Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

A Century of Food 1910-1920

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English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster.

English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This post represents the first of a new series depicting the  food culture in 20th century America.   Stay tuned for further decades in the future.  Enjoy!!!


World War 1 and Liberty Dogs

World War I had an interesting affect on American food. The United States joined World War 1 in 1917. The war wasn’t popular (what war is) and was a problem for immigrants. The Irish hated the British and the Jews objected to Russia, both allies of America. America had a large population of German-speaking citizens and those of German descent and Germany was the enemy, so Americans turned against hot dogs and sauerkraut but they would eat “Liberty dogs” and Liberty cabbage and bought Liberty bonds which appeared to make them more American. Italian immigrants were not favored either until Italy switched sides midway during the war. Then, Italian food became a food of an ally. Americans grew victory gardens and substituted peanut flour for wheat flour.

The Supermarket

Self-serve supermarkets were introduced in 1912. First self-service grocery stores opened independently in California. Instead of having to give a list to a grocery clerk who then proceeded to gather the items from the back of the store, customers could shop the aisles themselves. Stores such as A&P had a thousand items (now we have about 30,000). Fresh produce ads in the 1910s highlighted point of origin (California figs, Florida oranges, Jersey tomatoes, Baltimore beans, Maine Sugar Corn, Ceylon Tea). Today we hardly know where they come from. The processed food industry continued to greatly expand. We got Hellman’s mayonnaise, Oreo cookies, Crisco, Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice, Marshmallow Fluff and Nathan’s hot dogs.



An A&P Store in 1930


Cocktail Hour

In 1917, the cocktail party was the newest fad in society. It began as a Sunday afternoon gathering originating in St. Louis under the guidance of Julius S. Walsh, Jr. and his wife, society leaders. Fifty invitations were sent and at high noon they gathered at the Walsh home for the cocktail hour before a 1 o’clock dinner. The party scored an instant hit. “Sunday Inspiration: Cocktail Parties Latest St. Louis Society Diversion,” (from the St. Paul Pioneer Press), published by the Washington Post, May 19, 1917 (p. 6)
In 1914, the first electric refrigeration is introduced for commercial use, but it wasn’t until after World War I that they became more available for home use. Lettuce, asparagus, watermelons, cantaloupes, and tomatoes grown in California’s irrigated fields are transported 3,000 miles away in refrigerated rail cars bringing a lot more variety to the consumer. Large-scale pasta production begins in the United States by an Italian-American pasta maker, Vincent La Rosa in Brooklyn, NY. Until then most pasta had been imported from Naples but ceased with the onset of World War I.

SOURCES: The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites/Beverly Bundy & The Food Chronology/James L. Trager

Expanding Waistlilnes

A new trend was beginning – expanded waistlines. Over-indulgence that began in the first decade continued with the upper class menus still abundant in meats, shellfish, pȃte and mousses. It was readily accepted that plumpness was chic before World War I. Even the president of that time, William H. Taft was a hefty 300 pounds and his favorite meal was Lobster Newburg –  No wonder.


William H. Taft


The first diet book was published in 1918, written by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters entitled Diet and Health With a Key to the Calorie. Dr. Peters recommended that we all should count calories our entire life. Coincidentally, the Continental Scale Company produces the first bathroom scale name the “Health-O-Meter” in 1919.



No one needs marshmallow fluff but it was invented in the early 1900’s and gave us a huge step forward into the world of sugary treats. You can turn almost anything into a sweet sticky mess using Marshmallow Fluff.  It was invented in 1917 as Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff. The first two words were dropped when candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower got rid of them.  Marshmallow Fluff was sold door-to-door initially. There are four ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white and vanilla flavoring. Durkee-Mower is one of the only two U.S. companies that still make it. It is whipped in 80-pound vats and then hand-fed into a chute that feeds it into a bottling machine. The most popular use is on white bread with peanut butter to create that school lunch classic, the Fluffernutter. I have to confess making a few for my kids – shame on me. It also can be used to make Rice Krispie Treats, Whoopie Pies and really sweet potato casserole. Yum!!! The thought of it should make your teeth hurt.

“Chicken Wiggle

1 can or some cold cooked chicken

1 oz. butter

1/2 oz. flour

Salt, pepper and paprika

1 pint milk

1 can peas

Buttered Graham bread

Melt the butter in a chafing dish, stir in the flour and blend well, then add the milk and stir and cook for five minutes. Add the chicken cut into small pieces, the drained peas, and the seasonings. Make very hot and serve with slices of buttered Graham bread”

—Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes, Marion Harris Neil (David McKay: Philadelphia 1916


One thought on “A Century of Food 1910-1920

  1. Pingback: Food Through the Decades: 1910-1919 | Jill: The Wannabe Foodie

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