What Was the Red Scare of 1919?

During the Red Scare of 1919, intensely patriotic Americans stirred fears that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia could spread to the United States. Though the term "Red Scare" is often associated with the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s, this, the first such incident, occurred soon after World War I.

The end of World War I in 1918 left millions out of work, causing widespread economic hardship. That hardship led to the growth of the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies") and Eugene Debs' Socialist Party. Both organizations had been opposed to U.S. involvement in the war, which put them at odds with conservatives. George Creel, who chaired the U.S. Committee on Public Information, called the groups "reds."

When 60,000 workers in Seattle launched a general strike in 1919, a public panic ensued. Critics labeled the workers as communists trying to start a revolution and called labor strikes anti-American. The hysteria grew when authorities across the country reported that they had foiled several anarchist bombing attempts. Due to the widespread fear, some citizens lost their civil liberties, and many were jailed for expressing certain political beliefs. This early Red Scare lasted only a few years, running out of steam in the early 1920s.