Food and the War Effort

Poster, “Uncle Sam Says-Garden To Cut Food Costs” circa 1925 Record Group 287 Still Pictures Identifier: 287-PA1.32:G16 NAID Identifier: 541773

Throughout history, we have seen how government has played a role in the way we do things, such as eating.  This was true during the first and second World Wars.  At the time, government agencies did a lot of campaigning to persuade Americans to do their part in supporting the war effort.

The National Archives’ Still Pictures Branch holds numerous posters produced by different government agencies during World War I & II, which promoted not only military recruitment, but also conserving and growing food.  I became fascinated with these posters while helping prepare for the exhibit What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?, which explored the government’s effect on American diet.  The exhibit, which opened in the Summer of 2011, showcased some of the posters on healthy eating, gardening, farming, and saving food.

During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration was run by Herbert Hoover to monitor and provide food regulations, such as supply, conservation, and distribution.  Within the administration, the Education Division, Advertising Section developed and distributed campaign posters to encourage food conservation and production.  The series, World War I Posters, 1917-1919 (NAID 512439), features 291 posters campaigning the war effort.  Phrases such as, “Food Will Win the War”, “Save It”, “Don’t Waste”, and “America’s Food Pledge” were the common themes used in promoting the war effort on food.

Poster campaigning continued into the second World War.  Various federal agencies developed posters and were assembled by the Office of Government Reports, Division of Public Inquiries, Office of War Information.  The series, World War II Posters, 1942-1945 (NAID 513498), features 2,828 posters, including ones emphasizing the importance of growing, canning, healthy eating, harvesting, and not wasting food.  Other posters on food include Garden Victory campaigns persuading Americans to garden more and employment advertisements encouraging Americans to work in food processing plants.

These types of campaigns helped America to win both world wars.

World War I Posters and World War II Posters are fully digitized and made available through our online catalog with no copyright restrictions.

A prologue article by curator Alice Kamps entitled“What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? New Archives Exhibit Examines Government’s Effect on the American Diet”, is available for reading from the Summer 2011 issue.