Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2012

Government Orders Lighthouse Keepers to Grow Food

War Threatens Food Supply

By Timothy Harrison


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When the world was plunged into the Great War in 1914, America was considered the world’s largest producer of food and no one in the States felt that the war would affect the food supply in America. And, the lighthouse keeper could never have imagined that they would eventually be directed to grow food. After all, this was already being done at many remote lighthouses, especially ones that were on islands.

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When the war broke out, a relatively unknown American named Herbert Hoover was living in London. Hoover, who was a firm believer in volunteerism, led a movement to distribute food to war ravaged cities where people were starving. He is credited with saving countless numbers of people in entire cities from starving.

When the United States entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson, who was impressed by Hoover’s efforts in Europe, appointed Hoover to head up a new branch of the government called the U.S. Food Administration. Hoover firmly believed that food could eventually be the catalyst for victory.

Hoover immediately launched a government program with a slogan of “Food Will Win the War” The idea was to make sure that America would keep the Allied troops and nations well supplied with food, while the enemy would eventually experience food shortages, not only among their troops but among their people. However, Hoover did not want to impose any food rationing in the United States. Instead he called for voluntary rationing with clever slogans, such as Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays. Americans quickly supported the voluntary rationing, and food consumption was reduced in the United States by 15%.

However, by 1917, as the war dragged on, and when the United States entered the conflict, the American government started to stockpile supplies of food, as well continuing to keep our Allies fed, the situation became more serious. Hoover issued a request to the Bureau of Lighthouses asking for their help.

In response, in April of that year, the Commissioner of Lighthouses, George Putnam, issued a directive to the Lighthouse Inspectors which stated; “You are directed, in view of the threatened shortage of food, to urge all keepers and others on lighthouse reservations to cultivate as much land as possible for growing foods during the present season. Under the conditions every man in the service should be not only permitted but encouraged to grow something for himself.”

The directive went on to say if the lighthouse shared property with any other government entities, such as a life-saving station or military post, everyone should work together to grow as much food as possible. The directive also stated that as much land as possible should be used to grow food and that all open space should be utilized for this purpose, saying, “None should fail to grow some food product because of the limited area available for cultivation.”

Interestingly, the directive also said that the Bureau of Lighthouses did not have any money available to allocate for the purchase of seeds and that the lighthouse keepers would have to purchase their own seeds, which could be ordered from the Department of Agriculture, and that time was of the essence because the planting season was upon them.

To make sure that the directive was not ignored or thought lightly of, the directive asked for reports to be promptly filed as to what was being done to cultivate the land at each lighthouse property. Interestingly, no mention was made of what the keepers were supposed to do at the off shore lighthouses that did not have any land to grow anything.

Hoover’s successful management of the Food Administration catapulted him to be appointed the Secretary of Commerce and he served in that position under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. In 1929 Hoover became the first person elected president in a national election without any previous electoral experience. However, eight months after he was elected, the stock marked crashed and the nation was thrown into the Great Depression.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2012 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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