American World World War II Rationed Products

American World War II rationing
Figure 1.--American housewives never faced stores with empty shelves, but their were periodic shortages and times when certain products were unavailble. Here there was a a shortage of bread which would make it difficult to pack school and factory lunches. The sign reads, "No bread reserved. On sale 9 to 10 am , 4 to 5 p,. While it lasts." On the shelf a smaller sign reads "Limit one ????. "

Some of the products that were particularlydifficult to obtain in America were sugar, meat, coffee, typewriters, fuel oil, gasoline, rubber, and automobiles. Rubber was the most critical problem. Malyassia and to a lesser extent the Dutch East Indies which the Japanese seized after Pearl Harbor produced the great bulk of the world's natural rubber. And rubber was a necesity for modern mechanized war as well as having a multitude of indusdtrial uses, Gasoline was rationed, st least initially, to reduce civilan rubber usage. Food rationing probably affected most Americans the most. It was light by European standards, but still it was felt in every American family each time meals were served. Civilans had to significantly reduce their meat consumption. Gasoline rationing was particularly unpopular. OPA controlled prices on about 90 percent of the goods sold to civilans. At first only a limited number of goods were rationed, but gradually just about every item sold in the civilian economy was rationed or regulated in some way, such as food through the point system. This was a flexible system allowed the housewife to decide just how to adjust her purchasesd to meet family needs.


Food rationing probably affected most Americans the most. Sugar, meat, canned vegtables, butter, cooking oil, tea, and coffee were all rationed. Sugar was the first food item to become difficult to find it the stores. And thus was the first to be rationed. Sugar was a rarte food staple that America importyed in large quantities. Shipments were cut off from the Philippines after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). And shipping shortages limited imports from the Caribbean. OPA issued a sugar rationing book (Apriil 1942) even before the general rationing book/ Rationing of sugar continued even after the War ended (1946). Coffee was rationed (November 1942), but apparently shortages were niot serious and coffee was removed from the list (July 1943). Families were incouraged to plant victory gardens. These gardens supplied a mjor part of the vegetable supply during the War. Sugar was rationed, because large quantities were needed to produce alcohol. Housewives saved kitchen fat which could be exchangd at the butcher for additional points.

Clothing and Footwear

We have less information about clothing at this time. The Army needed 64 million flannel shirts , 165 million, coats, and 229 million pairs of trousers. As a result, civilian consumption needed to be curtailed to make sure that supplies of cotton and wool would be sufficent. The War Production Board (WPB) mandated stylistic changes to conserve raw material. A "Victory" suit was promoted with narrow lapels and trousers without cuffs. Witmen's dresses and skirts were made shorter and skirts were made without pleats. Two-piece bathing suits were ceated. [Goodwin, p. 355.] The shorter skirts without pleats also affected girl's clothes. We are less sure about boys' clothes. We note that knickers for the most part disappeared during World War II. We suspect that the WPB was partly responsible, but we can not yet confirm this. At any rate they were already decling in popularity berfore the War. I do not believe that clothes, for the most part, were actually rationed, but the availability of civilian clothing was very much affected. Certain fabrics like silk or synthetic fibers were not available for civilian use. Shoes were rationed in America because they used both rubber and leather, critucal wat materials. Stamp 17 in War Ration Book 1 was good for one pair of shoes until June 15. (Probably about every 3-4 months). Families could pool the coupons of all members living in the same household. Even sneakers which had become popular in America were hard to get because that had rubber soles. Rubber at the onset of the War was a major problem because the Japanese seized Malaya and Borneo (February 1942), the chief sources of the world's rubber supplies. Only a crash program to produce synmthetic rubber kept America in the War, but civiolian access to rubber wassharply curtailed. Manufacturers stopped producing them sneakers. The WPB attempted to curtail the production of girdles because of the rubber involved, but there was such an outcry from the country's omen that girdle production continued.


Gasoline rationing was particularly unpopular. Of all the shortages, it was the most difficult to enforce. Limited fuel supplies during the war affected America in many ways. Gas rationing was proposed at an early point and was begun (May 1942). It was not nationwide until (December 1942). Gasoline rationing might have been avoided during the War. The big problem was rubber. when the Japanese seized Malaya and Borneo, they had control of most of the world's production of natural rubber. Authorities determined that the only way of reducing civilian rubber consumption was reducing driving. Gasoline rationing was seem as the best way of accomplishing this. Gas rationing was done differently than food rationing. Car and truck owners had to register and were given a windshield sticker based on how the vehicle was used. Brown A stickers were issued to to individuals private vehicvkles. People were entitled to four gallons a week, later reduced to 3 gallons. Remember engine efficency (miles per gallon) was much lower at the time than today. Green B stickers were issued tfor essential driving. Red C stickers was also for essential allocations such as the Red Cross, school transport, mail, and many other activities. Blue T stickers were issued to truckers who might get unlimited allocations. Pleasure driving was prohibited. Farm vehicles, for example, got priority access. A reader writes, "I remember that there was a speed limit of 35 miles an hour to save gas. My father kept getting flat tires because they were poor quality."


The most obvious critical materials in time of war is metal. Huge quantities of steel was needed for guns, tanks, ships, trucks, and othef military equioment. Aluminum was needfor aitcraft. America built an airforce of unpredented size requiring massive expansion of aluminum production. And this required guge quantities of electrical power. Copper was needed for electrial wiring and was was needed for the significant industrial expansion as well as being used in virtually all wepons system. Other metals klike chrome, nickle, silver, tin, tungsten (woferam), and other metals were needed for specialty steels and other industrial purposes. And the Manhattan Project created a need for a relatively unknown metal--plutonium. American industry strained to fill military needs for metal and as result metal consumer products became largely unavailable during the War. The Government encouraged companies to replace cans with metal containers.


After the American Pacific fleet was imobilized by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese quickly moved against British Malayasia and the Dutch East Indies. This severely curtailed Allied rubber supplies and rubber quickly became one of the critical materials in shortest supply. Rubber was the first commodfity to be rationed. The initial gasoline rationing was more to cut down on rubber usage than any shortage of gasoline itself. There was rubber avialble from Brazil and the Government began a crash program to make synthetic rubber, but rubber was Rubber and gas were the most vital product rationed. President Roosevelt in a Fire Sise Chat asked Americans to launch a rubber drive. A range of rubber items could be used to augmnt the country's rubber stockpile: old tires, rubber hoses, rain coats--anything with rubber in it. Filling stations accepted all this old rubber from June 15-30, 1942. The response was amazing. Some people shipped the rubber directly to the White House. [Goodwin, p. 357.]

Tobacco and Alcohol

Both cigarettes and alcohol became scarce duruing the War. As more men entered the military, the need to divert toobacco to the military increased. Eventually 30 percent of all tobacco products went to the military. Shortages developed in the civilian home market (1944). Whiskey virtually disappeared in the civilian market as distilleries shifted to producing industrial alcohol (1942).


Goodwin, Dorris Kerns. No Ordinary Time. Franklin and Elenaor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (Simon & Schuster, 1994), 759p.


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