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