December 1, 2012
On Dec. 1, 1969, the Selective Service System conducted its first lottery to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War; the lottery was for men born from 1944 to 1950. The lottery determined who would be called to serve during 1970.
President Richard Nixon signed an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act (1967) that changed conscription to a random selection, the lottery, from a local draft board selection process. The 1948 act required all men 18 and older to register with the Selective Service, and made men 19 to 26 eligible for the draft. There were various exemptions and deferments based on marriage, family dependents, and school enrollment (President Ronald Reagan rescinded all exemptions in 1986).
Though intended to be completely random, the system the Selective Service chose for the first lottery ended up being unfair to men with birthdays later in the year. Slips of paper numbered 1 to 366 representing each day of the year (including Feb. 29 for the 1948 leap year) were placed in individual plastic capsules that were mixed in a shoebox and then dumped into a large glass cylinder. The capsules were drawn from the cylinder by hand one at a time. It turned out that the shoebox mixing procedure did not completely randomize the numbers, and because the capsules were placed in the shoebox month by month, more capsules from December, the last month loaded, were picked early.
The first number drawn was 258, Sept. 14. Military needs in 1970 resulted in 195 numbers called for induction, and only five December birthdays escaped the call, Dec. 2, 12, 15, 17 and 19.
The Selective Service allowed the draft process to stand, though they improved their process for the next lotteries. Lotteries were conducted each year until 1975; induction calls were made for the 1970 and 1971 lotteries, and the 1972 to 1975 lotteries resulted in only calls for physical exams.
The U.S. had instituted temporary conscriptions until the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1917. Congress several times reauthorized conscription to fill military manpower requirements as necessary until an announcement by Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, on Jan. 27, 1973, that our military would be an All Volunteer Force.
Though President Gerald Ford eliminated the registration requirement in 1975, President Jimmy Carter reinstated the requirement in 1980. All males turning 18 must register with the Selective Service.