I’ve been doing lots of research on the subject of rationing during World War II for my upcoming talk at the Wright Museum of World War II history. (For those who are in the area, my talk is on February 16th at 2:00).
The more I learn about rationing, shortages and price ceilings, the more respect I have for the housewives of the period. Actually, I’m in awe of them. From May of 1942 until August 1945 various foods, as well as tires, shoes, nylons and silk were subject to rationing. Even gas was rationed. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Rationing was about as complicated for housewives, as well as grocers and butchers, as you could get.
Certainly the premise of rationing was a good one. The goal was to make sure everyone got the same amount of food. Food was in short supply because it was needed to be sent overseas to the troops and to feed our allies where it was desperately needed.
Rolling out the rationing program was an amazing story in and of itself. It involved distributing ration books to every man, woman and child. To do this an “army” of volunteers were mobilized. Local schools were the distribution centers. The first ration book was introduced in May of 1942. Called the “sugar” book it was first used to ration sugar and then in November of 1942 coffee was added.
Every six months a new ration book was introduced – four in all. Rules on how to use the ration book were ever changing, as was the foods that were rationed. The first book had ration stamps that limited sugar to 12 oz. per person a week (1 1/2 cups). The second book was when rationing was in full swing with certain processed food, as well as meats, canned goods, cheese, and canned milk being rationed.
The second book used the ration point system and stamps. Its here where things got difficult for housewives. Stamps were issued in 8, 5, 2 and 1 points. When you went shopping you not only had to figure the cost of an item, but also the points. Since you had only so many ration stamps allotted you had to shop very wisely to not get caught short before the next stamps were issued!
Newspapers, magazines, radio shows and talks given to local women’s clubs all gave tips on how to shop, cook, and deal with rationing. Click on the image below and you will see just how complex it could be!
To make matters worse, even if you had the money and points to buy an item, it didn’t mean you would find it on the grocer’s shelves. Women learned to shop competitively, as well as wait in long lines when word spread that a cherished item was at a local store. In some cases, fights broke out as frazzled women attempted to get that last bit of meat or sugar.
To add to all of this, since gas was rationed, women could not drive all over shopping at different stores. And, since many women worked in the war industries, their time for shopping was severely limited.
But it’s always important to remember, unlike our allies overseas, Americans always had food and were never starving.
I’m eager to interview women who remember rationing. Do you have a mother or grandmother who I could speak with? If so, let me know!