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Second World War: Picking Milkweed Pods for Life Jackets

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Oct 30, 2012

In 1944, during the second World War, I was teaching in a small rural school near Cornett, Wisconsin. There were eight grades in Fairview School. That fall the War Department sent out a desperate call for milkweed pods. The fluff of milkweed seed “umbrellas” could be used in Mae West-type life jackets in place of kapok, which was in short supply.

I borrowed a large truck with a stake rack from the Bloomer Bottling Works of Bloomer, Wisconsin. All 44 students climbed onto the truck, and I drove it up to a landmark hill called Baldy Mountain. Milkweed grew on the hill, in nearby fields and along the roads in profusion.

The students poured off the truck, grabbed large mesh bags provided by the War Department and picked thousands of milk-weed pods. There was more than one excursion to the area; after each, the brightly colored bags full of pods hung to dry from fence lines on our farm. Fairview School’s impressive collection greatly exceeded those of other schools in the area.

A huge van was sent from the county seat, Chippewa Falls, to collect the bags of milkweed pods. They were taken to a processing plant and used in the war effort. One can only wonder. Did this school effort help a serviceman – perhaps in the South Pacific.

Clara Planing Reeve
Cornell, Wisconsin


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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