Giant grasshoppers plague Kansas!

Sorry. Just an April Fool's Day gag—and there's more where that came from. Curator Shannon Perich shares historic exaggeration photos in the museum's collection.

"We can either laugh about it or cry about it," is an often used platitude to help some cope. We often use humor to deflect and ease painful or uncomfortable situations and these exaggeration postcards were created in that same vein.

 

Ride-Em Cowboy, exaggeration postcard by E.D Conrad, Garden City, KS, 1934 Sent from Ted Warren to Mr. George Layman, Box 68, Newberg, Oregon, postmarked August 9, 1938 The message on the back: Dear George – Received your card and was glad to hear that you got along so well. You can see by this picture how the grasshoppers grow in Kansas. Ha. Thanks for your card and good luck to you George. So long – Ted Warren.
Ride-Em Cowboy, exaggeration postcard by E.D Conrad, Garden City, KS, 1934 Sent from Ted Warren to Mr. George Layman, Box 68, Newberg, Oregon, postmarked August 9, 1938. The message on the back: "Dear George – Received your card and was glad to hear that you got along so well. You can see by this picture how the grasshoppers grow in Kansas. Ha. Thanks for your card and good luck to you George. So long – Ted Warren."

Clearly manipulated and collaged to create oversized insects, animals and vegetables, these photographic postcards were most popular in the United States between 1900 and 1917. Americans have a history of using tall-tales, like "Johnny Appleseed" and "Babe and the Big Blue Ox" to reinforce ideas that Americans are independent, strong-willed, and can tame any landscape.

 

Harvesting a Profitable Crop of Onions, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, published by The North American Post Card Co. Kansas City, U.S.A, 1909
Harvesting a Profitable Crop of Onions, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, published by The North American Post Card Co. Kansas City, U.S.A, 1909

Combining ideas associated with tall-tales making giant grasshoppers and oversized food was one way of easing the farming and economic concerns associated with the Dust Bowl and Depression eras. Some of these exaggeration postcards were used as advertisements, and some were just plain silly.

 

The Bass I Caught, exaggeration postcard, Canadian Postcard Co., Toronto, 1910
The Bass I Caught, exaggeration postcard, Canadian Postcard Co., Toronto, 1910
Missouri apples, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1909 Sent from N.E. Hillock to Mrs. Fred Reinhardt, Merriam, Kansas. Postmarked: Lexington, MO, June 24, 1909 Message on the back: All’s well in Lex- I have not forgotten you Lily. But have been so busy and it has been so warm I have never had time to write. But will write soon. With best wishes From N.E. Hillock
Missouri apples, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1909 Sent from N.E. Hillock to Mrs. Fred Reinhardt, Merriam, Kansas. Postmarked: Lexington, MO, June 24, 1909. Message on the back: "All's well in Lex- I have not forgotten you Lily. But have been so busy and it has been so warm I have never had time to write. But will write soon. With best wishes From N.E. Hillock"
Bringing in the Sheaves, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908 Sent from Aberdeen, South Dakota to Wm. Klapper, Cecil, Wisconsin Message on the back: Hello there: I am staying with Schatz but I think I will go to N. Dak, there is too many men here looking for work. M.K." In the upper left hand corner is that sentence, “I got here last night.” (not dated)
Bringing in the Sheaves, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908. Sent from Aberdeen, South Dakota to Wm. Klapper, Cecil, Wisconsin Message. On the back: "Hello there: I am staying with Schatz but I think I will go to N. Dak, there is too many men here looking for work. M.K." In the upper left hand corner is that sentence, "I got here last night." (not dated)
Watermelons grow big in Wash., exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908, published by The North American Post Card Co. Kansas City, U.S.A. Sent from Arthur Wayne Webber to Miss Clara Hancock, Vincentown, New Jersey. Postmarked Nov 21 , Spokane, WA 1910. Message on the back: Dear Friend, How’s the cranberry business. I work for Chas Whelen Wholesale Comm Spokane Wash. 923 RR Ave. Your th only out of six names that I wrote to. (Please write me) P.S. I’m 19 ½ yrs red hair wght 159
Watermelons grow big in Wash., exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908, published by The North American Post Card Co. Kansas City, U.S.A. Sent from Arthur Wayne Webber to Miss Clara Hancock, Vincentown, New Jersey. Postmarked Nov 21 , Spokane, WA 1910. Message on the back: "Dear Friend, How's the cranberry business. I work for Chas Whelen Wholesale Comm Spokane Wash. 923 RR Ave. Your th only out of six names that I wrote to. (Please write me) P.S. I’m 19 ½ yrs red hair wght 159"
You Don’t Stick These Bunnies in Your Hunting Coat Pocket, exaggeration postcard, F.D. Conrad, 1930s. Message on back: Let’s go rabbit hunting!!!
You Don't Stick These Bunnies in Your Hunting Coat Pocket, exaggeration postcard, F.D. Conrad, 1930s. Message on back: "Let's go rabbit hunting!!!"
Potatoes grow big in our State, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908
Potatoes grow big in our State, exaggeration postcard, Wm. H. Martin, 1908

Shannon Perich is Associate Curator for the Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History.

Posted at 9:00 am EDT in Food History,From the Collections