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September 7: How fruit pits helped win the Great War

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Advertising the need for fruit pits.
Advertising the need for fruit pits.

World War I made a shambles of the European economy. Starvation was a real threat as farms became battlefields and agricultural workers became soldiers. When the United States entered the war in 1917, the country became an active partner with the allies, and Americans faced shortages of their own. President Woodrow Wilson established the Food Administration to manage the supply, conservation, and distribution of food. Posters with slogans like “Food will win the war” urged Americans to modify their eating habits and avoid waste in support the war effort.

Americans came up with creative ways to help cover shortages. Sheep grazed on the White House lawn, cutting the grass and fertilizing the lawn at the same time. People were asked to observe “Wheatless Wednesdays” to cut down on bread consumption. There was even an effort to conserve energy with the implementation of daylight savings time.

Besides conserving, uses were found for items that would otherwise have been tossed into the trash. On this date in 1918, North Dakotans learned that they could help to win the war by saving their peach, plum, and cherry pits! World War I saw the introduction of chemical warfare. Mustard gas was a fearsome weapon that killed many soldiers. Glenna Gardner designed a gas mask, which was perfected by her chemist husband, James Garner. It used charcoal filters that absorbed dangerous gases, and charcoal could be extracted from burned up fruit pits.

The Grand Forks Herald told readers that they could leave fruit pits at the County Superintendent’s office. The War Department had asked boys’ and girls’ clubs to collect the pits, and the Red Cross would ship them to the government. The pits had to be dried in the sun, then shaken to remove any left-over fruit particles. A tremendous number of pits were needed to meet the demand. North Dakota newspapers urged “every little kiddie and every grown man and woman” to do his or her part in this very important enterprise to help win the war.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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