Idaho During World War I
Rickie Lazzerini]

          When America entered the war on April 6, 1917, the country's focus on political and social reform made a dramatic switch to wartime efforts. Idaho contributed to the war effort in a number of ways, including agricultural production, conservation, and manpower. The state's Council of Defense was organized by May of 1917 and quickly began promoting patriotism. The Idaho National Guard, Second Regiment, which had been sent to the Mexican border to guard against Francisco (Pancho) Villa and his raiders, was recalled and sent to war. A total of 19,279 Idahoans were active in the armed forces; 782 were killed.(13)

          Idaho produced more than soldiers for the war effort. Production of agricultural products increased dramatically, as did prices, resulting in a boom for farmers. This increased demand for agricultural goods and soldiers caused a labor shortage in the state. Courts postponed trials to allow jury members to work in the fields, schools gave fall and spring vacations so students could help out, and even local businessmen lent a hand. The demand of the war called for conservation as well as increased production. Idaho families, like most American families, had wheatless and meatless days to conserve food. They also produced as much of their own food as possible by planting victory gardens and canning goods.

          Not all of the effects of war in Idaho were positive; anti-German sentiment became common. In 1917, Idaho was home to 4,000 German-born citizens and 1,000 Austro-Hungarian citizens who lived in fear of discrimination and vigilantism. Idahoans held German-language book burnings, and German language was dropped from school curriculums. Another unfortunate side-effect of the war was the world-wide outbreak of Spanish Influenza. The flu reached Idaho in October of 1918. Public events were cancelled, and theaters, churches, dancehalls, and schools were closed. Entire communities were quarantined. World War I brought an era of prosperity for local farmers and businessmen, but the decrease in demand during the following decade caused a recession that would damage Idaho's economy.


The Great Depression in Idaho
[Rickie Lazzerini]

          The decade of the 1920s is often referred to as the "Roaring Twenties" in many American history books, but that wasn't the case for many in Idaho. Industry in Idaho was sluggish after war demands ceased. Inflation hurt farmers who were plagued with over production and lack of demand. The lumber industry witnessed a state of decline as well. The state was also experiencing a period of population loss that began with the end of the gold rush in 1890. Beginning in 1890, over 50,000 people had left Idaho, mostly for California. The poor economy in Idaho foreshadowed the great depression that was to hit the country in the following decade.

            Despite the fact that Idaho's economy had been struggling throughout the 1920s, this did not prepare them in any way to deal with the devastation of the Great Depression that would follow. Farmers suffered the most; wheat prices dropped to $0.26 per bushel, and cattle dropped to $20 per head, which was the lowest price since 1890. Idaho farmers' total cash income fell from $116 million in 1929 to $41 million in 1932.(14) The value of gold rose during the depression, causing a small gold mining boom, but most industries were in distress.

          Relief came from the government through the plethora of "alphabet soup" agencies, such as the CCC, CWA, and the WPA. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) gave direct grants to local and state governments. For every three dollars spent by the local government for relief, the federal government gave one dollar. This program provided $16 million in relief for Idahoans between 1933 and 1935.(15) The Civil Works Administration (CWA) hired many Idahoans during the winter of 1933-1934. These workers built roads, streets, bridges, hospitals, and airports. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), The Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the National Youth Administration (NYA) also created employment for many Idahoans during the depression. The government provided aid for farmers in need through the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Farm Credit Administration, and the Farm Security Administration. These programs helped the people of Idaho survive the Great Depression, but it took another world war to totally revive the economy.


Idaho During World War II
[Rickie Lazzerini]

          The demands of the Second World War were powerful enough to reverse the slump in the economy and pull the nation out of the Great Depression. Idaho contributed manpower and resources to the war effort. Over 60,000 Idaho men and women served in the war; 1,784 were killed. Idaho's natural resources and agriculture were tapped for the war causing a boom in the state's economy. Livestock products, including beef, pork, chicken, and eggs were all exported. The Idaho potato, beans, peas, onions, corn and fruit were also produced for the war. Idaho's abundant minerals, such as lead, zinc, silver, and tungsten, were mined and transformed into war goods. The lumber industry in northern Idaho received large orders. In 1942, mills in Potlatch, Coeur d'Alene, and Lewiston produced 427 million board feet of white and ponderosa pine.

          Idaho was also home to the construction of numerous military bases. Farragut Naval Base was constructed on the south end of Lake Pend d'Oreille. The project employed 22,000 men. After construction, over 5,000 men were stationed at the base and its six boot camps. The Army and Air Force used Gowen Field near Boise as a major B-24 bomber base. In addition, Sun Valley Resort closed during the war and was used as a Navy hospital. Idaho became home to two major and sixteen minor German and Italian prisoner of war (POW) camps. The largest camps were located at Farragut and Rupert, others were in Rexburg, Sugar City, Rigby, and Idaho Falls.(16) The Second World War recovered Idaho's failing economy completely and put to use the agricultural, natural, and political resources of the state.