War Rationing

Every man, woman, and child, on every street in every town across America was affected in some way by the war. Even during the Great Depression there was enough food and products available, if only you could afford them.

As the US entered World War II during the winter of 1941, shortages began almost immediately. By necessity our economy shifted to war production almost overnight, and consumer goods were no longer top priority.

In the United States, nationwide food rationing was instituted in the spring of 1942, where each and every member of the family (including babies) were issued ration books by the Office of Price Administration (OPA). These books contained stamps and gave precise details of the amounts of certain types of food that you were allowed. Rationing insured that each person could get their fair share of the items that were in short supply due to the war effort and import reductions. By the end of the war, over a hundred million of each ration book were printed.

Types of rationing included: Uniform coupon rationing (sugar is an example) provided equal shares of a single commodity to all consumers;  Point rationing provided equivalent shares of commodities by coupons issued for points which could be spent for any combination of items in the group (processed foods, meats, fats, cheese); Differential coupon rationing provided shares of a single product according to varying needs (gasoline, fuel oil); and Certificate rationing allowed individuals products only after an application demonstrated need (tires, cars, stoves, typewriters).

The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was in charge of rationing consumer goods such as sugar, coffee, shoes, household appliances, and other goods during World War II. The OPA accepted ration book applications and issued ration books, from which consumers tore out stamps in order to purchase food and other supplies at grocery stores.

Four different series of war ration books were issued. In 1942, five months after the United States entered the Second World War, “Book One” series were issued. In January 1943, “Book Two” series were issued. “Book Three” series were issued in October of 1943. And “Book Four” series were issued towards the end of 1943. Most ration restrictions didn’t end until August 1945, with sugar rationing lasting in some parts of the country until 1947.

Citizens were asked to turn in old tires, raincoats, gloves, garden hoses, and rubber shoes for recycling. To save rubber, the government asked Americans to cut back on their driving, to save gas by driving more slowly, and to share rides. Gasoline was rationed nationwide in December 1942.

Anything using metal was rationed. Americans were urged to turn in scrap metal for recycling, and schools and community groups across the country held scrap metal drives.

Women were urged to save waste fat and greases and return them to butchers, who would pay for the fat and sell it to rendering plants so that it could be processed into explosives.

Paper was needed for packing weapons and equipment before they were shipped overseas. Scrap paper was collected.

Sugar was the first food to be rationed, as the war with Japan caused our nation’s supply of sugar to quickly be reduced by more than a third. The Office of Price Administration issued 123 million copies of War Ration Book One, which contained stamps that could be used to purchase sugar.

In early 1943, the Office of Price Administration introduced a system for rationing canned goods which were needed for troops overseas, and also used our scarce metals. Each person had 48 points’ worth of ration stamps per month for canned, dried, and frozen foods.

New ration books covered all the foods now rationed, which included sugar, coffee, red meat, dairy products, and fats.

Major purchases such as automobiles, bicycles, and kitchen appliances required special certificates and proof of need. Because the military needed so many typewriters for communication, even they were rationed.

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