'Make Do and Mend': Posters From WWI Can Inspire Today

Sign showing the "rules" of food

Migrated Image

One hundred years ago, the first battles of World War I were being fought in Belgium. When the war started, everyone thought it would be over by Christmas and nobody was worrying much about food and supplies, but it turned into four long years that changed the world. In the Guardian, Sarah Lonsdale notes that as the war dragged on, supplies on the home front ran short and people of all economic strata became part of a "save and repair" culture. As the war dragged on, there was a major propaganda campaign to encourage people to conserve. This poster has been all over the internet for years, because the instructions are as relevant today as they were then. It's been on TreeHugger as part of our earlier looks at posters from both World Wars, but this slideshow will only show those from World War I.


credit: United States Food Administration

It should be noted that the United States didn't enter the war until April, 1917, but they caught up fast in the poster department. This poster would be a appropriate on any Paleo-dieter's cupboard door.

Eat More Vegetables

credit: Canadian Government

The mediterranean diet is not currently the rage, but less meat and more vegetables are still the rule in our house. And of course nobody eats wheat these days. This poster is Canadian, but the graphics look very much like the American posters shown previously.


credit: British Government

The posters of World War 1 are often wordy and dire, compared to those of the Second World War that were more like modern advertising As Corey Bernat noted in the Smithsonian,

Most of them are not really about food—they're about behavior modification. Both times, with both wars, the government needed the public to modify their behavior for the national good. (And today, that’s exactly what Michelle Obama is trying to get people to do: change their behavior to curb childhood obesity.) As the Food Administration's publications director put it to state officials back in 1917: “All you gentlemen have to do is induce the American people to change their ways of living!” He’s saying it with irony, of course, because that's a very hard task.

How to dress

credit: British

Really, talk about behavior modification!


credit: Canada

At some point they finally realized that a little colour and graphic design might help sell this story. Here's a Canadian poster promoting canning, with mom passing the word to daughter.


credit: British

Here is a British poster of the same thing. Sara Lonsdale in the Guardian:

Just as the 1940s make do and mend ethos is having a revival today, so the second world war campaign was simply a reinvention from the first, says Susan Grayzel, professor of history at the University of Mississippi and author of Women and the First World War (Routledge). “At the beginning of the first world war, no one anticipated the shortages or rationing ahead,” she says. “The working classes, of course, already knew about how to survive on very little. The middle classes had to learn lessons of scarcity and sacrifice pretty quickly.

Can all you can

credit: Food Garden Commission

"Can all you can" is still being used as a call to action; it got a workout in World War II as well.

Can the Kaiser too!

credit: National war garden commission

Clever little bit of a play on words here.

the Greatest Crime in Christendom

credit: Migrated Image

Sometimes they can be a little over the top. Even in the middle of a war, I am not convinced that wasting your leftovers is the Greatest Crime in Christendom, wherever that is.

credit: Herbert Hoover

It is hard to believe considering what happened later in his career, but everyone in America loved Herbert Hoover, a successful engineer who was appointed to run the US Food Administration.

Helping Hoover

credit: Migrated Image

Planting a garden was helping Hoover

Hooverize me!

credit: Hoover valentine

This is truly one of my favorites; today we say Supersize Me but then you got Hooverized, like in this valentine. Finally some humor!

Wake Up!

credit: Lady Liberty asleep on the job

This woman really got a workout, to the point that her posters could get a little tedious.

Lady Liberty canning

credit: Lady Liberty canning

Here she is, canning;

Every garden a munition plant

credit: Lady Liberty Seeding

Here she is again, seeding, "Every garden a munition plant." Pow.

credit: Uncle sam in the garden

Uncle Sam also got in the garden promotion game.

credit: Three guys

Even that famous yankee doodle trio put down their fifes and drums and got into gardening.

Join the sheep club

credit: Migrated Image

And if you don't want to garden, you can always have fun in the sheep club!

credit: US Food Administration

Really, you can't go wrong with this diet. It's seriously healthy.

credit: Eat less bread/ British

They were seriously gluten-intolerant, telling everyone to eat less bread.

credit: US Food Administration

Corn was a good alternative.

Kids can do their bit

credit: Kids do their bit

Everybody has to do their bit.

Eat less meat

credit: US Food Administration

There is nothing new about meatless Mondays.

Save fuel too

credit: Save Coal/ American

It wasn't just food. People were also asked to save fuel...

They even saved daylight!

credit: American

They even saved daylight!

Food will win the war

credit: US Food Administration

Finally, a dramatic American poster, telling all those immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to pitch in as well. As long as they weren't in an internment camp. But great red, white and blue rainbow.