued in Government purchases, and so eliminates special charges on this account.
  On receipt by the manufacturer of an order from a prospective donor, for chassis or body, a release of the chassis or body for sale to the donor is requested by the manufacturer from the Medical Department; when this release is granted by the Medical Department, the manufacturer is enabled, so far as production is concerned, to treat the body or chassis sold to the donor as sold under the Government contract, the total number to be delivered to the Government on its contract being reduced proportionately by the number sold to donors on release. In this way the manufacturer is able to purchase material and parts for 1, 000 or more ambulances at a time, and to manufacture in large quantities, without assuming any risk that the ambulances manufactured may not be sold, as the number contracted for will all be taken by the Medical Department in the event that none is sold to donors on Government release. This arrangement procures for the donor a low price, which is only made possible by quantity production and the economies effected by handling donor’s orders in the routine manner secured by the foregoing regulations.
  A corps of Government inspectors is maintained at each of the plants manufacturing the chassis or body for the United States standard ambulance, and ambulances purchased for gift to the Government will receive the same careful inspection as those purchased by the Medical Department. This will insure the receipt by the purchaser of complete and standard chassis, body, and fittings, and proper boxing.
  The ambulance spare parts A for ambulances given to the Medica] Department will be furnished by that Department without charge and without request by the donor.


5. Inspection and acceptance. - Upon notice of completion of one or more ambulance chassis or bodies by the above-named companies, inspection thereof will be made by a Government representative, and report of acceptance made to the donor. Acceptance will be made of standard ambulance body and chassis complete with standard fittings, with standard boxing, f.o.b. cars, the producing plant.

6. Painting, Insignia, Marking. - Painting and insignia will conform to United States ambulance standard. A metal plate, not to exceed 6 by 8 inches carrying such marking or notation as desired by the donors, may be placed in prominent position, reserved therefor, on the dash. If such a plate is to he attached, it must be furnished by the donor to the manufacturers of the chassis for attachment thereto before the delivery of the same to the Medical Department.
  No other special marking, names, or insignia are to he placed upon chassis or body.
7. Destination. - The exact destination or service of each ambulance can not of course be prescribed or determined. Where desired in particular cases, however, donors may l)e assured, subject to the emergencies of war:
(1) Of service with the United States Army overseas; or,
(2) Of service with the United States Army in the United States camps.

8. Ceremonies. - Due to the impracticability of unboxing and assembling the present type of ambulance body and chassis, then reassembling and reboxing properly for shipment, it will not be possible to arrange for having a gift ambulance at presentation or other ceremonies.
Where gift of a standard ambulance has been made to the Medical Department, and presentation or other ceremonies are desired, a photograph will be furnished upon request, by the office of the Surgeon General, which may be framed as desired and used in lieu of the ambulance.

9. Acceptance in person. - In the present military emergency, it will not be possible to arrange for acceptance in person by a representative of the Office of the Surgeon General.


(1) Telegram from Capt. Geo. L. Byroade, U. S. Army, Fort Wayne, Ind., the Surgeon General of the Army, April 2, 1917, inquiring whether donation of motor ambulance would be accepted by Medical Department. On file, Records Roo, S. G. O.,  157,829-E.
(2) Telegram from the Adjutant General of Indiana, Indianapolis, Ind., to the Surgeon General of the Army, April 6, 1917, requesting authority to accept ambulances. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 157,829-F.
(3) Memorandum from the Surgeon General for the Secretary of War, April 7, 1917, and second indorsement of Surgeon General’s Officc, April 11, 1917, to The Adjutant General, relative to acceptance of offer of 6 Stutz ambulances. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 157,829-F.
(4)  Sixth indorsement, Surgeon General’s Office, April 19, 1917, to Capt. George L. Byroade, U. S. Army, retired, Fort Wayne, Ind., relative to acceptance of ambulance by the Medical Department. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 157,829-E.
(5) General Motors Truck Co. Dealers’ Bulletin, No. 213, April 30, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 267 G.M.T.C./60.