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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The First World War and Onset of Prohibition, 1915-1920

Soon after the First World War erupted in August 1914, Americans volunteered in the military hospitals and ambulance services of the combatants in Europe. While staying neutral in the Great War, the United States launched the Mexico Punitive Expedition, an unsuccessful military operation that was abandoned a couple of months before Congress declared war on Germany and the other Central Powers. General John J. Pershing was named as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces that entered combat on the Western Front for the first time in November 1917. When the armistice was signed on November 11 of the following year, national Prohibition was gaining momentum, causing concerned restaurateurs to replace wartime rationing notices with warnings about the proposed strictures on the sale of wine and spirits. By the time the “doughboys” returned home, many of the servicemen from immigrant communities and impoverished regions of the country had grown accustomed to army rations of beef, potatoes, and white bread, helping standardize the American diet.

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Ambulance Américaine.

Bastille Day. Neuilly-sur-Seine, France: July 14, 1915.

When World War I broke out in August of 1914, American expatriates quickly established a military hospital, the Ambulance Américaine, on the outskirts of Paris. The theme dishes on this menu celebrating Bastille Day in 1915 include vol-au-vent “Joffre,” a puff-pastry case filled with a savory mixture in a richly flavored sauce, named after French military commander Joseph Joffre.

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Ambulance Américaine.

Bastille Day. Neuilly-sur-Seine, France: July 14, 1916.

The special lunch on Bastille Day in 1916 included jambon d’York à la gelée, œufs pochés mornay, and poulet Marengo, named for the Napoleonic victory at the Battle of Marengo in 1800. The music program includes the national anthems of the nine Allies whose flags are depicted on the cover.

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101st U.S. Infantry.

Christmas. “Somewhere in France”: December 25, 1917.

The 101st Infantry Regiment was part of the 26th Infantry Division, or “Yankee Division,” formed from National Guard troops in New England. This holiday menu includes dishes with military-themed names like “turkey with olive drab dressing” and “camouflaged ice cream,” a cheerful change from their daily fare of hardtack and “slum,” a beef stew with potatoes, onions and carrots. The 101st Infantry Regiment engaged in numerous battles on the Western Front in 1918.

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Brevoort Hotel & Café Lafayette.

Fixed Price. New York City: 1918.

French-born hotelier Raymond Orteig owned the Café Lafayette on University Place and the nearby Brevoort Hotel on Fifth Avenue. As noted on this wartime menu, the U.S. Food Administration mandated that alcoholic beverages not be served to military personnel, reflecting the rise of the Prohibition movement. In 1919, Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first Allied aviator to fly non-stop between New York City and Paris, a prize that Charles Lindbergh eventually won in 1927.

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Biltmore Hotel.

À la carte. New York City: May 10, 1918.

It was not unusual for hotels and restaurants to participate in food conservation programs like Meatless Mondays, and to put a few gentle reminders on their menus, such as “Local is best” and “Eat less wheat.” However, the cover and inside of this menu are completely filled with slogans and information about the U.S. Food Administration; the bill of fare is relegated to the back cover. As it happens, the hospitality division of the U.S. Food Administration was headed by the president of the Biltmore Hotel, John McEntee Bowman (1875–1931), who was a tireless promoter of the program.

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91st Aero Squadron.

Anniversary Dinner. Vavincourt, France: November 13, 1918.

After reconnaissance missions on the Western Front, the Air Service hurriedly processed film for military intelligence. For some special occasions, the laboratories were also used to produce menus in the form of photographs, such as this example marking the one-year anniversary of the 91st Aero Squadron in France. The unit had experienced its final casualty three days earlier on November 10, 1918, the day before the armistice was signed.

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Base Hospital 202.

Thanksgiving. Orleans, France: November 28, 1918.

Base Hospital 202 was one of the many U.S. military hospitals established in France during the war. On Thanksgiving 1918, it was still treating soldiers gassed in the trenches during the previous summer.

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Commodore Hotel.

165th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Banquet. New York City: April 28, 1919.

The 165th Infantry Regiment, originally designated the 69th New York Infantry in the Civil War, was still called the “Fighting Sixty-Ninth” at its welcome home banquet in 1919. The regiment was immortalized in the poem “When the 69th Comes Back” by poet Joyce Kilmer, a sergeant in the unit who was killed in the Second Battle of the Marne. The cover illustration is by artist James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960).

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Bergez-Frank’s Old Poodle Dog.

Private Dinner. San Francisco: June 30, 1919.

The thought that there might be a nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages at first seemed like a joke. Businessman Carl Henry hosted this dinner for friends whose spirit was “destined to be crushed by the untimely demise of J. B. Corn” (meaning John Barleycorn, a personification of whiskey), according to this menu with its comic illustrations. Henry is credited with the idea of switchbacking the steep section of Lombard Street that is now a tourist attraction in San Francisco.

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St. Francis Hotel.

Canners League of California. Banquet. San Francisco: January 8, 1920.

The Eighteenth Amendment called for a nationwide ban that prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. This die-cut menu features magnificent comic illustrations about Prohibition. The banquet was hosted by the American Can Company nine days before the country was supposed to go dry. As it happened, the hotels in San Francisco became notorious for skirting the Prohibition laws: Within two years there were reportedly some 1,500 speakeasies in the city.

The First World War and Onset of Prohibition, 1915-1920