When Beans Were Bullets, an exhibit of food and agriculture posters from World Wars I and II is on display at USDA’s National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland through August 30.

warposter11.jpgThe featured posters–which delve into a wide variety of issues, ranging from food rationing to food safety–examine the evolution of poster styles, propaganda messages, and advertising history during the two time periods.

“Viewers will recognize familiar wartime messages about food conservation, rationing, and home canning,” says the National Agriculture Library. “But today’s audience might be surprised by government messaging during World War I encouraging home front populations to eat locally, healthfully, and conscientiously in order to put the nation’s interest first and contribute to distant war efforts.”

With a background in graphic design and history, curator Cory Bernat arranged the posters to “highlight differences in style and content that emerged between the two wars.”

Copies of over seventy original posters–too light-sensitive to be displayed–are shown on fence panels instead of frames to “highlight their mass-produced quality.”

In a recent interview with Smithsonian’s Food & Think blog, Bernat discussed what she considered most revealing about the collection.

warposter22.jpg“Putting these posters in chronological order showed me how the government’s methodology changed over the years, and how they borrowed from professional advertising and were influenced by what was going on in the private sector,” said Bernat.

“It also really shows the shift to an industrialized food system,” she adds. “You look at the WWII posters and think–where are the agriculture ones? Well, there aren’t any. It’s suddenly about consumers, not farmers.”

The exhibit, located in the National Agriculture Library’s main reading room, is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through August 30.

An extended online-only version of the exhibit is available through the National Agriculture Library Website. Smithsonian Magazine also has an online gallery of highlighted posters.

Pictured: Poster 1: Poster by the Committee of Public Safety in Pennsylvania borrowed its look from USFA posters by the artist Frederic G. Cooper, c.1917. Poster 2: Artist: Alva Edwards, Louisiana Agricultural Extension Division, c.1917. Source: Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.