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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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From the Newsroom: Old page prompts new question

By , Columbian Editor

Do you enjoy looking at those historical Columbian pages that appear in our Saturday Life section? I know I do.

News Editor Merridee Hanson has been selecting the pages. With 132 years (and counting) worth of pages to choose from, I asked her what her criteria is. Is she looking for the front pages from big news events, like the Apollo 11 moon landing or the day President Ronald Reagan was shot?

Not really. She said she wanted to use pages to show more of a cross-section of everyday life in the 20th century. She does try to choose an old page from a date close to our publication day. Two weeks ago — Saturday, Nov. 11 — she chose the front page from Nov. 11, 1943. Her selection led to a very interesting observation — and question — from a Columbian reader.

In November 1943, the nation was in the middle of fighting World War II. The lead story that day was headlined “Nazis try blocking two Italian ports.” Like newspapers did back then, editors filled most of the front page with a whole bunch of little stories — the one headlined “Woman seeks fifth divorce, hubby grumpy” caught my eye.

But our reader, Kay Richardson, wondered about this story: “Fat salvage drive slated for speedup; 360,000,000 pounds per year needed, housewives looked to for assistance.” Why in the world, she wondered, did the war effort need fat?

The story didn’t say; it just said that if each U.S. family contributed just a half-pound of fat per month, the goal would be reached. By the way, readers were asked to render the fat and take it to their local butcher for collection.

The answer revealed

With the help of the internet, I found the answer on the National Park Service’s website, nps.gov, which I will quote below.

“The fat salvage program began in 1942 in Chicago, organized by a group of soap manufacturers. Its success (and complaints that lard — an edible fat — was being released by the government for soap manufacture) prompted a nationwide collaboration between government and private industry. Soap making uses purified fats like those contributed to the war effort. A by-product of the process is glycerine, used to make the explosive nitroglycerine.

“Homemakers (especially in the South) were already saving fats — almost 75 percent saved bacon and other grease to cook with. The challenge was to divert the fats for wartime use. The public campaign emphasized the war impact of salvaging them. One ad proclaimed that only 1 tablespoon of waste fats per day would load 1,542 machine gun bullets per year. Another described one pound of fat as enough to ‘fire four 37-mm anti-aircraft shells & bring down a Nazi plane’ and ‘enough dynamite to blow up a bridge and stop an invader.’

“Kitchen fats included those left over from cooking: bacon grease, pan juices, rendered down meat trimmings, fats skimmed from stews, gravies, and boiled sausage, etc. Once strained into a container, fats needed to be kept in a cool place so they wouldn’t turn rancid. Pressured by soap manufacturers, the War Production Board and the Office of Price Administration agreed to pay consumers for their fats. For each pound of kitchen fats turned in at their butcher, consumers received 4 cents and 2 red ration points. These red points, used for rationed meats, were in addition to those issued by the ration boards to each person. As their part of the agreement, the soap and glycerine industries formed the American Fat Salvage Committee, and contributed money to advertise the program.

“From August 1942 through September 1946, the war effort collected more than 711 million pounds of kitchen fats. Almost 75 percent (528.8 million pounds) came from civilian kitchens. … Altogether, salvaged fats met about 12 percent of total needed for soap production during the war.“

You can learn a lot by reading The Columbian, even 80 years later.