The chemical element iodine derives its name from the violet color of its gaseous form. A rare element (sixty-second in global abundance), it occurs naturally as a trace chemical in certain soils, rocks, seawater, plants, and animals. In humans, it is largely found in the thyroid gland, which secretes iodine-bearing hormones responsible for regulating metabolism. A deficiency of iodine causes an unsightly swelling of the neck and jaw known as a goiter.

In the late 1920s, the South Carolina Natural Resources Commission began a public relations campaign to advertise the high iodine levels found in fruits and vegetables grown in the state. Even South Carolina milk was promoted as containing extraordinarily high levels of iodine. Promotional tracts sought to expand the national market for South Carolina produce by warning midwestern and west coast residents of the consequences of iodine deficiency in the young, including enlarged thyroids, mental and physical birth defects, and even sterility. The campaign placed the motto “Iodine” on South Carolina automobile license plates in 1930, then expanded the phrase in subsequent years to “The Iodine State” and “The Iodine Products State.” Columbia radio station WIS took its call letters to promote the “Wonderful Iodine State.” Even lowcountry moonshiners around Hell Hole Swamp jumped on the iodine bandwagon, advertising their brand of liquid corn with the slogan: “Not a Goiter in a Gallon.”

Despite the promotional gimmicks, South Carolina agriculture saw little benefit from the iodine campaign. With the advent of iodized salt in the 1940s, Americans had a convenient dietary supplement and demand for foods high in iodine content declined.

South Carolina Natural Resources Commission. South Carolina Iodine: Facts and Figures Showing What It Is and What It Means in Fruits, Vegetables, Sea Food and Milk. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Natural Resources Commission, 1931.

---. South Carolina, Her Resources and Inviting Opportunities: The New Era of Iodine. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Natural Resources Commission, 1932.

R. T. Oliver