- The Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train
World War I, Food Conservation, United States Food Administration, Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train, Home Front, National Archives and Records Administration
While the military fought hard on World War I battlefields, agencies like the United States Food Administration mobilized the home front. Created by Executive Order 2679-A on August 10, 1917, the US Food Administration was founded to ensure the supply, distribution, and conservation of foods as a part of the war effort. Headed by Herbert Hoover, it stirred up patriotic volunteerism in the American public through a combination of federal regulations, advertisements, and local initiatives.1 One such project, the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train, operated as a local agent of the US Food Administration in collaboration with Pennsylvania State College, the Pennsylvania State Food Administration, and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Called "the most striking food saving propaganda in the nation," the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train aimed to educate citizens about the importance of food conservation to the war effort.2
The National Archives at Philadelphia holds a variety of records of the US Food Administration, including a collection titled "Correspondence and Reports Concerning the Food Conservation Train." Among these records are schedules and rosters, which show where and when the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train made stops in towns across Pennsylvania. This collection also features photographs and drawings, which show that the Food Train consisted of three coaches, which were rebuilt and refitted to house space for exhibits, demonstrations, and lectures. As seen in some of the photographs, one of the cars was outfitted with a complete kitchen, including a fully functioning gas stove, for various presentations (fig. 1). Some local promotional flyers encouraged "housewives and others interested" to visit the train, while other advertisements urged both men and women to educate themselves through the exhibits and demonstrations "as a matter of both self-interest and patriotic service."3 In promoting food [End Page 402] conservation as an act of patriotism, the Food Train furthered the mission of the US Food Administration by educating Pennsylvanians about methods of food substitution, preservation, and conservation.
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A chief goal of the US Food Administration, and thus the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train, was to show Pennsylvanians the importance of their individual contributions to the national task of food conservation. Promotional flyers, pamphlets, press releases, and newspaper stories within this collection demonstrate that the US Food Administration was a [End Page 403] well-oiled propaganda machine. Correspondence and memoranda show the ways in which US Food Administration staff worked with county food administrators, merchants, and other local organizers in each town to promote the train weeks in advance. After the Food Train left, staff would follow up with local organizers to offer recommendations on how to keep momentum going in their towns.4 The US Food Administration's efforts inspired, encouraged, and helped facilitate grassroots activism in food conservation across Pennsylvania.
The records of the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train—and many records of the US Food Administration—are held at the National Archives at Philadelphia. As a branch of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Archives at Philadelphia maintains the historically significant records of the federal agencies and courts in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, dating from 1789 to the present. These records are open to the public and can be examined in the National Archives at Philadelphia's textual research room. Some materials related to World War I and the US Food Administration are accessible through NARA's online catalog at https://catalog.archives.gov. Feel free to contact archives staff for more information by visiting www.archives.gov/philadelphia. Researchers can also view a digital exhibit entitled "The U.S. Food Administration, Women, and the Great War: The Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train" here: https...