Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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The American soldiers and sailors of the Second World War were better fed than any fighting men to that point in history. This achievement came at the same time that its civilian population was enjoying a higher nutritional standard than it had had before the war. Additionally American farms supplied millions of tons of food for their British and Russian Allies and for those liberated and occupied populations in North Africa and Europe.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census enumerated 131,669,275 Americans in 1940. Some 30,000,000 lived on farms. Rural America lost around 7,000,000 workers during the war. These laborers entered military service or migrated to cities to find well paid jobs in war industries. American agriculture had suffered severe depression between the First and Second World Wars. The main causes had been surpluses in both farm products and the farm work force. With American entry into World War Two the farmer faced an entirely new circumstance. Now he was required to produce greater yields with fewer workers. The United States Department of Agriculture, largely through the Extension Service of the University of Illinois College of Agriculture, assisted the Illinois farmer in this endeavor. Each county and township had an agricultural War Board composed mainly of area farmers. These boards helped to educate fellow farmers in the most current scientific agricultural techniques. They helped gear production goals, recruited temporary labor, facilitated federal loans, managed transportation, and rationed gasoline and farm equipment.

The 213,439 farms in Illinois were prime producers of animal feed corn, soybeans, hogs, chickens, eggs, cheese, and milk. Secondary crops included vegetables, fruits, small grains, hay, and hemp.

Points to Consider

American farmers were being called upon to meet certain production goals in order to feed which groups of people?

Why were there fewer American farm workers in 1943?

What was Illinois's principal wartime crop?

How did Germany and Japan manage to feed themselves during the war?

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