Folklife: The little wartime pamphlet that sold over 3 million copies in 1943

The best selling book of 1943 was a little pamphlet entitled “Victory Garden” published by the Department of Agriculture. With the recent events of “The Great Pause” of 2020, quarantined families are beginning to get back to gardening and growing their own food. With possible food shortages amid the COVID19 pandemic on the rise, this is nothing new for Americans.

During WWII, food rationing was very common and ration stamps were often used. Rations stamps were issued by the government to allow consumers to purchase food and other commodities that were in short supply. This prevented panic buying and allowed one person not to have more food than another especially foods that were scarce. Americans received their first ration books, also known as the “Sugar Book” in May of 1942. Sugar was the first commodity rationed followed by coffee, meat, cheese and canned milk.

Fresh vegetables and fruit were not rationed but supplies were limited.

War ration cartoon from The Pantagraph – Bloomington, Illinois, March 1, 1943

“Victory Gardens” or “war gardens” began in 1917 when Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission. The Commission encouraged Americans to contribute to the war effort by “sowing the seeds of victory” by planting, fertilizing, harvesting and storing their own fruits and vegetables so that more food could be exported to our allies. During WWII, victory gardens began to reemerge and once again commercial crops were diverted to the military overseas. This also allowed transportation to be redirected towards moving troops and munitions instead of food.

Shirley Vanderwalker of Homewood, Illinois and a student at the University of Chicago poses holding a 1943 Victory Garden Poster showing her as the Victory Garden Poster Girl.

When the Department of Agriculture began its campaign, they published a little pamphlet entitled, “Victory Gardens” as a guide for local committees and beginners. The government roughly published a half million copies to start, but the overwhelming demand raised that total to three million copies. The little pamphlet sold for five cents each and became the best selling book of 1943. The little book encouraged Americans to grow vitamin rich foods such as tomatoes, beans, carrots and leafy vegetables like cabbage, chard and spinach.

In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted victory gardens and by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. The Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard asked every farmer, town, city and citizens to find every plot of sufficient size and fertility to grow a large part of vegetables for home use. In Atlanta, Georgia, 1200 property lots that were delinquent in taxes were plowed up for victory gardeners. In Des Moines, Iowa a public utility office planted small victory garden in the lobby of their office building. Schools in towns and rural areas were also encouraged to grow Victory Gardens to help provide food for school lunches.

School children from Dixon, Illinois furnish their playground with Victory Gardens and place signs up for visitors. (Dixon Evening Telegraph – July 29, 1942)

Americans were growing food in whatever container or place they could find. Small flower boxes, apartment rooftops, or deserted lots were being utilized to grow Victory Gardens.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a victory garden on the White House lawn.

Presidential advisor, Harry Hopkins, his wife Louise and their daughter Diana busily tending to the White House Victory garden in 1943.

Even the residents of the White House were not immune to the shared sacrifice of Americans. The White House cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Nesbitt, used ration stamps to buy food for the Roosevelts and their guest. With the high demand for the Victory Garden pamphlet, it shows just how unified the American people were during the war.

Victory Gardens played a major part in winning the war. The joint effort of Americans growing their own food helped to lower the prices of vegetables needed for the war effort to feed our troops overseas. It also enabled every American to contribute to a national effort and helped to bridge social, ethnic, class and cultural differences during a time when cooperation was widely needed. Americans shared solidarity, patriotism, and sacrifice.

The “Victory Garden” pamphlet is now available online at to view and read on how to plant your own victory garden.

Check it out at this link:

Hope Thompson
Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson is the editor and publisher of Unmasked History Magazine. She has been a freelance journalist for seven years and has published articles for popular media websites such as Her focus has been on the hidden history, Native American culture, activism, Appalachian and Southern folklore traditions.

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