100 Years Ago Today: Buy More Liberty Loans

Aspen Democrat-Times, March 19, 1919

To read the propaganda promoting Liberty Loans between 1917 – 1919, you would think that if you didn’t buy one of these loans — also known as bonds and as securities — you were not only un-American, you were actively aiding the Central Powers in killing our soldiers and welcoming Huns into the United States.

Lend As They Fight
1917 Liberty Bond propaganda poster
Hun Or Home?
Propaganda poster showing a monstrous German looming

Even today’s brief article, announcing that Governor Shoup wants Coloradoans to buy Liberty Loans, mentions the word obligation in reference to people’s responsibility to buy these bonds.

So what were these Liberty Loans? Why was this one called the Victory Loan? And why was the government pushing so hard for people to buy these Loans?

Keep These Off The U. S. A.
Liberty Loan propaganda

The first of five WWI-era Liberty Loans was issued on April 24, 1917, under the Emergency Loan Act. This was immediately after the U.S. joined WWI, and the Loan was intended to fund the country’s initial war efforts. U.S. citizens were told to buy the bond, hold onto it for a set minimum number of years, and then be paid back plus a fixed interest rate by the government.

Charlie Chaplin sees his liberty bond money handed to an industry man to make guns for soldiers

Each of these five Loan periods was given a target dollar amount, an end date in the event the target was not reached, an interest rate at which the loan would be paid back, and an early cash out date and late cash out date. For example, the fifth Liberty Loan, known as the Victory Liberty Loan because the war was over, had a $4.5 billion target. Prospective buyers had from Apr 21, 1919 until May 10, 1919 to buy bonds, in $50 increments, at a 4.75% interest rate, and they could cash out after 3 years, but the interest would stop accruing after 4 years.

Image result for victory liberty loan note
Victory Liberty Loan notes from 1919
Related image
Propaganda poster for the Fifth and Final Liberty Loan

Backing up a bit to the question of why the government was pushing so hard for these bonds, the first two Liberty Loans were not selling as well as hoped. Rumors were swirling that notes were being sold under their value just to make more sales. Treasury Secretary, William McAdoo, created a propaganda machine under the Committee on Public Information in order to push people to buy more bonds.

This committee helped make and distribute thousands of persuasive posters, enlisted celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks to make speeches promoting sales, urged communities to meet bond-buying quotas, promised prizes to volunteer promoters like custom buttons and German helmets, and spread rhetoric built upon the idea that buying these bonds was American, and anyone who didn’t buy them was un-American.

Steel prize tokens for volunteer promoters who sold the most Liberty Loans in their communities. These were made from melted down German cannons.

By the end of 1919, the U.S. had accrued debt in the ballpark of $25 billion as a result of Liberty Bond and other securities sales.

Timeline for Liberty Loans: The second Liberty Loan was issued on Oct 1, 1917, the third Liberty Loan was issued on Apr 5, 1918, the fourth on Sep 28, 1918, and the fifth and last called the Victory Loan was issued on Apr 21, 1919.

Depiction of the battle at Chateau-Thierry where the German cannon was captured and later melted down into Victory Loan prize buttons

100 Years Ago Today: Eat Mangel Soup

EAT MANGEL SOUP

WITH THE AMERICAN ARMY IN FRANCE, Jan. 11 — Darmstadt’s civilian population has been staving off starvation with mangel soup, mangels stewed in water before American occupation, according to Edward Prunier, of New Haven, Conn., private in the 102nd infantry, 26th division, who was prisoner of war there for eight months.

“The Boche have been starving, around Darmstadt anyway,” said Prunier. “You cannot imagine how scarce food was. Mangels, stewed in water to make what they called soup was the chief diet of the civilian population. Why food was so scarce I believe anyone would have sold his soul for a biscuit.”

Prunier, who earned six cents a day on a factory while a prisoner, lived entirely on Red Cross food and found his sole recreation in playing games with equipment sent the 35 American prisoners at Darmstadt by the Y.M.C.A.

Aspen Democrat-Times, January 11, 1919

This headline sure is misleading. I thought we were getting a recipe for an early 20th century cure-all called Mangel Soup. Nope, instead it’s a retrospective morale-boost tucked inside a piece of World War I, POW journalism.

What the heck is mangel soup? Let’s start with the mangel, which is a hardy, weather-resistant beet that around this time in Germany was fed only to livestock, according to G. F. McCauley in Soldier Boys.

Ugly Food by Horsey and Wharton, illuminates the etymology of the word as a bastardization of the word “mangold” which means beet in German. Horsey and Wharton go on to describe the baseness of this vegetable by telling the story of John Le Marchant, a British cavalry officer who used the mangel as a means of testing swordsmanship because the oddly shaped beet with tough skin would flop around like a wounded man when tossed on a board, and therefore was good practice for new techniques of sword slicing.

mangel-wurzel

Mangel soup, we learn, was made by stewing mangels in water “to make what they called soup.” Prunier was so disgusted by this food that was the “chief diet of the civilian population” that he thinks anyone would sell their “soul for a biscuit.” Excuse me, Mr. Prunier, but I think one Dwight K. Schrute would have something to say for such maligning of a perfectly good, hearty beet.

Regarding the use of the term “Boche” referring to Germans, we turn now to Current History: A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times.

Numerous attempts have been made to explain the origin of the word “boche” which is now almost universally used by the French soldiers when speaking of the Germans…

Boche is an abbreviation of caboche…This is a recognized French word used familiarly for “head,” especially a big, thick head (“slow-pate.”)…Boche seems to have been used first in the underworld of Paris about 1860, with the meaning of a disagreeable, troublesome fellow.

100 years ago today, a WWI POW survivor on pittance factory pay remembers the disgusting beet soup that (slur-described) German civilians had no choice but to eat because they were starving so badly that they probably would’ve sold their souls for a biscuit.