On the Home Front
Shortages and inflation hit hard
Labor shortages and inflation followed after American men moved from
fields and factories into military camps. (Image courtesy Hoover Institution)
War and inflation
The war demanded greatly
increased production of a wide range of goods, both agricultural and
same time, it moved significant
numbers of workers into the military and away from production.
included shortages of both labor and products, leading to significant
inflation in the economy.
Agricultural labor shortages
Agricultural work, strenuous and low paying,
sting of inflation especially acutely. According to one report from Klamath
Falls, "Before the war good farm hands could be had from about
two to three
dollars [per day] and their board. Now one must pay about the same as the factories,
mills, etc pay and do not get as good a hands." The going rate
rose to about $75 per month plus board.
In many cases, women and girls responded to the agricultural need
by taking the place of men in the fields despite the fact that much
of the work "was rather heavy for them." Apparently, the
labor shortage was exacerbated by "the fact that the men that
were to be had would not work and could not always be trusted as the
I.W.W.s [labor union operatives blamed by many for subversive activities]
and others harmful to the farms and government were allowed to run
at large entirely too much."
in the factories
and mills in the area held a competitive advantage over farms since
the hours were shorter and the work usually was closer
to town and
its housing, services,
and diversions. But factories were not immune from the inflationary
pressures. Wages soon increased by 30% to 50% in many cases and "most
of the laborers are less skilled than the ones formerly imployed [sic]."
Women stepped in to fill positions in factories and mills too. One
student witnessed the profound social change that the war economy brought
"Before the War, who could dare to dream
of ever seeing a woman working in a box factory in overalls,
and worse, going down the Main Street of a town in overalls!!!
Carrying a dinner bucket just like the laboring man! But
they didn't hesitate to break the wall of convention and
habit when it was necessary.
August 27th, 1917 saw Klamath
Falls' first woman box factory workers start off to work
in the morning and be initiated into a life which they had
known nothing about before. There were just three the first
morning, the next week there were double that number and
since that time women and girls have been employed continually,
with great satisfaction to themselves and as much to their
Inflation hits the price of goods
Rising labor costs
soon led to considerable increases in the price of most goods, including
farm crops and animal products.
beef steers that
had sold for about six cents per pound on the hoof before the war rose
to about ten cents per pound, an increase of 67% in a very short time.
Pork prices doubled from about nine cents per pound to 18-20 cents.
Butter, milk, and cheese, staples of the diet, rose as well. Before
the war a consumer could purchase a quart of milk a day for a month
for about $2.50. That price shot up to $4 during the war.
U.S. Food Administration began taking steps to conserve food
in August 1917 as shortages in Oregon and across the nation worsened.
(Image courtesy National Archives)
The cost of some products rose considerably before the government
stepped in to hold prices down. Herbert Hoover, in charge of the federal
used a variety of means, including price controls, rationing, and the
bully pulpit, in an attempt to slow inflation and reduce demand for
needed to fight the war. In Klamath County, wool had jumped from 35
to 60 cents
and climbing before the
Wheat, meat, and sugar received a great deal of attention
since they were considered necessary for the war effort. The price
had more than doubled from 1.5 cents to 3.25 cents per bushel locally
before government restrictions took hold.
"You bear it with a grin"
efforts to lessen the impact of inflationary pressures, the economy
throughout the war. But as
County observer noted: "Wartime works quite a hardship on a person's
pocketbook as well as his table, for leaving a restaurant you get a
bill for about double what it would have cost you befor [sic] the war,
but you bear it with a grin."
Along with rising prices, 14 year old Orvyl
T. Howard of Grass Valley saw another inevitable result of war - higher
"If you go to the movies you are taxed
about five cents extra and on the streetcar about one or
two cents. For luxuries such as candy [and] smoking tobacco
a special tax has to be paid. The income tax has cost wealthy
men much money, while motorists have to pay a tax for their
gas. Postage stamps cost one cent more, also rates for insurance
and registered mail have increased."
(Oregon State Defense Council
Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 38)