Over There was written by George M. Cohan in 1917, during the height of World War I. The song became an instant hit.
The song reflected Americans’ expectations that the war would be short. It was a patriotic song designed to galvanize American young men to enlist in the army and fight the “Hun”. The song is best remembered for a line in its chorus, “The Yanks are coming.”
Cohan wrote “Over There” on April 7, 1917, just one day after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany.
So it is perhaps not completely surprising that Cohan’s reaction to reading the headlines that morning was to hum; however, what is surprising is that Cohan’s humming became the start of a very popular song.
Cohan continued to hum all morning and soon began to think of some lyrics. By the time Cohan arrived at work that morning, he already had the verses, chorus, tune, and title of what became the very popular song, “Over There.”
Cohan wrote the song in under two hours and was inspired by the song “Johnny Get Your Gun“. The song went unpublished until June 1, 1917 when publisher William Jerome registered it with the Library of Congress.
The song was introduced to the public in the fall of 1917 when it was sung at a Red Cross benefit in New York City. It would later become the most popular song during the war with over two million copies sold.
This song, as well as “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary“, was a popular patriotic song during the First World War. On June 29, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Cohan the Congressional Gold Medal for this and other songs.
It has been revived on various occasions during and after World War II.
George Cohn was an actor, singer, dancer, songwriter, playwright, and Broadway producer who had composed hundreds of songs, including such famous songs as “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” “Life’s A Funny Proposition After All,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.”