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Girl Scouts

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.

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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.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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