Thursday, April 24, 2014

War Rationing -- When The Greatest Generation Went "All In"

Edna Lillian [Tew] Tarr (1885 -1969) was the older sister of my paternal grandfather.  The above Ration Book from World War II is in the possession of her grandson, my cousin Bruce.  He allowed me to scan the book and the stamps it contained.

Since this summer is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, I did a little research and was surprised to learn that there was no rationing to speak of in the U.S. during WW I.  During World War I, food rationing was not explicitly imposed in the United States; instead the U.S. Food Administration relied on a public relations "propaganda" campaign and popular slogans to persuade people to self-ration and conserve food resources.  Catchy slogans such as "Meatless Mondays," "Food Will Win The War," and "Wheatless Wednesdays" did in fact help reduce national food consumption by 15%!  

World War II was different.

As early as the summer of 1941, the UK appealed to the United States to conserve food so that more food resources could be contributed to those fighting Germany in Europe.  As a result, on August 28, 1941 a Presidential Executive Order was issued to establish the Office of Price Administration (OPA) within the Office for Emergency Management.  OPA had broad powers that included the ability to place ceilings on the price for all products except agricultural commodities.  On many other items they had the power to ration the supplies available for consumer sales: tires, cars, shoes, gasoline, nylon, and many other products.  At one point all but about 10% of retail food prices were frozen by OPA. 

The first item to be rationed by OPA was tires.  In December 1941 OPA ordered the cessation of tire sales while it established volunteer tire ration boards around the country.  In January 1942 a temporary end of all civilian auto sales was implemented and dealers suddenly had 500,000 unsold vehicles sitting on their lots -- and by early February 1942 the production of civilian automobile models had ceased. Then, by June 1942 companies no longer produced metal office furniture, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, radios and other products in order to save and divert materials for war production efforts.

Civilian ration books were first issued in May 1942 with the release of War Ration Book Number One, also known as the "Sugar Book." It was distributed through a network of over 100,000 volunteers that included teachers and PTA groups around the country. All sales of sugar were ended on April 27, 1942 and resumed on May 5th after the ration books were out to limit sugar purchases to a half pound per person per week (50% of the previous normal consumption by Americans). Coffee was rationed beginning in late November 1942 and by the end of the year ration coupons had to be used for citizens to buy other items.  Within a year such items as butter, cheese, fuel oil, meat, canned milk, coal, jams, lard, margarine, typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, and shoes were rationed.

Rationing did not end until 1946.

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Scan of original War Ration Book No. 3 issued to Edna L. Tarr courtesy of her grandson, Bruce Marquardt.
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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1 comment:

  1. John,

    I want you to know that your wonderful blog post is listed in today Fab Finds post at

    Have a fantastic weekend!