Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, January 15, 2015

America's "Progressive" Approach to Managing Its Food Supply During the War

With the authority and power granted to him by Congress in the legislation  of the Lever Act, on August 10, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson issued Executive Order 2679-A creating the U. S. Food Administration. In doing so, he created a government entity to replace an existing volunteer organization. The U. S. Food Administration, operating in each state, was to

A.  Assure the supply, distribution, and conservation of food during the war,

B.  Facilitate transportation of food and prevent monopolies and hoarding, and

C. Maintain governmental power over foods by using voluntary agreements and a licensing system.

Herbert Hoover, former head of the Belgian Relief Organization, lobbied for and won the job of administrator of the Food Administration. Hoover had made clear to President Wilson that a single, authoritative administrator should head the effort, not a board. This, he believed, would ensure an effective federal organization. He further insisted that he accept no salary. Taking no pay, he argued, would give him the moral authority he needed to ask the American people to sacrifice to support the war effort. As he later wrote in his memoirs, his job was to ask people to "Go back to simple food, simple clothes, simple pleasures. Pray hard, work hard, sleep hard and play hard. Do it all courageously and cheerfully."

As head of the U.S. Food Administration, Herbert Hoover, given the authority by Wilson, became a "food dictator". The Lever Act had given the president power to regulate the distribution, export, import, purchase, and storage of food. Wilson passed that power on to Hoover. To succeed, Hoover designed an effort that would appeal to the American sense of volunteerism and avoid coercion. In designing the program, he adopted a federal approach, combining centralized and decentralized power. He oversaw federal corporations and national trade associations, and he sought the cooperation of local buyers and sellers. Through it all he called for patriotism and sacrifices that would increase production and decrease food consumption. "Food," proclaimed Hoover and the administration, "will win the war."

"No aspect of the people's lives remained unchanged," wrote one historian in assessing the effect of this board and its companions, the War Industries Board and the Fuel Administration. Under Hoover's direction, the Food Administration, in league with the Council of Defense, urged all homeowners to sign pledge cards that testified to their efforts to conserve food. The government boards issued the appeal on a Friday. By the following week, Americans had embraced wheatless Mondays, meatless Tuesdays, porkless Saturdays. According to a sesquicentennial article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in Wisconsin's Green Lake County 100 percent of the housewives signed on and 80 percent of Milwaukee did. Schoolchildren joined housewives in supporting the effort by signing this pledge: "At table I'll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I'll not eat between meals But for supper time I'll wait." In support of the war effort, Americans discovered nouveau menus filled with dogfish, sugarless candy, whale meat, and horse steaks. They planted victory gardens and prized leftovers. Even President Wilson cooperated, grazing sheep on the White House lawns. The emphasis on voluntary support worked.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration Website


  1. One Hundred Years later, we are sourcing local food (save transport fuel), encouraging people to grow your own food (increase food production) , going "Gluten Free" (save wheat), going vegetarian or vegan (save meat)
    but what war are we fighting?

  2. Dennis,
    Nothing, I believe according to the "experts" and "pundits" it is something to provide savings on costs. The "gluten free" is a product for people who are allergic to wheat product. I'm not sure why. A friend's boy could only eat gluten free foods.As far as vegetarian or vegan, that is a personal choice now. If the nation ever engages in another world war (heaven forbid), perhaps the meatless Tuesday can come again. Gas rationing we already had a taste in the 1970s, did not go well as I remember

  3. Prior to 1917 Americans had never had to provide for and provision a modern war being fought by one million of their Sons across an ocean. Rationing per se, as happed in WW2, had never happened. The Government requiring citizens on a mass scale to sacrifice from their own lives had not happened.( ThoughtheCivil War had some aspects of this) We were very touchy aboutte government orderingus to do things at that period of history. Though that was changing. But people did band together in unity and Voluntarily gave up these foods ( the article is about the food Admin) for the war effort. IT worked on the short run and helped win the war. All part ofthe larger picture. But in the 1920s and 30s people began to question the need for the government to invite them to participate in making war of any sort. There was a very large anti war isolationist sentiment by 1940. FDR was basically forced by this to upgrade this voluntary provisioning requirement in WW2, to actual rationing. Thus the volunteer effort- while still done and successful, like scrap drives. We add ons to theexisting Governmet mandated rationingprograms. None the less, it defanged the issue of Food Volunteerism helping the war, and risking massive none participation, and basically made it manditory that the people invest from their own lives in some way to feed and support the troops- even if you were not for any war. The world is different now- we can fight wars and not require sacrifice from the majority of the population.

  4. Victory Garden effort was headed by Charles Lathrop Pack, President of the American Forestry Association

  5. I think this article is clearly labeled as to its source.

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