World War I: United States Food Administration


Figure 1.-- F.H. Townsend did this poster for the United States Food Administration, prbably about 1915 or 16. "War Rages in France: They Cannot Fight & Raise Food at the Same Time : We Must Feed Them : Denying Ourselves Only a Little Means Life to Them." American food aid in fact saved millions of Europeans both during and after the War.

When the United States entered the War, President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to the post of United States Food Administrator (1917). Food had become a weapon in World War I and no country produced more food than America. Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. America had to produce the food needed by the new large army America was building as well as for Allied armies and civilians. Hoover designed a voluntary program. He called it food conservation, but many Americans took to calling it "Hooverizing." Various promotions were devised, such as wheatless Wednesdays and meatless Mondays. Hoover was convinced that Americans would cooperate voluntarily to support the boys overseas. He did not want a mandatory program and Government regulated rationing. The idea was that American civilians would have to modify their eating habits voluntarily so that more food was available for shipment overseas. The American housewife was urged to conserve food and eliminate waste. Signs and posters appeared in workplaces and public areas with the slogan "Food Will Win the War". Hoover managed to voluntarily reduce domestic food consumption 15 percent without rationing. Hoover guaranteed the farmer a "fair price" and there was an overseas market for all that could be produced. American food exports tripled. Not only did America help feed the Allies, but the shipments created surplus stores of food that helped prevent a post-war famine in Europe. America after the War not only helped her Allies, but the former Central Powers countries as well as Soviet Russia.

State and Local Effort

Some states began to act even before the Federal Government took action. Wisconsin, an important farm state, in particular led the way. Wisconsin was the first state to organize both state and county-level Councils of Defense tasked with educating the public about the War and the sacrifices that would be required. Wisconsin's State Council of Defense took on the task of addressing the food problem that was developing in 1917. The Wisconsin Council was led by Magnus Swenson. He came out with a number of innovative ideas. He promoted promoting food conservation through the cultivation of home gardens and institution of meatless and wheatless days. After President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to lead the new United States Food Administration, Hoover was impressed with Swenson's pioneering efforts. He adopted many of Swenson's policies and appointed Swenson Wisconsin state Food Administrator.

Developing Problem

The Allies which as a result of the British Royal Navy had control of the seas were able to import food. Foreign purchases had depleted American food stocks and driven up prices. Wheat reached a record $3 a bushel. There was legislation designed to control the problem (the Johnson Act, Cash and Carry legislation, and export controls), but they were proving inadequate. America was particularly important to the Allies. Food could be imported from countries like Australia and Argentina, but the distance required more shipping. The shorter North Atlantic lifeline required fewer ships to deliver the same volume of cargo. [Mullendore] In addition, until the Germans resumed unrestricted submarine warfare (February 1917), American ships could deliver food stuffs unimpeded to Britain.

Creation

A few weeks after America entered World War I, a volunteer organization was established (May 4, 1917). It soon became apparent that the War required a much greater Federal effort to address the issues concerned with food production. Food shortages began to appear as prices were rising in 1917. President Wilson established the United States Food Administration (USFA) as an independent agency by President Wilson with Executive Order EO 2679-A (August 10, 1917). The President acted under the authority of the Food and Fuel Control Act (40 Stat. 276), August 10, 1917. The task assigned to the USFA was to regulate the supply, distribution, and conservation of foods. The USFA bought and sold grain and sugar and their products through two subsidiaries: the Food Administration Grain Corporation (U.S. Grain Corporation) and the U.S. Sugar Equalization Board, Inc.

Herbert Hoover

When the United States entered the War, President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to the post of United States Food Administrator (1917). Herbert Hoover at the time World War I broke out was unknown to the American people. He by happenstance was in London and got involved in helping Americans get home from Europe. Slowly he got more and more involved in relief efforts. This is why President Wilson chose him for the post of Federal Food Administrator.

U.S. Food Administrator

Hoover as Food Administrator actually had very limited powers. He did not have the authority to ration food. Nor could he set farm prices or retail prices for consumers. He did have three powers at his disposal. First, to negotiate voluntary agreements with producers and traders on prices. Second, the power to license traders. Third, the power to buy and sell food. This was a very different administrative authority than that granted to the British Ministry of Food which was essentially a vast trading enterprise. The USFA with two exceptions did not get involve with trading commodities on any scale. The exceptions were wheat and sugar. [Mullendore]

Food as a Weapon

Food had become a weapon in World War I. This was not a new development in warfare. Countries since ancient times had besieged enemy cities and fortresses with the idea of starving them out. Caesar had used this tactic against the Gaul leader Vercingetorix (1st century BC). The industrial revolution had significantly changed the food situation in Europe. Populations had increased exponentially. And large numbers of people had moved from rural areas seeking jobs in the city. Major countries like Britain and Germany were no longer self sufficent in food. They had to import food to feed their population. One of the primary purposes of the Allied naval blockade on Germany was to prevent Germany from importing food. One of the principal purposes of the German U-boat campaign was to prevent Britain from importing food.

American Food Production

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]

Wheat

Wheat used for bread and other food stuffs was the most critical agricultural commodity. Thus it was the commodity given the greatest attention by the USFA. One way of freeing up more wheat to feed the Army and to assist America's allies was to reduce domestic wheat consumption. Here the USFA came up with a range of ideas to use corn and other grains for a range of wheat products.

Initial Problem

Hoover's immediate problem after his appointment was the fact that foreign purchases had depleted American food stocks and driven up prices. There was legislation designed to control the problem (the Johnson Act and Cash and Carry legislation), but they proved inadequate.

Production Increases

The USFA focused on conservation because that was the only immediate way of increasing food stocks that could be delivered overseas. Increasing food production on a large scale would be a matter of working with framers and would not have any real impact until the Fall 1918 harvest. [Mullendore] Thus the USFA focused on conservation measures.

Accomplishment

Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. America had to produce the food needed by the new large army America was building as well as for Allied armies and civilians. Hoover designed a voluntary program.

Voluntary Conservation

Hoover called it food conservation, but many Americans took to calling it "Hooverizing." Various promotions were devised, such as wheatless Wednesdays and meatless Mondays. Hoover was convinced that Americans would cooperate voluntarily to support the boys overseas. He did not want a mandatory program and Government regulated rationing. The idea was that American civilians would have to modify their eating habits voluntarily so that more food was available for shipment overseas. The American housewife was urged to conserve food and eliminate waste. Signs and posters appeared in workplaces and public areas with the slogan "Food Will Win the War". Hoover managed to voluntarily reduce domestic food consumption 15 percent without rationing.

Farm Prices

Hoover guaranteed the farmer a "fair price" and there was an overseas market for all that could be produced. American food exports tripled.

Closing Down the USFA

The USFS ended the wartime controls immediately after the Armistice (November 11, 1918). The USFA conservation regulations lapsed (November-December 1918). The licensing requirements were terminated (January-February 1919). The commodity controls, except on wheat, were ended (June 1919). The Government transferred the administration of wheat program to United States Wheat Director, who concurrently served as Chief of the USFA Cereal Division and President of the U.S. Grain Corporation (June 23 and 24, 1919). The residual functions of Food Administrator were transferred to Chief of the Cereal Division, USFA (wheat and wheat products), and to Attorney General (all other food products) (November 21, 1919). The USFA was finally a abolished: By EO 3320 (August 21, 1920). This executive order also terminated the USFA Cereal Division.

Post War Achievement

The USFA was terminated after the War. Its accomplishments, however, laid the foundation for the American post- War relief effort to Europe. Not only did America help feed the Allies, but the shipments created surplus stores of food that helped prevent a post-war famine in Europe. America after the War not only helped her Allies, but the former Central Powers countries as well as Soviet Russia.

Federal Records

Researchers interested in pursuing the history of the USFA in greater detail can access the records of the agency which have been archived by the National Archive.

Sources

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






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Created: 5:07 PM 10/23/2007
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Last updated: 5:12 PM 12/21/2010