In this staged photograph, Boston women lending a helping hand in the drive for peach stones (pits) on September 23, 1918 during the national campaign for peach pits. Chemical warfare played a major, and deadly, role in the First World War. In 1915 American chemist James Bert Garner found that the use of charcoal could help subdue the potency of chlorine gas used by the Germans. The charcoal was made from natural fibers that were found in various fruit pits/seeds and nut shells.
In September 1918, the U.S. government launched a peach pit campaign to gather as many pits as possible to be used in the manufacturing of gas masks. The following article ran in the September 15, 1918 issue of The New York Times:
The American Red Cross has notified its chapters throughout the country of a War Department request to gather peach pits and other fruits seeds that may furnish charcoal needed in the manufacture of gas masks. Chapters will gather the seeds, and forward them to collection centres [sic], whence they will be shipped to the gas-mask plants. Schools, churches, and Sunday schools will be asked to aid in the campaign, and letters requesting co-operation have been sent to the Department of Agriculture, the National War Savings Committees, the Boy Scouts, the Hotel Men’s Association, and the Salvation Army.
A campaign will be launched here this week, and by holding contests in the schools the Red Cross expects that every peach pit found by the children will be thrown at the Kaiser. Expense of carrying on the campaign will be borne by the War Department. . . .
The best material for gas masks is cocoanut shell, but it has been found that many other fruit stones and nut shells provide an excellent quality of charcoal or carbon. They include peach, apricot, cherry, prune, plum and olive pits, date seeds, and the shells of brazil nut, hickory nut, walnut, and butternut. Materials may be mixed together indiscriminately, the announcement says, although all must be dried by oven-baking or sun-drying.