FFA Contributions to Winning World War II (5/31/2019)

The Friday Footnote for last week recognized former FFA members who lost their lives in World War II. While those individuals were fighting on the war front, many FFA members were hard at work at home aiding in the war effort. In this Footnote, we will examine what FFA members were doing on the home front to win the War.

1, Sold War and Victory Stamps and Bonds. It is expensive to fight a war. To raise money to support the war effort the government sold War Bonds. They were available in denominations from $25 to $1000. War bonds were sold at 75% of their face value (a $25 bond sold for $18.75). After 10 years it could be redeemed for the full face value.

Not everyone could afford a war bond, so war stamps were also sold (for 10 cents). The stamps were placed in a special album, and when the album was full, could be redeemed for a war bond.

FFA members and chapters sold $18,415,126 (maturity value) in war bonds and stamps. FFA members and chapters purchased $17,023,566 in war bonds while state FFA associations purchased $97,861 in war bonds (Tenney, 1977, p. 53). Boy and Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs members also sold war bonds and stamps.

FFA members would approach their neighbors and ask them to buy war bonds. FFA chapters also came up with fundraising activities and events to buy war bonds. Some FFA chapters held auctions to raise money to buy war bonds. The Binford FFA Chapter in Duck Hill, Mississippi sold $36,500 worth of bonds in an auction (Farm Youth Plan for Victory Loan, 1945). In Hugo, Oklahoma the members cut and sold firewood to raise money to buy bonds. In Perry, Oklahoma the FFA members painted house numbers on street curbs to raise money to buy bonds (Foster, 1942). The photo below is from an auction to raise money to buy bonds in Bakersfield, CA (photo from National FFA Archives at IUPUI).

2. Scrap Drives. During World War II there was a shortage of metal, rubber and other materials needed for the war effort. It took 18 tons of metal to build a tank and 900 tons to build a Navy ship. FFA and 4-H clubs conducted drives to gather these needed war materials. FFA members scoured the countryside searching for scrap metal, rubber, and other materials.

A. Ossian, advisor of the Winterset, Iowa FFA described the boys’ salvage efforts (Marten, 2002, p. 261): “They worked liked troopers, never giving up until they had combed ditches, junk piles, and other remote places to find scrap metal and rubber.” The Winterset boys collected 20.8 tons of metal along with 400 pounds of rubber which netted $155.12 for war bonds.”

The FFA members at Saline High School in Louisiana collected one ton of rubber, one ton of paper and 125 tons of scrap metal. Rather than hiding the scrap metal out of sight, they proudly displayed their “collection” in front of the main high school building (Dison, 2014). The photos below show the Saline FFA members out collecting scrap metal and the results on display in front of the school building.

International Harvester offered prize money to 4-H clubs and FFA chapters who collected the biggest loads of scrap metal during scrap metal drives. Overall FFA members collected 352,885,162 pounds of scrap metal during the war (Tenney, 1977, p. 53).

Old rubber tires were also collected. The rubber was recycled and used for making life rafts, gas masks and tires for planes and vehicles. Old phonograph records, which were made of hard rubber, were also recycled. During the war, FFA members collected 6,394,766 pounds of rubber (Tenney, 1977, p. 53).

Paper (65,187,206 pounds), rags (5,884,530 bushels), and burlap bags (1,694,767 bags) were also collected by FFA members (Tenney, 1977, p. 53). The paper was for packaging for supplies (there was a shortage of paper because many of the lumberjacks had been drafted). Rags and bags were used to make blankets and bandages.

3. Planted Victory Gardens. During World War II (and I), foods such as meat, sugar, butter and canned goods were rationed. In European countries where there was fighting, food was even more scarce. In order to send food to our troops and allies and to have food to eat at home, people were encouraged to plant so-called “Victory Gardens” and grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables. Americans planted 20 million gardens and cultivated nearly half the nation’s vegetables in their backyards. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even promoted the cause by planting a Victory Garden at the White House.

FFA and 4-H members were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens. In addition to the traditional posters and pamphlets, even DC Comics joined the crusade to get young people to grow Victory Gardens (see below).

FFA members had 111,261 acres (over 200,000 gardens) devoted to Victory Gardens during World War II (Tenney, 1977, p. 53). In some communities, there was even an emphasis on raising chickens and rabbits since meat was strictly rationed. Because of the importance of Victory Gardens, there will be a standalone Friday Footnote in the future just on Victory Gardens.

4. Repaired farm machinery. During the war, many farm equipment manufacturers turned their efforts to producing trailers and other equipment and machines for the war effort. When farm equipment needed repairs, parts were scarce. So agricultural departments took on the responsibility of keeping farm machinery operating.

In some communities, the vo-ag shop was thrown open 24 hours a day to the farmers so they could repair their machinery. FFA members offered their services for free. At Jay, Oklahoma 14 farmers showed up the first day the shop was open to them bringing cultivators, harrows, mowers and other pieces of equipment (Foster, 1942). At Clinton, Oklahoma FFA members, working with adult farmers, repaired six tractors, five combines, two grain drills and four plows in the vo-ag shop within the space of a few weeks. In Illinois, night classes were conducted for farmers on how to repair their machinery (see image below from the 1942 Annual Report of the Illinois Department of Agriculture).

An observer once remarked he could drive through a community during WWII and determine if there was a vocational agriculture program in that community based upon whether are not farm machinery was operating out in the fields. FFA members repaired 621,900 pieces of farm machinery during the war and constructed from scratch another 292,369 pieces of farm equipment (Tenney, 1977, p. 53).

5. Food Conservation Centers. During the war, FFA chapters in numerous states built and operated school canneries. Vegetables produced in the community were canned. There were 2,352 food conservation centers established during WWII that involved the FFA and 12,233,033 number 2 cans of food were processed (Tenney, 1977, p. 53). A future Friday Footnote will focus on school canneries. After the war, many canneries closed but there are still some in operation today, especially in Georgia. The photo below is of the Alvaton (Kentucky) school cannery which was built in 1943 (photo from Western Kentucky University). The newspaper announcement is for the school cannery in Pacolet, South Carolina in 1944.

Other Activities

There were many other activities to win the war.

In Kentucky, the Kentucky Chain Stores Council made awards to FFA members who made major contributions to the war effort. In 1944 the outstanding member in each of the nine districts won a $25 war bond. Activities that qualified included food production, repair of farm machinery, collecting salvage materials, performing farm labor (outside of the students’ farming program), selling or buying war bonds and stamps, and participating in civil defense activities.

The Sears-Roebuck Foundation provided cash awards to various states for vocational agriculture departments who increased the “production of farming commodities which have been designated by the Secretary of Agriculture as critical” and for the repair and construction of farm machinery.

Milkweed pods were collected in some states. The milkweed seed floss was a buoyant material and was needed to make life vests and flight suits. Previously, life jackets and flight suits had been filled and insulated with seed floss from kapok, a tropical tree grown on the island of Java in what was then the Dutch East Indies. Following the occupation of these islands by Japan, the Allied source of kapok fiber (also known as Java cotton) was cut off and an alternative fiber was needed. Milkweed floss was found to be the perfect substitute. Elementary school children, FFA members, and 4-H members collected milkweed pods.  The Point Pleasant FFA Chapter members in West Virginia were allowed to miss school to gather milkweed pods (Wolf & Connors, 2002).

From the Westerby (WI) Times, August 2, 1944

There was a program called “Uncle Sam’s Cannoneers” for collecting tin cans. School children (all grades) were instructed to wash empty tin cans, remove the label, cut off both ends and smash them flat and bring them to school where they were collected. Students could earn military type patches that could be sown on their clothing (see below). Rank was based upon how many tin cans you collected. There was also a slogan “Win with Tin.” This was a school-wide program, not just for the FFA. This was an essential program since Japan controlled 70% of the world’s tin supply at that time.

Kitchen grease was also collected. It was used in making explosives. Cooking grease was collected, placed in cans and taken to neighborhood butcher shops where it was collected.

The collage below from http://www.vintagekidstuff.com/ffa/ffa.html features several newspaper clippings documenting the World War II efforts of the New Farmers of America and the Future Farmers of America.

Concluding Remarks

During World War II many former FFA members and agriculture teachers served in the military. However, current FFA members also contributed to the war effort. Their service did not go unnoticed. In 1943, the following telegram was read at the National FFA Convention. It was from President Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Congratulations to Future Farmers of America. Your work on the farm front is vital to our success on the battlefronts of the world.

Teaching Suggestions

Have your students search the Internet for Victory Garden posters or scrap drive posters and then have them design their own posters.

Have students brainstorm ideas as to what they could do to fight the war — on poverty and hunger in your community.

If your FFA chapter existed during between 1941- 1945 have students check old yearbooks, chapter scrapbooks, local newspapers, or school newspapers to identify what your FFA chapter did to aid in the war effort.


Dison, B. B. (2014). Bienville Parish. Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, SC.

Farm Youth Plan for Victory Loan, 1945, September 15. Minute Man. Volume 5, Number 3.

F.F.A. Activities in Kentucky’s Program of Vocational Agriculture 1943-44 (1944, February). Kentucky Department of Education. Volume X1, Number 12.   https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=osu.32435025820523;view=1up;seq=5

Foster, R. L. (1942, August) Oklahoma’s future farmers contribute money and man power. News for Farm Cooperatives.  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=msu.31293201569427;view=1up;seq=411

Marten, J. (2002). Children and War: A Historical Anthology. New York: New York University Press.

Tenney, A. W. (1977). FFA at 50. National FFA.

Wolf, K. J. & Connors, J. J. (2009). Winning the War: A Historical Analysis of the FFA During World War IIThe Journal of Agricultural Education. Volume 50, Number 2.