Nov 13

Rationing Goods During World War II

While researching information about WWII for my latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy’s Wartime Experience, I discovered some things that came as a big surprise.

RATIONING: Rationing during the war affected every American citizen. The government spent a good deal of time and money promoting the idea that Americans should give up certain foods, clothing, tires, and other goods, and that doing so was patriotic and a worthy sacrifice. As most Americans had a son, husband or friend overseas, they readily accepted the deprivations.

COFFEE: During part of 1942-43, coffee was rationed. One pound every six weeks for each adult! This restriction was due to the blockade of ships from Brazil and other countries from bringing coffee to the United States, as well as the desire to send much of the limited coffee supply to the troops. Can you imagine buying only one pound of coffee every six weeks?coffeecup

TIRES: A citizen was limited to purchasing only five tires during the entire war. This sounds like plenty by today’s standards, but remember, neither roads nor tires were as good back then as they are today. People were encouraged to car pool–not just encouraged, required is a better word. Bicycles and motorcycles were not uncommon.
SUGAR: Sugar was rationed and many other food items were available, but extremely expensive. Beef was costly as well as eggs, which resulted in many a chicken taking up residence in the suburban backyard.

Victory Gardens were encouraged and lawns and backyards were quickly converted to rows of cabbages, zucchinis, tomatoes and carrots. Any vegetable that was a high producer in a limited space became the focus of the weekend gardener and provided bragging rights at the local USO where ladies volunteered to serve coffee and visit with the troops.

It became almost a requirement of a good citizen to purchase monthly war bonds to help fund the war effort. About 18 billion dollars was collected through the sale of war bonds meeting the government's goals.

People lived in fear of invasion and many men and women spent hours with binoculars pointed skyward, watching and reporting any aircraft that flew overhead. Remember, radar was in its infancy and not wide-spread.

Young people spend their Saturday afternoons at matinee movies where, for a few hours, romance or cowboy stories with happy endings could whisk them away from thoughts of war or fear for their loved ones.

In general, Americans accepted rationing willingly. They gave up their coffee, sugar, tires and many other luxury and common-place items so the products could be sent to the war effort. Our citizens felt that by their sacrifice, in some small way, giving up sugar or coffee or driving less might shorten the war.

I wonder how Americans today would react, if the same rationing were forced upon us. How would your life be affected if you had to give up drinking all the coffee you wanted and you could only purchase four gallons of gas each week?

We take so many things for granted. We wallow in luxuries and the ability to purchase whatever we desire. We have come to believe they’ll never be taken away. It happened once. Could it happen again? Something to think about, for sure.

8 Responses for "Rationing Goods During World War II"

  1. Whoa, I'd personally have to FREAK out with only a pound of coffee per six weeks. And only five tires?? With the rate I'm going, I would have had to walk or bicycle every where. I think today's society would truly REVOLT were these rations implemented. Very cool blog. Thanks for sharing.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Indeed. Give me my coffee. It has been great fun researching WWII for my latest novel, Mrs. Odboddy's Wartime Adventure, about a quirky elderly lady 'fighting the war from the home front' who sees German spies and conspiracy theories everywhere.

  2. Diana Brown says:

    We have become such a throw away society. We buy stuff and when it breaks we run out and buy another instead of repairing what we have. The idea of not being able to purchase what we want when we want is a foreign concept for many. I don't know if society would revolt but it would be very interesting to study behaviors and reactions to rationing.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      I guess that's why my husband gets such a kick out of restoring 50's and 60's record players. It makes it possible to remember things we had in our youth - things that got thrown away when they broke. Now for a price, someone can have back the portable record player they had as a kid. I agree that today's society would have a very hard time if their 'goodies' were taken away.

  3. P. Lovett says:

    Great article. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Wanita Zimmerman says:

    Elaine: You have barely scratched the surface with the rationing of suger, tires, and gas. I graduated from high school in May before the Japanese attacked Pearl Habor in December so I was a teen-ager and early twenties during WWII. Other food stuffs which were rationed were shortening, chocolate, butter (you could get oleomargarine but it was white and came with a yellow capsule which you broke and worked into the white margarine to make it look like butter). Meat was rationed (you saved ration stamps for months to buy a couple of steaks. I did this once and my small son threw the steaks out of the carriage somewhere between the store and home. Some dogs must have had a great meal!!). There were probably others which I don't recall. Shoes were rationed as were nylon hose and types of ready-made clothes were very limited because most of the factories were making uniforms for the military. Cigarettes were rationed (that was a time when everyone was a smoker.) You mentioned gasoline and tires -- of course you couldn't buy a new car because no cars were built from 1942 until 1946. All automobile plants were making tanks, airplanes, trucks, etc. for the military. It was very difficult to buy anything made of steel. My first child was born in 1944. His carriage had a wooden frame with canvas. Practically all of the steel went into war items. There were no disposable diapers as we think of them today. Those that were on the market were about the consistency of paper towels and very uncomfortable for a child. We all used cloth diapers. Washing diapers was a daily chore. Also, soap was rationed. Travel was difficult. Air travel was not common and routes very limited. The usual mode was by train but the trains were being used primarily to transport war materials and troops. You spoke about War Bonds. There were also war stamps which children bought and collected. I grew up in the Dust Bowl. Ask a student today and they probably don't know what the Dust Bowl was although it was one of the worst weather disasters of the last Century. But that's another story. Love your stories; keep writing.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Thank you so much, Wanita. Your comments will be on my web site for all to read. What a wonderful addition to my article. And you have given me information I can use in the novel I'm writing that takes place during this time period. I will definitely find a way to work in your story about the steaks and the baby carriage!!! Appreciate the time you took to share your memories. Thanks again.

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