The World War I doughboys of New York City

No one quite knows where the term “doughboy” originated.

Coined in the 19th century, it may have come from the doughnut-like buttons on soldier uniforms, or it might stem from their doughy rations.

But this nickname for the millions of American infantrymen (and thousands of New Yorkers) who fought in World War I endures—as do the bronze doughboy statues that were funded by veterans’ groups and ordinary citizens after the war’s end in November 1918.

With April 6 marking the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into what was then known as the European War, take a look at a few of the nine doughboy statues standing in city parks and corners.

At the top right is the doughboy of DeWitt Clinton Park in Hell’s Kitchen—an excerpt from war poem “In Flanders Fields” carved in granite below him.

The Abingdon Square doughboy, pistol at the ready above, has graced this West Village pocket park since 1921.

The money for the statue was raised by the Jefferson Democratic Club, whose headquarters across the street at 299 West 12th Street were replaced by a handsome apartment building.

In Bushwick’s Heisser Triangle (above) stands a statue honoring the 156 men from the neighborhood who died in the war. Charles Heisser was a local kid who lived two blocks away and was killed in action in France in 1918.

The Red Hook Memorial Doughboy (left) is proud and triumphant; he commemorates the approximately 100 residents of this corner of Brooklyn who gave their lives to the war.

About 2,400 Brooklyn residents made the ultimate sacrifice, reports a 2001 New York Times piece on crumbling memorial statues.

Chelsea has its own doughboy as well, and hey, it’s the same guy who modeled the Abingdon Square doughboy (below right).

“To the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea” the granite behind him says at Chelsea Park on Ninth Avenue, as he holds his rifle protectively.

Doughboy statues aren’t the only way city residents commemorated the end of the war, of course.

In Central Park and Brooklyn, memorial trees were planted and plaques laid down—like these hiding in plain site on Eastern Parkway, which honor individual soldiers who never made it back from Europe.

[Third photo: NYC Parks; Fifth photo: Alamy]

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11 Responses to “The World War I doughboys of New York City”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    NYC is fortunate to have so many unique WWI statues.

    Across the nation, the majority of the Doughboy Statues – reminders of ‘The War To End All Wars’ – were ordered out of catalogs. They were available with a few variations and the mass production made their prices much less. Today you can spot the familiar helmeted, youthful lads standing proudly on Court House lawns in Minnesota, a old veterans homes in Vermont and nestled amongst forlorn orchards-of-marble in the Carolinas… They were installed during a time these soldier statues were scattered across the span of our nation but mostly, they were found within the hearts of grateful citizens.

  2. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    Your readers might also apprciate the statue (not a doughboy erected in McGoldrick Park in Greenpoint in honor of WW I veterans:

  3. Jim Rynne Says:

    The fighting 69th is honered on Central Park east near the entrance to the zoo. Also don’t forget Father Duffy!

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks, I love the soldier statues and of course Father Duffy–an icon of Times Square

  5. boneladyblog Says:

    Reblogged this on boneladyblog and commented:
    this is really awesome. I had no idea there were so many WWI doughboy memorials in NYC. I have the beginning of a nice day’s visit here. We’re in the 100th anniversary of WWI and I believe today is the anniversary of America joining that war. I also have a first cousin twice removed, Wesley Heffner, private 1st Class in Company B of the 26th Infantry who didn’t make it home from France. He died at twenty years old in 1918. It’s important to remember. Our memories give our dead renewed life and restore to us our roots.

  6. ganglerisgrove Says:

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    I had no idea there were so many doughboy memorials in NYC. I want to visit them all. Today, if i’m not mistaken, is the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into WWI. I have a first cousin twice removed, Wesley Heffner (private first class, Co. B 26th infantry) who didn’t make it home from this war. He died at age 20 in 1918 from wounds sustained in battle. It’s important to remember these things. our memories tell us where we came from, and restore the connections between us and our honored dead.

  7. Anne Says:

    A very interesting article.

  8. William McGrath Says:


  9. The somber “Angel of Death” statue in Prospect Park | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] York doesn’t lack for doughboy statues—a testament to the sacrifices made in the city while fighting World War […]

  10. A forgotten war memorial in Madison Square Park honors the “glorious dead” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] York is time capsule of war memorials. Solemn doughboy statues, heavy bronze plaques inscribed with names, and dramatic sculptures personifying courage and […]

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