In 1915, children rejoiced after price of cod liver oil skyrockets

By JOHNATHAN CROYLE | syracuse.com | Published: July 18, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The coronavirus pandemic has made the past few months really difficult to be a kid.

It seems, sometimes, that many of the things that makes childhood fun have been canceled or changed because of the illness.

Schools have been closed and birthday parties and celebrations have been cancelled. The State Fair is not going to happen.

Global events throughout history have often had negative consequences for children.

But in July 1915, events in northern Europe had children in Central New York, and in the rest of the country, rejoicing.

During World War I, German submarines sunk over 12 million tons of shipping, creating a disruption of commerce between the United States and Europe.

One of the products that was affected was cod liver oil, produced in places in northern Europe, like Norway. The vitamin A and D rich supplement was given to children of the era by the tablespoons to prevent rickets was long remembered for its taste.

The memory of the stuff was described this way by Toronto’s Globe and Mail in 2002:

“The oily, fishy, smelly exudation of the liver of the Gadus morrhea – once crudely obtained by simply letting the oil float to the top of a barrel full of rotting fish flesh – has been known to induce a dry heave in the memory decades after the last swallow.”

On July 18, 1915, the Syracuse Herald reported that the price of a barrel of cod liver oil had gone up drastically, from $45 to $65, due to “the tying up of European fisheries by the sinking of trawlers in the war.”

With a cute cartoon, the humorous article gave children hope that their daily spoonful of cod liver oil might be coming to an end.

Here are some of the highlights:



“Cod liver oil has gone up from $45 to $65 a barrel. This is announced officially. Perhaps the raise in price was due to the fact that it has always been a dern sight easier for cod liver oil to go up then to go down. It has always required one stern faced father, one strap, one mother, a spoon and promises of candy afterward to make it go down, but the stuff has often come up of its own accord.”

“This is one thing the Germans have done that ought to make every patriotic American boy feel more kindly toward them.”

“It’s hard even to talk about cod liver oil in barrels. It’s bad enough to think of it by the spoonful and when you come to talk about barrels of it – well it’s far sickening.”

“Children, how’d you like a nice barrel of cod liver in the cellar? Wouldn’t it be handy to have a barrel down cellar, just like some folks have a barrel of cider or a barrel of apples?”

“But to be optimistic it really looks as if in all common sense nobody, not even the meanest dad in the world would buy a whole barrel of the stuff. It is also a fact that fathers don’t really enjoy administering cod liver oil any more than mothers do and probably they will be just as glad to find something else as a substitute.”

“So it’s reasonably certain that you won’t be interrupted every time you get to playing soldier or playing with dolls if you’re a girl, just to swallow some of the most sickening medicine ever invented to make childhood apparently the unhappiest time of life.”

“It’s a pretty good old world after all, or it will be if cod liver oil and emulsions are eliminated from the possibilities of life. Being sent to bed without any supper isn’t bad either so long as there is no shadow of that accursed cod liver oil bottle across the horizon of each day.”


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