In 1940 Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act which created the first peacetime draft and established the Selective Service System as an independent federal agency. Until 1973, American men were drafted to fill the needs of the country’s armed forces that could not be met by volunteers. The draft was abolished in 1973. However, men of draft age are still required to register under the Military Selective Service Act.

On December 1, 1969, the first draft lottery since 1942 was held, at Selective Service National headquarters in Washington, D.C. The draft determined the “order of call” for 1970 for all men of draft age, which included all men born in the years 1944 through 1950. Approximately 850,000 men were affected by the 1969 draft lottery.

For the lottery, 366 blue plastic capsules, each containing one date of the calendar year, were dumped in a large glass container. The capsules were then drawn out and opened, one by one, and assigned sequentially rising numbers. Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drew the first capsule, which contained the date September 14. Thus, all men born on that date, from 1944 through 1950, received the first priority for call to duty. The remaining capsules were drawn by youth delegates who had been selected for that purpose from around the country. The last date drawn was June 8, which was assigned draft number 366. A second lottery was also conducted for the 26 letters of the alphabet, to determine the order of priority (by last name) for each date of birth.

Later statistical studies of the supposedly random selection process indicated that the later dates of the year received disproportionately low draft numbers, due possibly to insufficient mixing of the capsules. However the results of the lottery were not changed. The lotteries of the next three years were apparently fully randomized.

The highest draft number called for induction from the 1969 lottery was 195.

The next lottery, held in 1970, applied only to men born in the year 1951; the lottery of 1971 covered men born in 1952; and the final lottery in 1972 applied to men born in 1953; however, men born in 1953 were not drafted due to abolition of the draft in 1973.

An estimated 70,000 American men fled to Canada to evade the draft or as deserters. Overall, an estimated 60% of potentially eligible men escaped the draft in the Vietnam years, mostly by qualifying for exemptions of many different kinds.

For CHARTS OF ALL THE LOTTERY DRAWINGS, list of draft classifications, Vietnam troop levels year-by-year, and other information, click on the LINKS tab.

LIVE VIDEO coverage of the 1969 draft lottery by CBS can also be accessed from the LINKS page.