The Great Girl Scout Cookie Shortage of World War II

Girl Scouts
Girl Scouts

In the early spring of 1943, Girl Scout Cookie chairwoman A.A. Rabe had some devastating news for residents of St. Petersburg, Florida, who were looking forward to getting their boxes of Girl Scout Cookies: There weren’t going to be enough.

In a crisis the likes of which American pantries had never seen, Rabe solemnly informed supporters of the venerable female troop that a war shortage of key ingredients had led to a dramatic supply issue with thousands of boxes of cookies. If a customer had ordered two, they would be lucky to get one. If they ordered one, it was anyone’s guess as to what would happen.

“Whereas before we have always worried about how we are going to sell all of the cookies and candy that we have to sell, this year we wonder how we can supply Girl Scouts with as many boxes as they have taken orders for,” Mrs. Sidney B. Miner, Commissioner of the Scouts, explained.

The message was repeated around the country: Hitler had cost America its favorite cookie.

Girl Scouts

Thrust in our faces by pint-sized salespeople, order forms for Girl Scout Cookies are a pervasive part of the winter season. Thanks to effective marketing—and plenty of doe-eyed guilt-tripping—the Girl Scouts of the USA manage to move around 200 million boxes of cookies during their annual fundraising drive, netting an estimated $500 million (after costs) for camping trips and other organizational costs. The more boxes ordered, the better. With contracts with major baking companies like Keebler and ABC Bakers, there’s rarely a time when they can’t fulfill demand.

The cookie hustle began in 1917, when the Muskogee, Oklahoma chapter of the then-5-year-old organization began selling baked goods out of high school cafeterias to raise money. In 1922, a recipe for a simple sugar cookie was published in the official Girl Scouts magazine, inciting many of the country’s 2000-plus squads to mobilize in the kitchen.

Business was brisk through the 1930s, with chocolate and vanilla cookies being bought and consumed for as little as 23 cents a box. But by 1943, a grim reality had set in: Due to the country’s entry into the Second World War, the various lards and sugars that made up the cookies were being diverted and rationed to the military. Honey, dried skim milk, salt, chocolate—all of it was in short supply and high demand. As delicious as they were, Girl Scout Cookies did not take priority.

In St. Petersburg, chapter leaders warned customers that only 8000 boxes of cookies and candy would be allocated for distribution in 1943, down from 11,000 the previous year. Brownies, the lowest class of Scout, would be given just 10 boxes to sell.

Indianapolis had it even worse. Orders were short by more than 25,000 boxes, slicing the number of packages due to buyers in half. The commercial bakers the Scouts had come to rely on once business grew were now busy baking for soldiers, thus reducing their available labor.

In total, it was estimated that more than 1 million cookies projected to enter Indianapolis residents' stomachs that year would never be baked.

If the Scouts were dismayed by the prospect of reduced revenue, they didn’t make a public show of it. Deprived of their sweet currency, Scouts took to alternative means of raising support for their ventures. Some troops collected and turned in scrap metal; others sold war bonds. A few hoarded cooking fat. The most pervasive strategy was to sell a Girl Scouts calendar.

The shortage continued through 1944 and 1945, with limited resources, depending on a troop’s location. Some, like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania’s arm, had sugar benefactors who reserved ingredients specifically for their cookie efforts. In Miami, Oklahoma, troops gathered to bake specifically for wounded soldiers.

By 1946, the crisis had seemed to evaporate, and the cookies resumed their dominance among fundraising efforts. In 1948, an estimated 29 bakers were contracted to meet the demand, with a greater variety—like Thin Mints and peanut butter—soon added to the rotation.

Today, Girl Scout Cookies can be purchased in gluten-free and vegan varieties, with Scouts expected to fulfill as many orders as they can gather. But if circumstances should ever warrant another shortage, take heart: You can use the original 1922 recipe to bake your own.

What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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iStock

To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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