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100 Years Ago: April 1918

This is the thirty-ninth installment of my ongoing set of reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they reach their publishing centennial.

The first article in the April issue is entitled “The Gem of the Ocean: Our American Navy”. It was written by Hon. Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, and has 35 black-and-white photographs (the cover lists 36), of which 18 are full-page in size.

The author starts out by discussing the main function of the Navy as a fighting organization. If it is not waging war, it is preparing for war. He notes that there is a war around every 29 years. Since each war lasts about three years, that leaves 26 years of peace in each cycle. While on land a master of defense can win renown, at sea a captain who depends on defense is lost. Speed and offense win the day on the ocean. While land battles are measured in weeks and months, at sea battles are measured in hours, even minutes. A sailor may train for a generation only to fight for a single day.

Mr. Daniels then goes into the main purpose of the article; the Navy during peacetime, especially the coming, lasting peace with its brotherhood of nations. The Naval War College is one of the few institutions where the science and problems of international law are carefully studied. Naval officers are among the leading experts on international law.

Another area where the Navy excels is in navigation, a special branch of astronomical science. This work is centered at the Naval Observatory in Washington. Here the Navy compiles and publishes the Nautical Almanac. Chronometers, compasses and other naval instruments are checked and corrected. This and other work is given freely to the public.

Another branch of the Navy is the Hydrographic Office. Its purpose is for “the improvement of the means for navigating safely the vessels of the navy and mercantile marine by providing … accurate and cheap nautical charts, sailing directions, navigators, and manuals of instruction … for the benefit of navigators generally.”

The Navy’s Medical Corps contributes its share to the advancement of medical science. The knowledge learned from the special problems with which naval doctors must deal is directly transferable to civilian life. For example, not even in the most crowded portions of our most congested cities will there be found so many souls living in a given space as on a large naval vessel.

In engineering the Navy leads the way. Two examples of this are the Experimental Model Basin at the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy Experiment Station in Annapolis. The former improves the shapes and lines of naval vessels while the latter is a mechanical and engineering laboratory. Both provide their knowledge free to the public.

In looking forward to the coming peace, the author envisions the Navy’s work in science and exploration. He sees a community of nations freed from the oppression of autocracy. And he holds up three naval officers as exemplars for this utopian world to emulate: Charles Wilkes, Matthew Calbraith Perry, and Matthew Fontaine Maury.

On a six-year voyage of discovery, from 1838 to 1844, Wilkes discovered a large body of land within the Antarctic Circle. He named it the Antarctic Continent. (At the time of this writing it is called Wilkes Land.) He did not claim this new land for his country but for all mankind. He also determined the position of the South Magnetic Pole, charted 500 islands and atolls, and mapped 100 harbors.

Of course, Perry is well known for the opening of Japan to the rest of the world in 1853. He did not use the big guns he had available but instead used diplomacy. Bringing gifts of American technology, including a small train with tracks, one mile of telegraph line with Morse instruments, a photo camera, and a printing press; he was able to procure a treaty so that America and Japan could “live in friendship and commercial intercourse with each other.” (At least until 1941.)

While Wilkes represents the best of exploration and Perry the best of diplomacy, Maury exemplifies the best of science. In 1844 he was made the head of the Depot of Charts and Instruments. He quickly transformed it into the Naval Observatory. He removed old logbooks stored away as rubbish in the Hydrographic Office and extracted the valuable information they contained, collecting data from every possible source. He provided wind and current charts, and sailing directions to masters of vessels bound for foreign ports. And he invited all captains to collect data for making new and improved charts. With his charts, sailors have greatly reduced sailing times.

The second article is entitled “Forerunners of Famine” and was written by Frederic C. Walcott, Of the U. S. Food Administration, and Author of “Devastated Poland”. It contains four black-and-white photos with three being full-page. It also contains four charts and one map.

Germany’s most powerful weapon in the war is famine. Through starvation and food shortages they have not only killed more people than through fighting, but also have been able to force the male population of conquered countries to emigrate to Germany and be used as forced labor to keep their war machine running.

Food shortages have already caused the collapse of the Russian Empire, putting Russia out of the war and giving rise to “a dangerous and contagious doctrine”. In six months to a year bolshevism will probably collapse in absolute bankruptcy thus demonstrating that extreme socialism is a disastrous thing. (Try about 70 years.)
Hunger has also forced Romania to sue for peace. In Serbia the conquering army lives off the land while the peasants starve. In the Turkish Empire the poor are always hungry, but the Armenians are being starved out of existence. Poland too is in a famine as is Belgium, although relief supplies are reaching there thanks to the Red Cross. The map on page 338 shows the state of hunger in Europe.

Photo Courtesy of Philip Riviere

The graph on page 337 compares the numbers killed by fighting as opposed to those from starvation. The chart on page 341 shows food production in America compared to domestic consumption and Allied requirements, and on page 344 there is a graph comparing the Allies flour sources before the war and at present. The last graph compares the price of flour in the U. S. in 1916 and in 1917. It shows the affect of the Food Law passed in August 1917.

The second part of the article deals with food production in this country and the steps taken so far to reduce waste and increase production. It also discussed what still needs to be done to make up the difference between the increased demand and the current supply. While the type of price controls they have in Germany cannot work in a free society, some form of fixing prices starting at the point of production have been successful. The elimination of profiteering also protects the consumer.

The article ends with a reminder that the job will not be finished when the war is over. We will still need to assist our Allies with their rebuilding efforts and “thus hasten the dawn of a more perfect day”.

The third article is entitled “An Appeal to Members of the National Geographic Society”. It has no byline. The article contains two full-page, black-and-white photographs.

The article discusses the wheat shortage in Europe and the need to reduce domestic consumption to allow the maximum amount to be shipped “over there” to feed not just our Army and those of our Allies, but also the civilian population.

The article asks the membership to stop using wheat altogether and instead substitute other grains, especially corn, in our diets. If the 650,000 members and their families stop using wheat that will mean 3 million loyal Americans will be doing their part in the war effort.

The fourth article is entitled “What Is It to Be an American”. It was written by Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior. It is a transcript of an address delivered before an education conference in Washington, D. C. The article contains four black-and-white photographs (two full-page), and a graph. (Note: The cover lists “8 Illustrations”. I’ll discuss the remaining three later.)

While the article is ostensively about America, Secretary Lane goes to great lengths discussing the situation in Russia. As he puts it, “She had a love of freedom, but she had no knowledge of what freedom is. Her revolution from the orderly overthrow of the Czar to the anarchy of Lenine [sic], has been a simple and natural process, because what she wanted was not the kind of independence, liberty, and freedom of which we know and which we cherish.”

Mr. Lane states that the real story of America is not its founding nor its battles fought; not its philosophers, poets, inventors, nor our great leaders. It is our grand experiment of gathering “people of different races, creeds, conditions, and asperations who can be merged into one”. This is what makes America the greatest of nations.

He goes on to discuss English, our common language, as a unifying force and emphasizes the need to teach reading and writing to our newest countrymen. The graph on page 350 shows that while illiteracy among Negro and “Native white” populations have markedly decreased from 1880 to 1915, the influx of immigrants has caused the illiteracy rate among the “Foreign-born white” population to skyrocket.

The Secretary stresses the need for a cohesive nation in this time of great peril. Only through our unity will we be able to prevail. With a stronger, firmer, more positive and purposeful sense of nationality, we will make America more worthwhile to Americans and of higher service to the world.

Following the fourth article are the three illustrations I alluded to earlier. They are three full-page, black-and-white drawings “by the eminent French artist, Lucien Jonas”. They are entitled “The Rampart of Verdun”, “One Volunteer!”, and “The Dead Arise”. All three capture the bravery and loyalty of the French soldiers.

The fifth article has the title “Forming New Fashions in Food” and has the subtitle “The Bearing of Taste on One of Our Great Food Economies, the Dried Vegetable, Which Is Developing Into a Big War Industry”. It was written by David Fairchild, Agriculture Explorer in Charge of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, U. S. Department of Agriculture. It contains eleven black-and-white photographs of which three are full-page in size.

The author discusses people’s preferences in foods which he calls habitudes, and how they have been a stumbling block in feeding our Allies in Europe. Here in America we have a surplus of corn also Madagascar and China produce great quantities of rice. Unfortunately, these grains are resisted by certain sections of those European countries.

We Americans faced a similar situation. During the Civil War we learned to can fruits and vegetables. The flavor and texture weren’t quite the same but we eventually grew accustomed to them and now they are a regular part of our diet.

The importance of vegetables is discussed by using the example of the peasants of southern Italy and how they not only survive but thrive on a diet lacking in eggs, milk, and cheese, and only having meat a few times a year. Their simple diet of cornmeal, beans, olive oil, cabbage, and beets, with garlic and peppers for flavoring provide all the nutrition they need.

Two new essentials for the body have recently been discovered. Besides the five great food groups (starches, fats, proteins, minerals, and water) the body requires, two others that researches call “fat soluble A” and “water soluble B”. The “fat soluble A” is found in fats and milk while the “water soluble B” is abundant in cereals. They both are present in green leafy vegetables, however.

This brings us to the main discussion. By drying vegetables several problems are solved at once. The vegetables are preserved for shipping and storage. Weight and volume are reduced thus lowering shipping cost. Dried vegetables retain all their nutritional value. By simply presoaking them before cooking their flavor compares favorably to that of fresh vegetables at a much lower cost. Mr. Fairchild uses several examples, especially potatoes, both white and sweet, and tomatoes to make his points for increasing production and reducing cost while extending shelf life.

He ends his article with a list of companies, with addresses, where homemakers can order samples of dried vegetables C. O. D. so that they can be tested. He suggests ordering from several different ones so the buyers can choose which ones they like best.

The sixth article is entitled “The National Geographic Society in War Time” and was written by Major-General A. W. Greely, U. S. Army. The article contains five black-and-white photographs, of which two are full-page.

General Greely cites the Society’s phenomenal growth as proof of a popular interest in the science of geography. He then mentions the field work done by the Society using the Valley of 10,000 Smokes as an example. To show the desire to enlarge its “sphere of helpful influence” the Society extended an Honorary Membership to President Wilson, which he gladly accepted. Also, former President Taft has been made a member of the board.

The General talks of all that the Society has done to aid in the war effort. This includes investments in the Liberty Loans and in the War Savings Stamps, but most importantly the National Geographic Ward in the American Ambulance Hospital at Neuilly, Paris, France (now known as U. S. Military Hospital No. I). This ward will soon be expanded from 20 to 30 beds thanks to the generosity of the membership.

In a future issue the editors hope to publish a description of the National Geographic Ward written by Carol K. Corey. She has recently written graphic articles from the front, “From the Trenches to Versailles” and “Plain Tales from the Front”.

The last article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Symbol of Service to Mankind” and has the subtitle “The Greatest Humanitarian Movement of Modern Times Originated in a Practical Attempt to Meet a Practical Need with a Practical Remedy”. It was written by Stockton Axson, National Secretary, American Red Cross. The article contains eleven black-and-white photographs, two of which are full-page in size.

The genesis of the Red Cross can be traced back to the works of Florence Nightingale in 1854 during the Crimean War and of M. Henri Dunant in 1859 at Solferino, the bloodiest battle in Europe since Waterloo. In both cases what was found were deplorable conditions. The field hospitals were filthy and the medical staff virtually none existent. Through their efforts improvements were made in sanitation and in staffing. Also, a code was established that, no matter under what banner they had fought, all wounded soldiers were treated as brothers.

M. Durant continued his efforts and in 1863 he organized a conference held in Geneva of relief organizations from all major European countries. It was decided that all of these societies and their agents wear the same distinctive sign, a white arm badge with a red cross on it. This being the Swiss national colors in reverse. As a result of that conference, there was held in Geneva another conference in 1864. This time with diplomatic authority. The result of this meeting was the famous “Geneva Convention”.

The United States had no representative at the 1863 conference and only an informal representative in 1864 due to our strict neutrality in European affairs and the ongoing Civil War at home. While not a voting member, the United States still had great influence on the conference since our Sanitation Commission had practically solved almost all the questions which this international congress had met to consider.

The American Red Cross evolved from the U. S. Sanitary Commission which, in turn, had its roots in the experiences of Great Britain in Crimea and the work of Florence Nightingale. Until the Great World War, the Red Cross’s chief concern was relief work due to floods, conflagrations, earthquakes, famines, and other natural catastrophes. It is now organized into a war-relief society which showed the wisdom of having a permanent relief society.

Through its work at the front the American Red Cross is directly aiding our boys in uniform. At home they are helping the families of our soldiers. And through their educational work, its Junior Auxiliary, it is helping school children learn the principles of citizenship.

While not part of the magazine proper, I felt a need to mention the advertisement on the inside back cover. It is a black-and-white picture of a painting by N. C. Wyeth. It was painted for, and copyrighted by, the Cream of Wheat Company. Mr. Wyeth will go on to paint several works that hang at the National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington, D. C. Many of these works of art were later distributed to members as map and pictorial supplements.

Tom Wilson

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Thank you Tom!

Well done Tom

Appreciate the photos, Phil.

Nice mention of N.C. Wyeth ! 


This is his oil painting that was imaged for this ad.


it's sort of amusing to think that the artist who did the 5 murals and the covers of classic literature, did a Cream of Wheat ad !

He did another one I've come across.  That one of Robinson Caruso finding a crate of Cream of Wheat.



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