The Kansas Shoe Salesman Responsible for Veterans Day
The reason we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11th dates back to 1918, when an armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed that essentially ended World War I. The first Armistice Day was celebrated the following November 11.
World War I was billed as the war to end all wars, but of course it didn’t. So by the 1950s, with so many American people veterans of World War II and the conflict in Korea, some thought the term “Armistice Day” was outdated.
How Armistice Day Became Veterans Day
There's a shoe repairman from Emporia, Kansas, who probably isn’t in many history books, but he deserves at least a paragraph. In the early 1950s, a gentleman by the name of Alvin King thought Armistice Day was too limiting. He had lost family in World War II, and thought all American veterans of all wars should be honored on November 11. So he formed a committee, and in 1953 the city of Emporia, Kansas, celebrated Veterans Day.
Ed Rees, Emporia’s local congressman, loved the idea and took it to Washington. President Eisenhower liked King’s idea, too. In 1954, Eisenhower formally changed November 11 to Veterans Day and invited some of Emporia’s residents to be there when he signed the bill. King was one of those invited, but there was one problem: he didn’t own a nice suit. His veteran friends chipped in and bought him a proper suit and paid his way from Kansas to the White House.
In 2003, Congress passed a resolution declaring Emporia, Kansas, to be the founding city of Veterans Day.
This story was a originally published in 2018; it has been updated for 2023. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Alvin King as a shoe salesman, not a shoe repairman.