3. WWI: Posters for the Farm Front

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“To Feed the Nation
is to Fight its Battles.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Nebraska, c.1917.

“Arms and agriculture are the two great factors that will bring victory... Our armed forces are organized. The agricultural forces must be organized.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Colorado, c.1917.

“Serve your Country! Enlist in Michigan's Brigade! Beans are more important than Bullets in this War. Michigan's Bean Broadside Must Not Misfire!”

— text from poster produced by the state of Michigan, c.1917.

“Grow Forage Crops in Self Defense.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Florida, c.1917.

World War I posters encouraged farmers, like other citizens on the homefront, to link their individual efforts directly with the nation's interests. Many posters suggested that farm work constituted a form of military service.

Regional farm posters devoted significant space to instruction and were heavy with text. They offered practical advice about what to plant, when to plant, and addressed a presumed audience of rational-minded patriotic farmers.

Local feed stores and regional agricultural offices posted messages intended for farmers. Sometimes they were referred to as “bulletins” or “farmer's bulletins.”

“If you can't put a gun on your shoulder, put a silo on your farm.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Indiana, c.1917.

“The man behind the plow is the same as the man behind the gun.”

— text from poster produced by the USDA, c.1917.

In 1917, independent farmers grew livestock and crops by responding to regional landscapes, growing seasons and weather conditions. Although the USDA had formed in 1862, the agency's ability to collect statistics about farm output, or to predict production on a national scale, had not formalized until after WWI with the creation of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics in 1922. 10

The USDA depended on state agricultural colleges to deliver messages directly to independent farmers in their respective regions. State agriculture administrators and extension agents could address crop, dairy and poultry farmers with specificity and with practical information useful for their farming operations.

This section of posters contains a large number of artifacts because the National Agriculture Library is rich with state-produced posters from WWI.

The frequent use of blue and red inks in these posters suggest limitations of two-color printing for posters created on a regional level. But the ink choices also highlight conscientious appeals to patriotism.

“Let the Hen whip the Kaiser! By Increasing the Food Supply.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Texas, c.1917.

The striking regional differences spelled out in the posters, such as appeals to “negro farmers” (NC), references to insects as “German Allies” (OK), or the naming of unusual crops specific to certain regions (FL, CT, AZ), reveal a complex country in 1917 with a variety of landscapes and attitudes towards farming and the war.

Other posters stand out because they directly address the financial vulnerability felt by many farmers who feared producing too much surplus only to watch prices drop.

“Over Production is Impossible... Every pound of standard food will bring a profitable price.”

— text from poster produced by the state of Kansas, c.1917.

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