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Interpreting the Evidence

The Need for Food

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Agriculture
    Communication
    Labor
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:

    Political Cartoon

  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Political Cartoon about the Need for Food, World War I, Palladium Times, Oswego, June 26, 1918 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A cartoon depicting the need for food during World War I from the Palladium-Times in Oswego, June 26, 1918.

Historical Context
The presence of over four million American soldiers in Europe meant the absence of those same individuals from the American workforce. Certain areas of the country noticed a significant decline in the number of active farms due to the absent farm labor. State officials feared that if too many farms became inactive during the war a severe food shortage would follow. New York State attempted to solve the issue of a labor shortage by enacting several programs which recruited workers and students into farm labor. 
The government used advertising through posters and newspapers to mobilize the citizens of New York to do their part in providing farm labor. Cartoons, like this one on Public Duty, appeared throughout local newspapers which brought the issue to the attention of state residents. Both the federal Food Administration and the state Food Commission promoted the idea that contributing to the production of food was both a public duty and a patriotic act.

Essential Question
How do nation's attempt to satisfy their basic economic needs during times of war?

Check for Understanding
Describe the message of this cartoon and explain the purpose of such a message.

Historical Challenges
Research the current role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). How does this government institution serve the American people? Compare the FDAs current role to the role of the Food Administration in World War I. How has the influence of this office changed or stayed the same? Explain your answer.

Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: In many ways, environmental conservation has become a “public duty” for Americans today. Design a poster encouraging modern Americans to do their part to protect the environment.

English Language Arts: Write a letter to your senator or representative expressing concern about a specific issue in your community. Explain why the issue is important to you and ways you think the government and members of the community could help solve the problem.

Science: What threats exist today regarding the American food supply? How might the FDA encourage Americans to help with solving these problems?