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Wisconsin Historical Society

BIG History Is Happening

BIG History Is Happening

BIG History Is Happening

A big moment in history is happening right now. COVID-19 is having a major impact on all of our lives. As we practice social distancing, and spend more time at home, it is easy to feel isolated from the things you love. We know how much you love history, and until we can welcome you back to the Society, the Library & Archives, and our sites and museums, we are going to bring more history straight to you! Here are some free resources to get you started on your adventure through the past.

Join the COVID-19 Journal Project

You can help the Society collect history as it happens by keeping a journal during the COVID-19 crisis.

Learn How

Food Rationing & Preparedness | June 1

his public information poster, put out in 1943 by the Office of Civilian Defense when rationing was in effect during World War II, encourages residents with “Victory Gardens” to add to their food supply by canning at home.

This public information poster, put out in 1943 by the Office of Civilian Defense when rationing was in effect during World War II, encourages residents with “Victory Gardens” to add to their food supply by canning at home.

WHI Image 66866

Signs at grocery stores, like this one at a meat department, alerted customers to a purchase limit after a rush early in the COVID-19 pandemic caused supply shortages. Other in-demand items included soup and other canned goods, pasta, and flour.

Signs at grocery stores, like this one at a meat department, alerted customers to a purchase limit after a rush early in the COVID-19 pandemic caused supply shortages. Other in-demand items included soup and other canned goods, pasta, and flour.

Credit: Dean Witter

Food Rationing & Preparedness

While it hasn’t risen to the level of extreme rationing and sacrifice required during World War I and II, or the concern for food preparedness during the Cold War, the current COVID-19 pandemic has provided modern Americans a taste of what a disruption of the food supply — even a temporary one — could mean to our daily lives, while also offering a lesson in the value of food preparedness measures such as canning.

Facing potential job losses and the prospect of sheltering in place at home for an undetermined length of time, Americans rushed to grocery stores and other outlets during the first weeks of the current pandemic. This enormous and unexpected surge in demand quickly outpaced supply, forcing store managers to begin limiting purchase quantities of certain products.

This experience has been unlike anything many Americans have ever faced and, as a result, it has given most of us a new appreciation for history and the sacrifices for the greater good made by elders from previous generations.


World War I and II were crises of a global scale that greatly disrupted the food supply chain. Among many other efforts to support and supply the war effort, these events prompted the U.S. government to implement rationing, which was the planned limiting of quantities of crucial foods to ensure equitable distribution to citizens everywhere.

These events, followed in subsequent decades by fears stoked by the Cold War, motivated citizens to grow and store more food at home by canning, the process of preserving fruits and vegetables under pressure in sealed containers utilizing the home stove.

Most of the produce for home canning came from the backyard garden when it was ripe and in abundance. During the two world wars, the federal government promoted the “Victory Garden” program, which encouraged Americans to support the war effort and exemplify national sacrifice by growing their own crops at home.


The current pandemic is also a global crisis that has disrupted the food chain, especially since our supply system has become increasingly globalized. In addition, the close proximity of working conditions inside food processing facilities, especially meatpacking plants, led to breakouts of COVID-19 and resulted in the temporary closure of some of these critical supply locations.

Government authorities have not implemented rationing in response, but as previously mentioned, the initial rush on grocery stores forced most stores to limit quantities of certain foods and goods. For example, meat department shelves rapidly emptied, as did aisles of pasta. Many people prepared for a potentially long period of home quarantine by clearing out shelves of soup and other canned goods, while others sought refuge by binge baking at home, which led to temporary shortages of staples such as eggs and flour.

In addition, there is also a renewed interest in gardening with “Covid Victory Gardens,” as well as in kitchen canning, leading to a significant surge in the sale of seeds and plants. Learn More from the May 26 Then & Now Seeds & Gardening



Donate Food To A Local Pantry!

With supplies still fluctuating at local grocers and so many people out of work, donating canned goods and other non-perishable food items to your local food pantry can make all the difference for a family in need. For those with gardens, take the time to learn how to can food at home to make your bounty last longer, especially for when produce isn’t as easily available at stores or markets.

Macfarland Food Pantry.

MacFarland's food pantry. Credit Dean Witter

Previous Weeks' Then & Now

Teachers & Adapting in a Crisis | Face Masks | Pets & Comfort | Social Distancing | Writing Letters | Home Delivery | Board Games & Cards | Seeds & Home Gardening

Explore BIG Moments in Wisconsin's History

Explore Black History in Wisconsin

Black History

Explore Women's History in Wisconsin

Women's History

Explore Earth Day History in Wisconsin

Earth Day History

Explore the History of Epidemics and Diseases in Wisconsin

Epidemics in History

Explore Pride Month History in Wisconsin

Pride History

A woman at International Harvester's Tractor Works looks through a filing cabinet or a card catalog

Turning Points in History

Research & Discover History

A Wisconsin family portrait outside, african american

Research Your Family History

An old picture of a Wisconsin neighboorhood from a hill

Discover Your Community History

A vintage cashier till

Explore Our Collections

Map of Wisconsin

Maps & Atlases

Al Ringling Historic Building

National Register of Historic Places

Two scuba divers exploring a wreck

Wisconsin Shipwrecks

Man reading the Union Farmer, an old newspaper

Digitized Newspaper Collection

Two men working on a video camera

Online Film Collection

Education & Activity Resources

Map of the First Nations in Wisconsin

Wisconsin First Nations

Mammoth Skeleton

Mammoth Mystery

Textbook cover for Wisconsin Our State, Our Story

FREE Textbook

A couple book covers for young readers books

Young Readers

Elementary student taking an immigration quiz

Elementary Lesson Plans

Two middle schoolers doing course work

Secondary Lesson Plans

Tommy Knocker Coloring Page

Coloring Pages

Language teachers listen to foreign languages on tape decks at an institute for public school language teachers at Mount Mary College.

Wisconsin Sound Archive

Book Nook

The COVID-19 Pandemic has temporarily affected the Society's ability to fulfill hard copy book orders. However, you can still find Wisconsin Historical Society Press books at your favorite book retailer, including independent booksellers at IndieBound. E-books are also available through most e-book vendors, including KOBO, the online e-book portal for many independent booksellers. And make sure to follow us on Facebook for virtual storytime!

Bring History Home

Our online store is open and ready to take your order! Here are a few suggestions to beat the boredom.

Picture of Jacobs Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

USA Map Puzzle

USA Map Puzzle

Frank Lloyd Wright Dominoes


Powwow Activity Book

Powwow Activity Book

More At Home Toys and Activities

Games & Puzzles | Journals & Coloring Books

COVID-19 Poster Project

Renee Graef's Clean Hands Poster, depicting four ethnically diverse children all washing their hands.

July 1 | Clean Hands

Renée Graef

Renée Graef has illustrated over 80 children's books, including the "Kirsten" books (American Girl), books in the "My First Little House" program (Laura Ingalls Wilder) and "B is for Badger; A Wisconsin Alphabet." She splits her time between Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

For the Covid-19 Poster Project, Renée was inspired by an experiment that tested the effect of "Wash your Hands" signs in public restrooms. The results showed that people do indeed wash their hands longer with the displayed signs. She is making the four posters (from the one shown poster) available for free downloads in an effort to decrease the spread of the Coronavirus. The 8.5" x 11" printables can be displayed in restrooms in schools, daycares, work and home.

Renée is thrilled to work on her second children's book for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press with author, Barbara Joosse. Her first WHSP book was "Sport: Ship Dog of the Great Lakes" by Pam Cameron. She is also working on the children's book series, "Lulu and Rocky Adventures" (with Barbara Joosse), which debuted with "Lulu and Rocky in Milwaukee".

The free downloads of Renée Graef's Covid-19 Poster Project can be found on her website.

Learn More

Support the Preservation of Wisconsin's History

Make a big impact

Make a BIG impact by supporting the Society's efforts to continue to collect, preserve, and share stories about environmental conservation, and all Wisconsin history.


History is a story with many voices, always growing and evolving — a story we tell together. Let us know if there are ways we could improve!