Guest Post – Rationing Gone Wild by GPCox

We’ve all heard about rationing but with GP’s help, we’ll now know quite a bit more about it. Enjoy.

Blog - Rationing - Shate my car - 8.114.2013

The Second World War was fought on two fronts and as we’ve seen in previous posts, the home front rarely received the credit it deserved for its efforts.  The generation that endured the Great Depression, worked long, hard hours and were often forced to use the barter system to survive now, for the war effort, had shortages for most everything.  If you can name it – there was probably a ration book for it and a black market to get it; if you dared.  The children also pitched in by giving, what money they could earn, back into the family.

Rationing started just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and sugar was the first product to be rationed when sales ended 27 April 1942 and commercial manufacturers received a ration of about 70% of their normal consumption and ice cream producers switched to making sherbet.  Then coffee was put on ration allotments 29 November 1942, with nine other items being added to the list by the end of the year.  Almost one year later, about 21 others were on the list, such as: firewood, coal, stoves, bicycles, footwear, nylons and processed foods like canned milk.  As a toothpaste tube was made of metal back then, people had to hand in the old one in order to receive the replacement.  There were 5,500 local ration boards to issue the books and stamps and these were doled out according to the size of a household, and whether or not they owned a restaurant or were a merchant.

Victory Gardens became popular and were encouraged by the government.  From windowsills and small backyards to acreage were developed to supplement the rationed food.  Freezers were new and expensive; refrigerators were scarce and required a two-page application for their purchase.  Therefore, women learned how to can what extra they grew, set up roadside stands and used dry ice; whenever it was available to protect the surplus supply.

The first non-food item rationed was rubber since the Japanese had captured the Dutch East Indies’ plantations where the U.S. had received 90% of its product.  FDR called the nation to recycle old tires, raincoats, garden hoses, bathing caps, etc.  The OPA started the “Idle Tire Purchase Plan” that could refuse mileage rations to anyone owning passenger tires that were not in use.  The government had tried a voluntary gas rationing, but this was unsuccessful, so you had to prove to a local board that you owned no more than five tires.

As a result of the gasoline rationing, the Indy 500 was cancelled as well as sightseeing tours.  In some areas, violations were prevalent; therefore night courts began to spring up to handle the amount of offenders.  The first session was opened on the evening of 26 May 1943 at the Pittsburgh Fulton Building.

The maximum “Victory Speed” was 35 mph for the nation and carpools were encouraged.  Even Daffy Duck cartoons urged drivers to “Keep it under 40!”  By the end of ’42, half of the U.S. automobiles were issued “A” stickers as non-essential vehicles and only allotted 4 gallons per week.  The green “B” stickers were those deemed essential to the war effort in some way and could receive up to 8 gallons a week.  The red “C” was for doctors, ministers, postal employees and railroad workers.  The “T”, obviously for truckers, had an unlimited supply of gasoline and the rare “X” sticker went to members of Congress and other chosen VIPs.  These were affixed to the windshield so that the reverse side could be seen by the occupants.

Windshield gasoline ration stickers

Windshield gasoline ration stickers

A woman who had worked for one of the rationing boards in New York kept a scrapbook and in it was a list – the “11 Commandments of Rationing”:

1-      Don’t try to buy rationed goods with loose stamps.

2-      Don’t lend your ration book to a friend.

3-      Don’t swap ration coupons.

4-      Don’t give your unused stamps to your dealer.

5-      Don’t try to buy rationed goods without coupons.

6-      Don’t try to use ration stamps after they expire.

7-      Don’t try to use a ration book that doesn’t belong to you or that should have been returned to the board.

8-      Don’t use a ration book that is a duplicate of one you already own in your own name.

9-      Don’t pay over top legal prices.

10-  Don’t let any dealer make you buy something you don’t want to get or do not need.

11-  Don’t use your gasoline rations for anything except the purpose for which they were intended.

I believe this helps to explain what strict regulations were imposed and why the black markets begin to emerge.

After reading countless first-hand accounts of the WWII era, I found one underlying current in most every story – a sense of personal responsibility.  A character trait such as this does not show up in the statistics for a country.  The stamina, perseverance and self-discipline of that generation have nearly all been lost.  Personal independence and patriotism were normal and honesty was the rule – not the exception.  A hand shake could close a major business deal.  Logic and common sense were aspired for every choice they made – survival of country and family depended upon it.  Ordinary people became heroes in their own right with pride and dedication.

I did not acquire enough information on the rationing that transpired in countries outside the U.S., but a fellow blogger has data on the state of affairs in England at –  Judy and I would enjoy hearing from everyone out there, whether you have a story on rationing or not; we’re a community here and it only gets better when you join in.

Blog - Rationing - canned goods - 8.14.2013

Resources:  The US Home Front during; The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw; Wikipedia; Library of Congress; Let the Good Times Roll, by Paul D. Casolorph; Americans Remember the Home Front, by Roy Hoopes

I’d always known about rationing but I never realized that so many products were on the list and the regulations were so strict. Did you? GPCox, again, has done a great job researching the subject and I know I learned quite a bit. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

I think that the next to last paragraph says it all – the home front and civilians around the world made incredible sacrifices for this “War to end all wars”.

Judy Guion

48 thoughts on “Guest Post – Rationing Gone Wild by GPCox

  1. The Emu says:

    Excellent insight into the scenes of rationing on the Home front, always knew about Nylon stockings and a few other items through old movies, but didn’t realise it covered just about every commodity or appliance we take for granted today.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      The Emu – Although items rationed around the world differed, here in America, just about everything was rationed. Women created new dessert recipes without eggs and men built what they needed from scraps. But they didn’t complain much. They just continued to do what they had to do.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      fuzzysdad01 – I attempted to go to your re-Blog and comment, but It was unavailable. I thank you anyway. GP and I appreciate sharing our stories and information.

  2. Onisha Ellis says:

    Reblogged this on Old Things R New and commented:
    With the passing of the “Greatest Generation” the stories of what life was like during WWII here in the states are beginning to be lost. Thank you, GPCox for sharing this.

  3. Dead Donovan says:

    Fascinating. I’d never known what rationing entailed. The “commandments of rationing” were very helpful.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Dead Donovan – Glad you liked it. Rationing was an integral part of life throughout the 1940’s . It is a piece of our history that is being ignored.

  4. americanmilitaryfamilymuseum says:

    Reblogged this on New Mexicans in WWII and Korea.

  5. Gypsy Bev says:

    My parents remembered the rationing well. Gasoline was very important to them as they lived in the country and dad had to drive to work. Didn’t realize that was when they began making sherbet. Perhaps that explains my mom’s special taste for it.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Gypsy Bev – I find it especially fascinating when I read something and all of a sudden, something my parents said or did makes perfect sense.

  6. jcalberta says:

    Enlightening. Those were tough times – lots of sacrifices needed to be made.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      jcalberta – Families around the world felt that it was their duty and responsibility to make the sacrifices necessary during World War II, even if it meant sacrificing husbands, fathers and sons. It was a tough time for everyone.

  7. 56packardman says:

    A fascinating post, GP! Putting the need for rationing aside, the downside to rationing is that it helped prepare the collective mind of the country for more government control and intrusion into our lives. As a protege of Woodrow Wilson, FDR was all-in on more government control.

    • GP Cox says:

      FDR’s brand of government seemed to dissipate during the Eisenhower administration and we had the booming of home luxuries, updated cars, new fashion and spoiled children.

  8. Jennie says:

    Another terrific and very interesting rationing story. What would we do without GP? Thank you! Your point about integrity, honesty, hard work, and patriotism is well said. I see much of this in action every day in real life. TV seems to promote the opposite.

  9. Dan Antion says:

    I learn so much from GP’s site – thanks for this post.

  10. Excellent job. GP. Thanks, Judy for hosting

  11. jfwknifton says:

    I hadn’t realised that the USA even had rationing. It’s actually thought now that the British were at their healthiest ever under the strict regime of the ration book during WW2 ! Our rationing didn’t finish until, I think, 1953, for sweets and chocolate.

    • GP Cox says:

      Helen Devries said her own mother , now 101, never knew that the US had rationing either. Thanks for dropping in, John.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      jfwknifton – When you think about it, with Victory Gardens all over the neighborhood, it makes sense. Now we pay and arm and a leg for the “organic” food that was the staple diet in the 1940’s.

  12. Anne Clare says:

    This is fascinating stuff! I knew we had some rationing, but hadn’t studied the extent of it. I can’t help thinking that having to ‘make do’ a little more wouldn’t be a bad thing these days :) Thanks, GP and Judy
    I blogged a little something on this topic a while back if you’re interested- on carrots in WW2 Britain.

  13. Always good to see what happened on the other side of the pond from London – and who better to tell than GP? We had rationing until some time in the 50s. Us children continued to play shops with the ration books

  14. Karen Evans says:

    Thank you, GP, for providing a legacy of memories regarding the sacrifice of our Home Front families. I wasn’t aware of most of which they willingly endured. They certainly were admirable role models during difficult times in a remarkable period of values which have subsequently shaped many of our lives. My paternal grandparents were a family of 7 and I know their Victory Garden helped them survive in feeding so many – 4 of them boys!

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Karen – I can’t help but think there were families all around the world that were making similar sacrifices. That generation was guided by principles of
      duty, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, honor, perseverance and respect. Their attitudes definitely shaped our lives. Thank you for your comments.

      • Karen Evans says:

        Judy – Absolutely, those values were not specific to our country alone but we thankfully reaped their benefits in our own country, as well. I will always admire and be grateful for the wonderful core values of my grandparents and parents who passed them on to us to instill in our future generations. Thank you for your blog and your response.

    • GP Cox says:

      Thank you for adding your family’s story, Karen. It gives a better perspective that just laying out facts.

  15. beetleypete says:

    Always so interesting to read these reflections on the Home Front. My Mum told me so much about rationing when I was young, if only she was still alive, to repeat those tales.
    This article gives some insight into how people continued to try to make familiar meals, with so many missing ingredients.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Pete – Your link was wonderful. As I browsed through it, I found the Bare Cupboard Cake, similar to one my mother used to make. She also had an eggless apple cake that was one of my favorite desserts. Thanks for the link and the memories.

    • GP Cox says:

      Thanks for commenting, Pete, and leaving the link – I’ll definitely be trying some of these recipes!!

  16. GP Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    This look back helps us to appreciate what we have today!!

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