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Archive for 'Prologue Magazine'

World War I food conservation: “Pan de la libertad”

“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?,” our current special exhibition in Washington, DC, examines the Government’s effect on what Americans eat. Government influence was especially visible during wartime, when many food products were reserved for feeding the troops and our Allies.

During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, urged the American people to voluntarily conserve food, especially wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. Recognizing that a successful program had to reach out to all Americans, the agency distributed printed materials in several languages, including Italian pamphlets in New York City, Chinese food conservation notices in Hawaii, and Spanish recipes in California.

The featured recipes for “pan de la libertad” (liberty bread), using corn, oat, and barley flour instead of wheat, were found in the files of the California State Food Administration, housed at the National Archives at San Francisco. According to a note at the bottom, recipes were translated into Spanish for counties with significant Spanish-speaking populations.

An all-out publicity campaign was waged to educate the citizenry about the need for food conservation and how to accomplish it in one’s own home. Posters and newspaper notices exhorted readers to combat waste. Homemakers and restaurant operators signed pledges to observe “meatless Mondays” and “wheatless Wednesdays.”

The American Protective League also received and passed on reports of citizens suspected of food hoarding.

In a … [ Read all ]

What’s Cooking Wednesdays: Crimes against butter

The Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, has housed some famous and infamous inmates, such as “Birdman of Alcatraz” Robert Stroud and Machine Gun Kelly. In the early 20th century, the prison took in some less likely felons—violators of the Oleomargarine Act of 1886.

How did trafficking in this popular butter substitute become a Federal offense? Well, almost immediately after New York’s U.S. Dairy Company began production of “artificial butter” in 1871, regulation began. Dairy interests pushed Congress to pass the 1886 act, which imposed a two-cent tax (per pound) on margarine and also required manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of margarine to obtain margarine licenses.

By 1902, 32 states had bans on coloring margarine yellow to make it look more like butter. That same year, Congress increased the tax to 10 cents a pound for colored margarine but imposed a lesser tax of a quarter of one cent per pound on the uncolored stuff.

The exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” includes the story of felons convicted of violating sections of the Oleomargarine Act and sent to the Federal prison at Leavenworth. Some tried to pass the margarine off as butter; others tried to evade the tax by reusing tax stamps again and again.

Consumers colored their own margarine with yellow food coloring into the 1940s. The federal margarine tax system came to an end in 1951. … [ Read all ]

Lizzie Borden took a….trip

On June 20, 1893, Lizzie Borden was declared innocent of the crime of murdering her father and stepmother.

The National Archives holds a little piece of her history from before the murders. A month before her 30th birthday, Lizzie Borden of Fall River, Massachusetts, had sailed for Europe.

In the late 1800s, more and more Americans ventured abroad. The well-off sailed to Europe to see the sights and acquire culture. Novelists such Henry James and Edith Wharton were traveling themselves and writing about Americans abroad.

Lizzie’s passport application for this trip, signed by her on June 4, 1890, is now in the National Archives. Passports were not required at that time, but the State Department issued almost 370,000 between 1877 and 1909. The National Archives holds passport applications from October 1795 to March 1925.

Photographs were not required for passports until the end of 1914, so on Lizzie Borden’s application, there is only a written “description of applicant.” Lizzie declared that she is five feet, three inches tall with grey eyes, light brown hair, and a “full” face. Her signature appears below the oath of allegiance, and she requests that the passport be sent to Thomas J. Borden of Fall River, a distant cousin.

Thomas Borden’s two daughters, Carrie and Anna, were among the women traveling with Lizzie, and their applications were also filed on … [ Read all ]

Mapping Out A Mystery

In this guest blog post, Dr. Mark Stegmaier, Professor of History at Cameron University in Oklahoma, discovers that sometimes even professional researchers find answers to questions when—and where—they aren’t looking for them!

In the Winter 2009 issue of Prologue magazine, Dr. Richard McCulley of the National Archives and I published an article titled “Cartography, Politics, and Mischief” describing and analyzing the features on a map of the United States drawn in late 1848 by Ephraim Gilman of the U.S. General Land Office as a document to accompany President James K. Polk’s last annual message of December 1848.

Dr. McCulley and I realized that Gilman had used other maps as sources for information for his own map. However, the map from which Gilman copied place names and terrain features for the section of his map depicting the northwestern part of the country—the recently organized Oregon Territory—eluded our efforts to locate it in several prominent collections of maps.

But sometimes historical investigators experience strange and serendipitous events in their research efforts.

I was doing research on an entirely different topic at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. This institution is now located on the campus of the University of Missouri at St. Louis and shares the same building as the university’s library. Before reaching the UMSL reference desk, you first pass by a wall of framed … [ Read all ]