The U.S. Food Administration, Women, and the Great War: The Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train

U.S. National Archives

“Food Question in a nutshell is this: that the United States, with a population of one hundred and ten million, was until lately an importer of foodstuffs, but must now, owing to the exigencies of war, must feed not only itself but fifty million people of its allies as well. The non-fulfillment of this task means nothing short of defeat” -Federal Food Administrator for Maryland

The United States Food Administration
Pictured here is one of many leaflets produced and distributed by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food Administration to educate Americans about food conservation. The United States Food Administration was created by an Act of Congress on August 10, 1917 to provide further for the national security and defense by encouraging the production, conserving the supply, and controlling the distribution of food products. The Food Administration was a chiefly volunteer organization brought into being during World War I to assist in feeding the Allied forces.
Conservation Train Aided Mission Of The U.S. Food Administration
One of the many educational exhibits that lined the interior of the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train. A local agent of the Food Administration, the Conservation Train was a traveling exhibit to educate "housewives and others interested" in methods of food conservation and substitution. A fundamental principle of the U.S. Food Administration, and thus the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train, was that the agency would only be effective if they were able to mobilize the American people from the ground up. Primarily comprised of volunteers, the Food Administration encouraged American citizens to spread information about food conservation in order to aid the war effort. The Conservation Train, also comprised of volunteers, propagated the Food Administration mission via the Pennsylvania Railroad during World War I.
The Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train
The interior of one three train cars that were spanned by the educational exhibits. A collaborative endeavor, the Conservation Train was operated under the auspices of the U.S. Food Administration, Pennsylvania State College, and the Pennsylvania State Food Administration, and with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train was a volunteer-operated mobile exhibit used to educate housewives and others in methods of food conservation.
Female Volunteers Mobilize To Aid The War Effort
A female volunteer poses in front of the exterior of the Conservation Train. The Food Administration suggested that various volunteer college food workers from around the country form intelligence bureaus where "housewives and others interested" in the food shortages might obtain information and guidance. The chief goal of the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train was to show the American people of Pennsylvania the importance of their individual contribution to the national task of food conservation.The Train was mostly operated by women, like the woman pictured here, from Pennsylvania State College, now Penn State University. 
Food Will Win The War
This photograph depicts one of the female volunteers from Pennsylvania State College demonstrating recipes that save wheat by utilizing a variety of substitutes. The Conservation Train was outfitted with a complete kitchen, including a fully functioning gas stove, for demonstrations. Food conservation in the home was essential to the mission of the U.S. Food Administration, and the Conservation Train extended that mission by educating Pennsylvanians about methods of substitution and conservation . The goal was for America to increase its exports to a point that would allow the Allies to properly provision their armies and to feed their people during the coming winter. 
"These Depend On America For Food"
Photograph of an exhibit about America's role in providing for the Allies. The exhibit included images of Allied flags and text that stated, "These Depend Upon America For Food." Exhibits on the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train emphasized the importance of exporting American food abroad to feed the Allies in Europe.
Contributions That Every American Citizen Could Make
Women had an important role in winning the war: food conservation. Pictured here is an exhibit that included a diorama about how conserving food in the home could feed Pennsylvanian soldiers fighting abroad. A major theme of the Conservation Train was the importance of individual contributions to the national war effort. One of the exhibits showed that if everyone in Pennsylvania saved one ounce of sugar, one ounce of meat, two ounces of wheat flour, and one-third ounce of fat daily, then in one week enough food could be saved to supply the draft army of the state (60,859 men) with sugar for seven months, meat for two months, and flour for five months, and a large quantity of ammunition containing glycerin manufactured from the fat. 
Future President Herbert Hoover
The Conservation Train was based upon nationalist rhetoric and appeal. Herbert Hoover was the head of the United States Food Administration during World War I, and was thus a prominent figure in the national push to conserve and use wisely supplies that could be used to aid Allied forces abroad. Signage in this display states, "Mr. Hoover asks everyone to save every day." 

Shown here is an exhibit that educated citizens about conserving valuable foods by substituting them with other ingredients.

Pictured here is a leaflet about wheat substitutes that was circulated by the Food Administration and Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Food Administration also encouraged food substitution by circulating a variety of leaflets.

Proper Food Storage
An exhibit from the Conservation Train about the importance of proper food storage at home. The Conservation Train stressed that proper food storage was essential to food conservation. This exhibit showed women how to properly store and preserve foods in the home in order to waste less and make the most of their goods.

An exhibit of the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train about the uses of vegetable fats and fats saved in the household.

A display that encouraged citizens to buy their goods locally in order to save fuel. Fuel was used for shipping food and supplies to Allied soldiers, and thus it was also important to conserve.

The Food Administration After The Great War
Another one of the exhibits that lined the walls of the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train. The Conservation Train traveled throughout Pennsylvania during the summers of 1917 and 1918. World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and thus so did the activities of the U.S. Food Administration and the Pennsylvania Food Conservation Train. After the War ended, the U.S. Food Administration was gradually dismantled until an Executive Order of August 21, 1920, terminated all branches of the Food Administration still in existence.
Greater Importance Of The Pennsylvania Food Conservation
A print of the exterior of the Conservation Train that was featured in newspapers across Pennsylvania. Although the train only operated for a total of six months, three months per summer, over 50,000 people viewed the exhibits. The Conservation Train made rounds across the state of Pennsylvania, allowing housewives and other interested persons to obtain information and guidance about feeding Allied troops during World War I. Unprecedented in scope, the Conservation Train educated, inspired, and mobilized American women to serve their country by conserving food in the home. 
All images found in this exhibit can be accessed at the National Archives at Philadelphia
Credits: Story

Exhibit compiled and curated by Grace DiAgostino, in collaboration with Jason Baker, both Pathways Student Trainees at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Want to learn more about the records used in this exhibit? Email us at philadelphia.archives@nara.gov

View OPA catalog entries for documents used in this exhibit here: http://research.archives.gov/description/614520 & http://research.archives.gov/description/614174

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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