World War II propaganda posters were not only directed at individual Americans - they were also often directed at people involved in wartime work. And while factory workers might be the more popular images shown in books and documentary films, restaurant workers were a vital part of the wartime workforce. This series of posters was designed to encourage good hygiene and sanitation practices in restaurants, not only to conform with health department rules, but also to keep the workforce healthy and able to work.
Produced by the U.S. Public Health Service of the Federal Security Agency, this series of six posters still resonates today! They were designed by artist Seymour Nydorf (1914-2001), who designed a number of posters for the Public Health Service. Featuring a blonde waitress in a blue uniform and different white aprons, with her little blue hat when in the front of house, the style of the illustrations is more stylized than strictly true to life, but makes the point all the same.
As we are in the midst of a global pandemic, these posters seems particularly apt, especially this first one, exhorting restaurant workers to "Wash your hands often."
This one, which encourages workers to "Use a fork - don't be a butterfinger," shows a waitress using a two-tined fork to take butter pats from a container of ice and placing them in little foil containers - much more sanitary than using her fingers.
This poster, "Keep these under cover," shows a waitress adding a cup of pudding to a refrigerated case full of slices of pie, an eclair, and a salad - all things with cut edges that should not be exposed to air for fear of bacterial contamination.
I'm sure we all hope that all restaurant workers still adhere to this advice! "Handle with care" shows a waitress placing a fork and cup at the place setting. The poster reminds her to "Don't touch rims" of glasses and "Use handles" to place cutlery.
This poster, "Wash every piece carefully," shows a waitress washing a sink full of dirty dishes, with a rinse sink and possibly a steam sink, and shelves of clean plates behind her. This is an interesting scene to me because of the mop-like swab she is using to clean the plates, and what appears to be enormous racks of dishes in the sinks that can be lifted out.
And finally, poster number six, "Keep these cold," shows our waitress placing a plate of cooked shrimp in the refrigerator with a whole shelf of milk bottles, a bone-in sliced ham, a square of gelatin, cups of pudding, and what appears to be a large dish of potato or macaroni salad. A thermometer indicating that the temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit is prominently located in the foreground.
All the advice in these posters still holds true today! Both in restaurants and at home. Except, these days, we'd have to add "wear a mask" to the list. But now, as then, restaurant workers have turned out to be much more essential than perhaps many people realized.
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.
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