American Agriculture: Boom and Bust--The 1910s


Figure 1.--Here we see childten on a Midwestern American farm, we believe during the 1910s. America had become the the nost important industrial power in the world, but about a third of the population still lived on farms. World War I created a boom for American farmers. When the United States entered the War, the U.S. Government incouraged farmers to further expand production. And this is precisely what farmers did. This was not only to feed the rapidly expanding U.S. Army, but as it turned out the srarving people of Europe--some 15-20 million people, many of whom were children. The children were Henry, Frances, and Cecilia Pawlak. The family snapshot was marked 'Clawlak estate'. We are guessing their parents were buying the farm.

For most countries developments on farms had little impact on other countries, even neighboring countries. Not so America. America is an exceptional country which the Europeans already knew. Thus is why millions of Europeans came to America. What the Europeans did not know at the beginning of the decade waa that American farmers would save millions of lives throughout the continent. American farmers saved millions of people in Europe during the decade, both during and after World war I. No other people in world history had ever attempted such a humanitarian effort on basically altruistic motives and on such a massibe scle. And it was all possible because of the American farmer. No country produced more food than America. America at the time of World War I was a major food producer. It not only was self sufficent in most agricultural commodities, but also exported large quantities of grains and other food products. The few products that America had to import were products that were best grown in tropical regions, particularly sugar and coffee. The United States also imported vegetable oils. [Mullendore] Major developments occured in rural America during the 1910s. Farm credit was a major issue. About a third of the more than 90 million Americans lived in rural areas (1910). Russia in the early-20th century was the European breadbasket, exporting large quantities of grain. The industrialized countries of Western Europe (espcially Britain, Germany and the Lowlands) had to important food to feed their workers. France with its especially abundant land was in a little better shape. World War I created an enormous demand for agricultural products. Farmers and farm workers were conscripted throughout Europe for military service. Fertilizer factories were converted for munitions production. This and the the destruction of War substantially reduced agricultural production. The Central Powers could not import from Russia, the European breadbasket or from overseas because of the Allied naval embargo. Farm production in Europe fell along with the devestation and shifting of priorities to war production. Shortages in Russia, Germny, and Austria-Hungary undermined the imperial regimes. The Allies, especially Britain did import and in large quantity. American farmers thus played an important role even before America declared war on Germany. And the increased demand affects American farming. The markets created and the resulting price increases meant boom years for American farmers and a rush to expand plantings. Great Planes farmers expand dryland farming. Farm workers appear from Mexico, both as a result ofthe Mexican Revolution andthe need for workers as production increased. New Government prigrams are untriduced such as the Stock Raising Homestead Act (1916). Imprioved mechanized equipment appears such as large opengeared gas tractors (1910), closed gear tractors (1915), and small prarie combines (1918). The Northern Plains states (North Dakota, Kansas, and Minnesota) become the principal wheat producing states. As a result of experiments with different wheat strains, durum wheats becomes an important commercial crop. The effort to increase production meant that grain farmers were moving into the most arid area of the Great Plains. Marquis wheat was introduced (1912) Kansas red wheat was introduced (1917). Henry Fors's Model-T and country road building significantly increased the mobility of farmers and the access to small farm equipment like tractors. The Rural Post Roads Act begins regular Federal subsidies to road building (1916). The American railroad network peaked at 254,000 miles (1916) providing the farmer unparalleded market access. The Government once America entered the War (1917), encouraged American farmers to increase production and they responded with major increases in planting and land utilization. Thus during the War, the Allies did not face the same problems with food that Austria-Hungary and Germany faced. After the War, the United States fed a prostrate Europe, averting widespread starvartion. Herbert Hoover and U.S. Food Administration played a major role in that effort. Virtually every European country would recieve American Relief assistance, including the Soviet Union whose new leaders were pledged to destroying America.

Sources

Mullendore, William C. History of the United States Food Administration, 1917-19 (1921).











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Created: 4:16 AM 2/3/2016
Last updated: 4:17 AM 2/3/2016