Food rationing during World War II

People are reacting to commodity shortages right now, but we have no idea what “dealing with” is. Just ask anyone who lived during World War II when wartime rationing was in effect. Rationing started in the UK in the summer of 1941. It only started here in this country after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

There were several reasons why rationing was imposed. Firstly because of the war, imported goods were not shipped. Some of the locations of certain goods (such as those from the tropics) were under enemy occupation. Another reason was that the goods that were made here before the war were not made because the factories were focused on producing materials for the war effort. Many factories were converted to war production, whether for aircraft or canned meat. It takes a lot of goods to equip an army, not just armaments or equipment, but also clothing, food and medical supplies. This happened in a difficult period as the country had just passed through the depression and most of the country had no money to buy goods and when the war boosted the economy the country was asked to limit his purchases to help those who were fighting the war.

The ration book was the most important book in the house after the family Bible. The book contained stamps matching the products, and local ration boards were formed to help oversee the program and hopefully prevent fraud and black markets. Some items like sugar were distributed evenly based on the number in a household. An exception to this rule were those who kept bees. My Great Uncle Melvin owned beehives and the importance of an alternative to sugar plus the use of beeswax in armament production allowed him to get extra sugar stamps to feed his bees .

Tires were the first item to be rationed by the OPA (Office of Price Administration). Indeed, the raw rubber came from rubber-producing regions of Southeast Asia which the Japanese immediately took over. The country needed all the rubber it could get its hands on to make tires for the military. The sale of all civilian automobiles began on January 1, 1942. A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed. After a while with your tires only running on tire patches hitting 35 mph, that’s probably borderline reckless. Gasoline rationing had as much to do with the shortage of rubber as with the shortage of gasoline. All cars received a sticker with letters corresponding to their priority for gasoline.

To obtain classification and ration stamps, one had to appear before a local War Price and Rationing Board which reported to the OPA. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and young children who qualified for canned milk not available to others. To receive a gasoline ration card, a person had to certify that they needed gasoline and owned a maximum of five tires. All tires beyond five per driver were confiscated by the government, due to rubber shortages. Farmers received additional gasoline vouchers to produce crops. My grandfather got extra gas stamps and when canning season came around and grandma needed extra sugar for pickles and jam, she would trade gas stamps to her brother, my uncle Melvin, who had those precious sugar stamps.

Each ration stamp had a generic drawing of an airplane, cannon, tank, aircraft carrier, ear of wheat, fruit, etc. and a serial number. Some stamps also had alphabetical letters. The type and quantity of rationed goods were not specified on most stamps and were not defined until later when local newspapers published, for example, only from a specified date, a stamp of plane was needed (in addition to money) to buy one. a pair of shoes and a number 30 stamp from ration book four were needed to purchase five pounds of sugar. Product quantities changed from time to time based on availability. Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.

Americans across the country were encouraged to plant “victory gardens” to help feed their families and offset food rationing during the war. Campaigns to promote canning of food products to help offset the need for processed canned foods that used the precious metal of tin. I have a copy of “The Victory Cookbook” pictured. It offers recipes to help the home cook deal with produce shortages while ensuring family nutrition. The book includes menus and recipes for Meatless Mondays and more. The book is dedicated to General MacArthur and it’s kind of weird to open a cookbook and have a big picture of a general in full dress.

To provide change for ration stamps, the government issued “red dot” tokens to be given change for red stamps and “blue dot” tokens to be given change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes and were made of fine, compressed wood fibers, as metals were rare. To discourage a black market in stamps, sellers weren’t supposed to accept stamps they didn’t snatch from the books themselves, but buyers often got around this by saying the stamps had fallen off the book, which was very possible because the books were not well done. Thus, the “exchange” of stamps was often a common practice.

On May 4, 1942, civilians received ration book number one, called the “sugar book”. Sugar was the first rationed consumer product. Coffee (also imported) was rationed in November 1942. In April of that year, if you wanted to buy a new tube of toothpaste (which was packaged in metal tubes), you had to return your tube empty. By the end of 1942, ration coupons were used for nine other items: typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, shoes, rubber shoes, silk, nylon, fuel oil, and stoves. Meat, lard, shortening and edible oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter were rationed in November 1943. retailers welcomed the rationing as they were already experiencing shortages of many items due to rumors and panics, such as flashlights and stacks after Pearl Harbor.

Most rationing restrictions ended in August 1945, with the exception of sugar rationing which lasted until 1947 in some parts of the country. Unfortunately, as with any rationing situation, those with the means and the money can always get around the regulations. I knew a lady who worked in the Martinsville Sanatoriums and she told me there was never a shortage of cigarettes, sugar or coffee as they always managed to get plenty. So don’t whine because you’re having trouble finding your Diet Dr. Pepper. You don’t know anything about “dealing with it”.

The Morgan County History Museum exhibits ration books. The museum is open Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free and without ration stamp!