Canning History: When Propaganda Encouraged Patriotic Preserves

Recently, home canning has seen a rush in popularity, and even upscale retailers like Williams-Sonoma want a share of the idea that a pint of home-canned jam is a fun gift idea. But during both world wars, canning saw another surge, this time prompted by colorful propaganda sponsored by the United States government.

During wartime, American and British citizens were encouraged by their respective governments to start “victory gardens,” reducing their reliance on limited food rations. The natural next step — canning their newly-grown produce.

Getting folks to can at home was a way of “relieving pressure on the canning industry that was needed to preserve food for soldiers,” says Anne Effland, a U.S. Department of Agriculture social scientist and former food historian with the agency. So naturally, the government called on a few good artists to help it gin up a propaganda poster campaign to make canning seem patriotic. Check out our slideshow above for some samples of the posters, many of which live on today in the special collections at the National Agricultural Library.

The commissioned posters featured brightly colored artwork and slogans like “Can All You Can” and “Of Course I Can” — puns that recall a simpler time and perhaps a simpler sense of humor. “The posters were used as a rhetorical device to bring the public together around the common need to support the armed forces,” says Effland.

Today, canned foods, from mass produced to small-batch artisanal products, are readily available around the country. But modern home canning has taken on a new purpose, carrying the message that canning is good for your health and the environment because you can control it. If you need a jump start, you can still get information on how to start canning from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

And though the popularity of canning might go through ups and downs over the years, these vintage posters remind us that the purpose and importance of canning to American culture will continue to be “preserved.”

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