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  • Food Will Win the War!The World War I Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Linda August (bio)

Library Company of Philadelphia, World War I, photographs, graphic collections, food, food conservation

Food became vital to victory in the First World War, and every American could "do their part" through food conservation. The United States needed to feed its 4.3 million troops as well as its European allies, who were suffering from a severe food crisis. The United States Food Administration (USFA), created in 1917 and headed by Herbert Hoover, campaigned to convince Americans to voluntarily change their eating habits. It encouraged conserving wheat, meat, sugar, and fats so those items could be sent overseas. The USFA advocated using alternatives like honey or molasses for sugar and corn or barley for wheat. To free up transportation for war supplies, it encouraged buying locally produced food or, better still, growing it in liberty gardens. To educate Americans, the USFA and other organizations, such as the National War Garden Commission, printed colorful posters.

The Library Company of Philadelphia has over three hundred vibrant posters promoting food conservation, as well as enlistment in the military, the purchase of war bonds, and support for relief organizations. Food-related posters called on Americans to reduce waste, encouraged gardening, advocated canning and preserving, and urged use of substitutions, such as eating corn ("the food of the nation," as one poster proclaims) (fig. 1).1 A local poster, explaining that "the United States Government is Asking You to Prove Your Patriotism by Food Conservation," announced a "Mass Meeting of Butlers, Stewards, Chefs, Cooks, and house servants, principally of private families, of Philadelphia, Main Line and vicinity." Noted attendees included butlers of such prominent families as the Wideners and Strawbridges; the steward from the Huntington Valley Country Club; and a number of caterers, including Charles Riley of the Roosevelt Hotel at 2027 Chestnut Street. On the back of this poster is a label indicating that the Philadelphia &Reading Railway Co. posted it in the company's Mount Airy train station.2 [End Page 397]

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Fig. 1.

Lloyd Harrison, Corn, the Food of the Nation (P.2284.33), 1918, Library Company of Philadelphia.

[End Page 398]

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Fig. 2.

Charles Pancoast, Group of National League for Woman's Service Members at Little Wakefield (P.9276.44), ca. 1918, LCP.

Photographs in the collection document how Philadelphians served. A series of photos shows Little Wakefield, a demonstration center for the National League for Woman's Service in Germantown, which taught women how to be a "farming soldieress" (fig. 2).3 Little Wakefield offered classes in home economics and canning and preserving. Students grew peas, beans, corn, cabbage, peaches, and raspberries on four acres and cultivated bees. The women preserved hundreds of jars of produce, which they sold, and the proceeds financed the center. Today, it is a part of La Salle University known as the St. Mutien's Christian Brothers' residence.4 Another series of photographs shows Philadelphia City Hall's prominent [End Page 399] display of the USFA motto—"Food Will Win the War, Don't Waste It"—flanked by its seal and decorated in electric lights, which were illuminated at night. City Hall served as a staging point for rallies, parades, liberty loan drives, and, later, the Armistice celebration.5 Other images include Red Cross volunteers handing out lunches to US Marines on trains en route to France.6 The W. J. McCahan Sugar-Refining Company of Philadelphia's patriotic float in the Third Liberty Loan Parade, which featured women dressed as allegorical characters for each of the allies, also appears in photographs.7

The Library Company's collection also contains ephemera; one highlight is a set of collectible paper dolls of allied soldiers from six different nations, which could be folded to stand up. Published by Philadelphia's H. O. Wilbur &Sons, the set is emblazoned with "'Over the Top' With Wilbur's Chocolate, Soldiers of the Allies."8 The book collection includes cookbooks with wartime recipes.

Founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, the Library Company is America's oldest cultural institution. In...


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