Abstract: Stronger Bodies for a Stronger Nation: Marketing Milk from World War I to the Great Depression

Sarah Sutton


In the second decade of the twentieth century, milk developed a reputation as a necessity for healthy bodily growth. Historians have studied the evolution of the so-called "new" and "newer" nutrition movements in the United States, as well as the marketing tactics that the food industry used to capitalize on the research of this developing field. This paper argues that the dairy industry drew on research about milk's growth-promoting properties and the anxieties of a nation at war to argue that milk would not just improve the bodies of individual Americans, but would build the United States into a nation of healthier citizens, and thus a stronger democracy. Following World War I, scientists searched for ways to improve the efficiency of milk production, believing that science could improve nature, food, and the body alike. Human bodies could be made stronger with better attention to nutrition; cows were not just animals but machines that could be made more efficient through the adoption of scientific farming; and food itself could be improved in the laboratory. Even as the dairy industry touted the "naturalness" of the food it marketed, milk became more artificial, the product of increasingly complex methods of human intervention.