What’s Cooking Wednesdays: Canning for Victory!

Records of the U.S. Food Administration, World War I-era poster designed by Burton Magee of Monroe, Iowa, Record Group 4.

Today’s “What’s Cooking Wednesdays” guest post comes from Kimberlee Ried, public programs specialist at the National Archives in Kansas City.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These words, written by Emma Lazarus, are inscribed on the tablet held by the Statue of Liberty, given as a gift to the United States from France in 1886.  This iconic statue has symbolized patriotism and freedom often associated with the United States. 

 This “Be a Victory Canner” poster, found in the records of the National Archives at Kansas City, was created by a child during World War I. The drawing evokes similar patriotic undertones with the depiction of Lady Liberty as a Victory Canner. 

The poster is found in the Records of the U.S. Food Administration, a short-lived federal agency created in 1917 as a part of the Food and Fuel Control Act.  During World War I this agency was responsible for regulating the supply, distribution, and conservation of products for the Allies.  Such items needed for conservation were fuel, wool, sugar, and wheat. 

This “Be a Victory Canner” poster is one of eight created by elementary students in Iowa as a part of the publicity and propaganda activities coordinated by the U.S. Food Administration. The intent was to encourage the community to not only understand why food conservation was important, but to appropriately conserve items, which included canning, that could be needed for war efforts.

The Federal government had already turned to its citizens and encouraged them to plant “Liberty Gardens.”  The goal was to encourage individuals to provide their own fruits and vegetables while appealing to their sense of patriotism. Canning was an important part of the liberty garden program, as it allowed the bounty of the harvest to be preserved for the winter. 

Planting such gardens was commonplace during both World War I and II.  In addition to indirectly aiding war efforts the gardens and canning were considered a civilian morale booster, in that gardeners and canners would feel empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. By the end of World War I, there were over 5.3 million “Liberty Gardens” in the United States.  The program was so successful that it was reinstated during World War II as the Victory Garden Campaign.

The U.S. Food Administration was rendered obsolete by the armistice in Europe.  President Woodrow Wilson promoted its transition in a new agency for the support of the reconstruction of Europe.  It became the American Relief Administration on February 25, 1919.

Textual records from the U.S. Food Administration can be found in all the regional archives locations within the National Archives. And in Washington, DC, a new exhibit called What’s Cooking Uncle Sam? highlights food and drink items found throughout the entire National Archives regional facilities and the Presidential Libraries.

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