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Colfax Messenger archives: Young Recruits Needed to Pick Milk Weed Pods for Life Preservers

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  What a difference 70 years makes.

In 1944, children were being recruited to pick milkweed pods used in making life preservers for American soldiers going overseas.

Today milkweeds have become a rare plant, so much so, that people are planting milkweed seeds to try to bring back the plants that are essential to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies.

The July 13, 1944, issue of the Colfax Messenger contained the following article under the headline, “Young Recruits Needed to Pick Milk Weed Pods for Life Preservers”:

“Every soldier must have a life preserver for his journey. To provide him with one, it is necessary for the boys and girls to collected all milk weed pods possible to supply the waterproof floss for the life preservers.

“Preliminary plans for the organization of the youth of the state for the pod collection were made at a recent conference of W.W. Clark, associate director of agricultural extension at the University of Wisconsin, Wakelin McNeel, state boy’s and girls’ club director, and H.W. McKenzie, former director of the state conservation commission, who will have charge of the work of gathering the floss in the state.

“County agents will call together key workers in each county to plan distribution of the sacks for collection of the pods and to designate several delivery points. The Federal government is supplying 500,000 sacks and is advancing the money to pay children 20 cents a sack.

“While the amount paid is not much, McNeel said each boy or girl will have the added satisfaction of knowing that his efforts may save an American soldier from drowning. It is hoped that each worker will collect at least two sacks of pods or enough for one life jacket. While the work will fall largely upon rural boys and girls, city youngsters can spend an afternoon collecting pods while on a Nature hike. Members of 4-H clubs will receive extra credit for the work.

“Railways along which milkweed is now growing have agreed not to cut the weeds until the pods are collected. Farmers and county highway crews are being urged not to cut milkweeds this year.”