Food Rationing in Wartime America: How Clark County Helped Feed the War (Part 1)

by Sherri Goudy

During the first 3 years of WWI, prior to US entering, the food supply in Europe had diminished and the allies were facing starvation.  War had transformed fields with crops into battlefields and distribution of imported foods had been halted by the irregularity of transportation. So, what could the citizens of America do for the allies in Europe, especially when food supplies in the US were short as well?

As America entered the war on April 2, 1917 the rally to increase food supply for both the US and our allies began immediately.  As was happening across the US, Springfield newspapers were flooded with daily articles asking its citizens to conserve food, increase planting, and limit their intake of meats, sugar, and grains.  Political cartoons showed images of wasteful Americans and that the world’s food shortage was on our shoulders.

Photo 1 May 16 1917 PC tighten your belt

On April 6th, the Secretary of Agriculture had asked all of America to “do his or her bit” to plant gardens wherever they could, even in vacant city lots.

Photo 2 April 6 1917 Increase food supply

City officials in Springfield immediately began plans for these Victory Gardens and to encourage “every available lot for cultivation.”

Photo 3 April 21 1917 Spfld Chamber meeting garden plans

Every man, woman and child was asked to participate in this effort to generate food supply.  President Wilson expected that each citizen would participate in the “great civilian army” doing their part to cultivate the land and proving that without their “whole-hearted services, ‘mere fighting would be useless.’”

Photo 4 April 27 1917 What Pres expects of citizens

The Boy Scouts planned a national planting day on April 21st

Photo 5 April 20 1917 Boy Scouts

and it was predicted in the Springfield paper that the War could end “in the backyard of this city” with women having the “opportunity to do her ‘bit’ in [the] garden, kitchen, and market.

Photo 6 April 22 1917 War in your backyard

By the end of April, land cultivation was in full swing, and focus began to also include conserving meats and grains and even fasting on certain days.  Tips in one article include being thrifty by “buying enough and allowing no wastage from table,” preparing meals with cheaper ingredients, and taking note of “how much of such staples as flour, sugar, milk, cooking fat, etc. Is used each week for a month and seeing if there are any ways of cutting down the quantity needed.”  Articles and advice columns covered entire pages which included menu options for “meatless days,” ways to feed a family of eight with one dollar, and “war bread” – a more economical bread, using other grains and ingredients in place of white flour.

Photo 7 April 29, 1917 Two meatless days and other headlines

Photo 8 May 6 1917 Meatless and numerous

In early May, fasting as requested by the Catholic Church in Cincinnati, was asked “for [the] good of nation.”

Photo 9 April 30 1917 3 Catholic Churches to fast

And the call for national prohibition to conserve the nations grain supplies.

Photo 10 May 13 1917 Senate food supply

Photo 11 May 13 1917 Senate food supply part 2

Everyone was concerned with the food situation in the US and abroad, and it was each person’s patriotic duty to do whatever was necessary to feed our allies.

Crop planting continued to be a major concern in May, as well as the impending issue of rural farms suffering from lack of farmers as more land was being utilized for cultivation and the draft and volunteer enlistment began.  The Secretary of Agriculture addressed these issues and wanted to ensure that men rejected from military and naval duties could be called to “agricultural service.”

Photo 12 May 4 1917 Bread Bullets will win the war

Another article on the front page of the Springfield paper asked people who were planning vacations to give up their vacation time to support the local rural farming initiative.

Photo 13 May 6 1917 War Dept bottom of page

Other articles gave advise from the local horticultural society on what crops to plant.

Photo 14 May 6 1917 War Dept bottom of page

Springfield was well known at that time as a center for manufacturing agricultural implements. The local newspaper wrote on May 6th, 1917 that “Springfield [would] play an important part in planting of grain and cultivation of crops… in the great effort to increase the food supply of the United States.”

Photo 15 May 6 1917 Spfld importance in war Raise corn and sidemeat

Please check back next week for part 2 of this post!  As always, leave a comment because we want to know what you think.


Clark County and the War Propaganda Machine: How Posters Sold the War

by Sherri Goudy

America Gave You All You Have to Give - LoC

In my last blog, we discussed how Clark County immediately began to mobilize to support the Great War.  Citizens who had been convinced of neutrality and staying out of the war “over there,” began to enlist in the army, volunteer for the Red Cross, display flags in every home and storefront, buy war bonds, and plant victory gardens all in support of the war.  But how did these ordinary citizens become inspired to take such actions?


Up until the Cold War, the United States maintained only a small standing army, so when war broke out it was necessary to mobilize the entire country. The government needed to acquire enough people, money, and time to recruit and train troops, produce arms and equipment, and all the supplies needed to fight.

After the Declaration of War in 1917, there was an extreme urgency to joining the war in Europe.  Public support was crucial to the war effort and in order to influence the American people, the government began to promote patriotic ideas through the creation of The Committee on Public Information.  This committee established under Wilson and headed by George Creel, was the first committee solely devoted to propaganda.

Creel, a journalist, was against censorship in the media, but only to selective ends; he was strictly against publishing anything that would be considered enemy propaganda.  There was to be no publishing of anything that would negatively impact the public’s opinion about the war. The goal was to create “a publicity proposition” of which posters would be the forefront of attention.  He enlisted an “army of artists who rallied to the colors” creating beautiful patriotic images.  One of the most iconic images ever produced was James Montgomery Flagg’s “I Want You” poster.

I Want You

As head of the Committee on Public Information, Creel started a nationwide publicity campaign and as part of this he assembled a team of 75,000 public speakers known as the “Four Minute Men.” These men gave brief patriotic speeches, not lasting longer than 4 minutes, throughout the country supporting the war effort. They used rallies, parades, pamphlets, songs, and of course posters to gain support for the war.

Four Minute men - Washington poster

These posters captivated the viewer and encouraged men to enlist, women to join the Red Cross, and everyone to support the war effort through food conservation, buying war bonds, and planting Victory Gardens.  Their imagery was meant to make a person stare, to clearly see the good and evil, the suffering, and told you how you could help, how you SHOULD help.

The emotional response to these works of art was undeniable.  How could you deny the stern stare of Uncle Sam, with his finger pointing at you, telling you to join the war effort?  How could you stand by and not join the Red Cross when staring at the vision of a nurse holding an injured soldier declaring you were “The Greatest Mother in the World.” The following posters may have been used to “influence” and “sell” the war, but their imagery evokes a real emotional response even today. And they inspired citizens in every town in America, like those in Clark County, to do their part and ensure victory.

red cross 50981v

Knit your bit-red cross

Red Cross

Americans all victory loanBondsAREBombs

Boy scouts- liberty loan

Food administration

WHC - Save the Fruit Crop - Domino Sugar Ad July 1917.jpg

In my next blog, we will discuss the formation of the US Food Administration and the efforts to conserve food in America while ensuring we could feed our troops and allies.

Let us know what you think or if there is a topic related to Clark County in the Great War that you want us to write about.