By the time the U.S. entered World War I, most of Europe had endured three years of war and was facing extreme food shortages as farmers became soldiers and fields became battlegrounds. Until the U.S. began sending troops in the summer of 1917, the majority of support provided to the war effort consisted of supplies, raw materials, and most importantly food.
Later, as American troops were assembled and sent to the battlefront, farms at home began to face labor shortages and trucks and trains were needed to transport soldiers and supplies, rather than food.
President Woodrow Wilson tasked Herbert Hoover, currently serving as the Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, with taking charge of the country’s wartime Food Administration. The goals of the Institution were to provide food for its own troops and those of its Allies, as well as to feed the American and Allied populations.
In order to increase the available food supply, Hoover endeavored to “mobilize the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in this country” by urging citizens to voluntarily conserve food for the war effort. The government widely disseminated posters, articles, and other materials and “Food Will Win the War” became the program’s slogan. Campaigns such as meatless Mondays and wheatless Wednesdays encouraged Americans to prepare meals with corn and rye rather than wheat, and to eat fish and poultry instead of beef.
Americans were also asked to begin producing their own food at home by planting War Gardens. Charles Lathrop Pack, a wealthy timber baron from Michigan, organized the U.S. National War Garden Commission to provide support for the effort and gardens began to be planted at private residences and parks all over the country. Growing vegetables became a patriotic duty and “Sow the Seeds of Victory!” was a popular phrase printed on posters and pamphlets.
Three federally sponsored campaigns were particularly successful in inspiring citizens to action.
The Liberty Garden campaign encouraged a myriad of home, community, and workplace efforts by appealing to Americans’ sense of patriotism. A wide variety of home gardening and food preservation publications were provided free of the charge, and the program was extremely effective.
The United States School Garden Army was an effort to make agricultural education a part of the daily school curriculum. Sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Education (though it was funded by the War Department), the program encouraged children to raise food for America through school based War Gardens. Several million students signed up to become “Soldiers of the Soil.”
The Women’s Land Army of America placed more than 20,000 women in agricultural jobs. The advertisements for the program assured women that it was only “Until the Boys Come Back.”
It is estimated that through the efforts of the U.S. Food Administration, food shipments to Europe were doubled within a year and domestic food consumption was reduced 15%. After the war was over, Hoover continued to oversee food shipments to a battle ravaged Europe by serving as the head of the American Relief Administration.