Exhibit shows importance of coffee in Army

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Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

Cup of Joe. A common phrase to describe coffee. But how did it start?

There are several theories suggesting the origin of the expression, including two relating to the military. The two theories are just one of several panels of information and artifacts included in the newest exhibit, “Coffee in the Army,” installed Nov. 20 at the Frontier Army Museum.

One theory stems from General Order 99 that Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issued in June 1914, which banned alcohol on all naval ships.

“The next strongest drink was coffee,” said Fayelee Overman, FAM museum technician. “Sailors called it (cup of Joe) to spite the man that banned (the alcohol).”

The second theory relates it to World War II and G.I. Joe, Overman said.

“Coffee was super important for keeping soldiers going and what not during the war,” she said.

Overman said the importance of coffee in the military dated back even further than World War II.

Museum Technician Fayelee Overman explains how a hopper in a circa-1900 “commissary” would have held rice, as well as contained spices, tea and coffee in the front and side canisters, while installing an exhibit on “Coffee in the Army” Nov. 20 at the Frontier Army Museum. The museum is currently closed because of COVID-19 precautions, but the new exhibit has been added to the museum’s online virtual tour at https://frontierarmymuseum.oncell.com/en/index.html. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“I don’t think people really realize the impact of coffee even starting way back with the Revolutionary War,” Overman said. “During the Civil War, it played a big part in morale, too.

“It was a comfort drink and gave soldiers energy,” she said. “I read in one of the articles (while researching) that coffee is one of the main words mentioned in Civil War diaries. You can get just from that how important it was. …It is pretty interesting. Soldiers have had the same relationship with coffee for a long time.”

Other informational panels in the exhibit discuss coffee specifically at Fort Leavenworth — including information about 1840s-era Post Sutler Hiram Rich, who sold coffee at the general store — as well as the role coffee played for students at the Command and General Staff College who would take coffee breaks in between lectures. The panels also include information about the “Coffee Mill” Sharps rifle, a carbine made in the 1860s that included a small coffee grinder in its stock.

Museum Technician Fayelee Overman positions a circa 1900 coffee ration bag, with a magnifying glass to help see the remaining coffee grounds in the bottom of the bag, while installing an exhibit on “Coffee in the Army” Nov. 20 at the Frontier Army Museum. The museum is currently closed because of COVID-19 precautions, but the new exhibit has been added to the museum’s online virtual tour at https://frontierarmymuseum.oncell.com/en/index.html. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

The exhibit also includes photos from Combined Arms Research Library archives and items like a tin coffee pot and coffee cup, coffee ration bags, and a commissary bin, which once held ground coffee, grains, spices, tea and more.

Overman, who has been researching information for the exhibit since September, said her desire to research coffee in the military stemmed from a small research study she did as an undergraduate student, not to mention her own love of coffee.

“I don’t have a good day unless it starts out with coffee,” Overman said. “It’s not just a habit thing anymore, it’s also a comfort thing, a psychological thing. I don’t feel right unless I have at least a sip of coffee.”

Overman said she hopes museum visitors gain an appreciation for the relationship between coffee and the Army.

Museum Technician Fayelee Overman shows how the components of a circa-1900 “commissary” would have held rice, spices, tea and coffee while installing an exhibit on “Coffee in the Army” Nov. 20 at the Frontier Army Museum. The museum is currently closed because of COVID-19 precautions, but the new exhibit has been added to the museum’s online virtual tour at https://frontierarmymuseum.oncell.com/en/index.html. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“I think sitting down and enjoying a good cup of coffee is not something we always do, especially here in America,” Overman said. “For example, in Italy, it is hard to find a cup of coffee to grab and go because they believe in sitting down and enjoying your coffee, and I think that’s something we don’t always appreciate.

“Maybe if somebody sees this exhibit and then they go and have a cup of coffee, they’ll remember this exhibit and maybe appreciate what coffee has done for our military in the past and currently, too.”

FAM is currently closed to the public, but there will be a virtual tour available of the exhibit at https://frontierarmymuseum.oncell.com/en/index.html.

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