HS – Joining the War Effort, One Peach Pit at a Time

World War I
The Role of Connecticut in U.S. History
Hartford, Windham, Statewide
Related Search Terms
World War One, WWI, First World War, Great War, Home Front, Gas Masks, Peach Pits, Women, Work, Industry, Hartford Rubber Works, How Connecticut Fought the War, How Lives Changed
Social Studies Frameworks
High School – United States History

Historical Background
World War I was the first conflict to see large-scale use of chemical weapons. Poison gases, such as chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas caused blisters on the skin, blindness, lung damage, asphyxiation, and other injuries. The earliest German gas attack (at Ypres, France, in 1915) took the Allied forces by surprise, and soon afterwards the British and French started developing their own chemical weapons and protective gas masks. The United States ramped up its gas mask production in 1917–1918. The Red Cross spearheaded a campaign to collect fruit pits and nut shells for making gas mask filters. Several factories in Connecticut converted to gas mask production in order to meet the army’s needs. Hundreds of women in the state were recruited for this work.


How does an entire society participate in war?

  • To what extent were women essential to the workforce during World War I?
  • How did the U.S. government and the Red Cross mobilize people to participate in the war effort?
  • In what ways did Connecticut industry influence World War I?
  • How did Connecticut’s existing industrial infrastructure and workforce adapt to serve the war effort?

Things you will need to teach this lesson.

Peach Pit Hogshead
Peach pit hogshead outside Sage Allen & Company department store, Hartford, Connecticut ca. 1917-1919 – Connecticut State Library, Dudley Photograph Collection


Peach Pit Depository
Murray’s Boston Store (Willimantic) advertisement. Norwich Bulletin, Norwich, Connecticut, September 9, 1918 – Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
page Download the article “Straw Hats Must Yield to Gas Masks: United States Rubber Buys Old Straw Hat Works at MilfordThe Hartford Courant, July 8, 1917, pg. 5
page Download the article “Local Plant Needs Women to Work on Gas Mask Rush Order.” The Hartford Courant, June 28, 1918, pg. 9
page Download the article “Women Answer Call For Gas Mask Work. More than 300 sign up at Hartford Rubber WorksThe Hartford Courant, June 30, 1918, pg. 6
  1. Start by displaying the “Peach pit hogshead” image, preferably full screen, without the title/caption.
  2. Ask students to look closely at the image and share what they see. Encourage them to back up their comments with specific visual evidence. Ask, “What do you see that makes you say that?” You may want to use the Library of Congress Analyzing Photographs & Prints process to guide students’ looking. Assemble a list of questions that arise from the students’ examination of the photograph.
  3. Next, display or distribute the advertisement for Murray’s Boston Store in Willimantic. Once students have had a chance to read the advertisement, make a list of the new pieces of information students have gathered. See which questions from the initial list have now been answered, and make a list of additional/new questions.
  4. Select one, two, or all three of the short newspaper articles to share with students. You may wish to assign different articles to different students or have everyone read all of the articles. Ask students to:
    OBSERVE: What information can they gather from the articles?
    REFLECT: What do they think based on what they have read?
    QUESTION: What does this article make them wonder?
  5. You may want to use the Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis worksheet to help students organize and record their thoughts.
  6. Look back at the students’ list of questions for inquiry and/or at the suggested supporting questions. Discuss to what extent these primary sources help uncover answers to those questions or to the larger compelling question. Discuss additional questions the students have and sources or avenues for further inquiry.

NOTE: To see original film footage of gas mask production in 1918—from the peach pits to the final product—don’t miss this great source from the National Archives. Click on the hyperlink below and then on the film icon to start the video.

Silent video: Manufacture of Gas Masks, 1918, silent video (6:21). National Archives.

  • Drawing on their examination of the primary sources in this activity and other related sources (see below for some suggestions), students will design a World War I-style poster promoting the collection of fruit pits for the war effort OR encouraging women to take on war work in Connecticut factories. Need inspiration? Check out the Library of Congress’s collection of World War I Posters.
  • Students will research other Connecticut industries during World War I and compare them to the production of gas masks at the time. Who was employed? Where were the factories located? How did the products contribute to the war effort? Did the factories make something different before the war?
  • Students will draft a letter to a state legislator or to the editor of their local newspaper advocating why—based on the study of history and the examination of primary sources—there should be a monument that recognizes the war efforts of Connecticut residents on the home front during World War I.
Places to GO
Things to DO
Articles & Boks to READ

This TeachITCT.org activity is sponsored in part by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Eastern Region Program, coordinated by Waynesburg University.