Times Past

World War l made the Central Coast the bean capital of the world

Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1915: Men unload bags of flour and beans from a U.S. ship.
Commission for Relief in Belgium, 1915: Men unload bags of flour and beans from a U.S. ship.

Should women serve on juries?

In the summer of 1914, America could be described as a land of both benign innocence and ignorance of things to come.

San Luis Obispo's state Sen. Archie Campbell was reported as having argued vigorously against the Butler Bill, which would have made women eligible to serve on juries.

According to the Tribune for April 23, 1915, Campbell “was loaded with evidence of things women should not (be permitted to) hear while serving on juries.”

Some of the same women whose delicate ears Sen. Campbell was trying to protect would soon be seeing service as nurses in a war where man’s capacity to mutilate his fellow man defied all imagination.

America's innocence was about to be shattered.

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had been assassinated by a Serbian fanatic.

The European alliance system would plunge the world into the most catastrophic war in human history. The First World War ultimately gave birth to Fascism, Nazism and Stalinist tyranny.

While the great nation states were mobilizing their forces, much of San Luis Obispo remained aloof. But loyalty to the fatherland began to create difficulties for some German-American families.

The “H-Leipsic Clothing Store,” took out a large front page ad every day in the Morning Tribune. One such ad cheerily compared the reliability of the store to “the Kaiser’s Battle Cruiser Leipzig.”

England’s Royal Navy sank the Leipzig, along with two of her sister ships, off South America on Dec. 8, 1914 with a loss of 2,200 officers and men.

German-American families felt the need to come to the aid of their “Fatherland.” They were aware that England controlled access to the trans-Atlantic cable and in Reuter's News Service had a large propaganda machine in the United States.

They knew of the Anglophile proclivities of President Woodrow Wilson and couldn't help but fear the economic consequences of a tight blockade around their homeland, a blockade made possible by the numerical advantage in sea power of Britain's Royal Navy.

This advertisement appeared on Page 1 of the Morning Tribune on Sept. 11, 1914: "Germans and Americans of German Descent: Meet at City Hall . . . (to start) a relief fund for the widows and orphans of German soldiers.”

On Sept. 23, 1914, the Tribune reported that the Rev. G. E. Kirchner, August Vollmer and Louis F. Sinsheimer helped head up the newly-formed German-American assistance group.

Gradually reports began to come in suggesting that the war would impact on our county.

Farmers anticipated an agricultural boom: “Prices Upward: The War Will Make U.S. Great Market of the World” trumpeted the Tribune on Aug. 9, 1914.

Nine months later, on June 4, 1915, the Tribune noted in a “Letter from Washington,” that “only the war has saved the country from what otherwise would have been the most disastrous period of hard times in its existence.”

The United States literally had to feed and clothe Europe at war from 1914 until 1918. It did so at considerable profit to its businessmen and farmers as farm commodity and manufactured items prices soared.

In the days before refrigeration was common, dried navy beans provided the most versatile emergency food source.

Herbert Hoover, a self-made millionaire-turned-philanthropist, made a name for himself as the director of the Belgian Relief operation for a nation that was starving under German occupation.

Central Coast farmers raised millions of pounds of beans for export. We became the bean capital of the world.