What I Found in the Basement
My grandparents always let us come over and visit during the summer and school holidays. One of the things us kids (My brother Jeff, my cousin, and myself) liked to do was explore the basement with all its “stuff” that had collected over the years. During the summer, in an effort to keep me out of trouble, Grandma would send me downstairs to help do laundry. While the washer and dryer were churning, I would start exploring. One year, literally probably 25 years ago, I came across a folder of ration coupons. I knew what ration coupons were – I had read the Diary of Anne Frank. I wanted to explore these some more, so I shoved them in a desk drawer in the laundry room and promptly forgot about them.
Fast forward 25 years. I have been on and off working on my family genealogy as a hobby. (I say that, because I have encountered those crazy-genealogy people who are like rabid dogs.) I was struggling with some dates of my grandma’s side of the family. With her failing memory, I wasn’t sure I could trust her answers as fact. When my aunt and uncle moved home to Ohio to help my mom care for my grandma, my aunt uncovered the ration coupons while cleaning out the basement. I had totally forgot about them until she showed them to Nana (my mom). Years ago, I had told my mom that those were really the only things I wanted from the house when my grandparents passed on. My aunt and mom decided to divvy up the ration coupons so we each had some. The bonus was birthdates, ages, and more were written on the front covers of each ration book!
Because I love history, I thought I would do a little research on what they were and why they were used and then share the books and stamps on my blog. Ready for a history lesson?
During World War II, you were not able to walk into the grocery store and purchase whatever foodstuffs you wanted. Food, like sugar, butter, and meat were rationed – gas was also rationed. This was all in an effort to “support” the war effort and ensure our troops had the needed supplies to defend our country. This supposedly ensured that everyone in the United States received a fair share of what was available for sale.
According to information I researched¹, the following items were rationed at different times during the war:
- Fuel Oil and Kerosene
- Solid Fuels
- Rubber Footwear
- Processed Foods
- Canned Fish
- Canned Milk
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was compelled to enter the war. In 1942, the United States formed over 8000 ration boards throughout the United States to issue and manage the rationing programs. The first food items rationed were coffee and sugar. Car owners were issued stickers for their vehicles that indicated how much gas they were permitted to purchase each week. An “A” sticker was for nonessential vehicles and were allowed 4 gallons of fuel; a “B” sticker was for essential vehicles and were allowed 8 gallons a week. The United States implemented a “Victory Speed” of 35 MPH in an effort to conserve gas².
Each ration book was issued with a set of instructions. Some of the more interesting instructions include:
- The orders of the Office of Price Administration will designate the stamps to be used for the purchase of a particular rationed product, the period during which each of these stamps may be used, and the amounts which may be bought with each stamp.
- Unless otherwise announced, the Ration Week is from Saturday midnight to the following Saturday midnight.
- War Ration stamps may be used in any retail store in the United States.
- When you buy any rationed product, the proper stamp must be detached in the presence of the storekeeper, his employee, or the person making the delivery on his behalf. If a stamp is torn out of the War Ration Book in any other way than above indicated, it becomes void. If a stamp is partly torn or mutilated and more than one half of it remains in the book, it is valid. Otherwise it becomes void.
Each time a ration booklet was used up, a new one issued to the individual. Five ration books were printed, but only four were issued. Each booklet contained ration stamps to be used to purchase goods. Because of the rationing, Victory Gardens sprung up across the country to supplement the rationed meats, cheeses, and processed foods.
Ration stamp booklet 3 contained four pages of “point” stamps, printed with brown ink and featuring pictures of different war machines, including guns, tanks, aircraft carriers and planes. Forty-eight stamps were on each page. Four pages of “unit” stamps were also included to purchase coffee, sugar, and other goods. Points were used to buy items with point values. For example, a pound of sugar might be “7 points”. Seven of these point coupons would need to be forfeited to purchase that item.
Book four was printed in red, blue and green. Each stamp had a picture such as naval ships, airplanes, tanks, cornucopia, or a liberty torch. Ration tokens were also introduced with this booklet and were used as “change” for ration point purchases that were not 1 for 1. Previously, if an item was 7 points and the buyer only had a 10 point coupon, they had to forfeit the “change.” Interestingly, these tokens never expired while ration stamps did. Book 4 also included some “spare” stamps that were validated for five extra pounds of pork.
Along with the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom also rationed food. In World War I, the United States did not have rationing. An interesting note, slogans such as “Food Will Win the War”, “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were implemented during WWI and contributed to a reduction in food consumption of approximately 15% without rationing³.
By April 1, 1942, anyone wishing to purchase a new tube of toothpaste had to exchange an empty tube. Sugar was one of the first rationed items. Normal sales halted April 27, 1942 and resumed eight days later with a rationing program. Each person was permitted one half pound – half of normal consumption. Coffee was rationed beginning November 29, 1942 to one pound every five weeks. By November 1943, most items were rationed on the list above. Retailers were happy with rationing due to shortages from rumors and panics – especially after Pearl Harbor.
Because of gasoline and the other rationing being imposed, all forms of LEGAL racing were banned. I am assuming a few outlaw races were still held – perhaps with a ration book or two on the line as a prize. Sightseeing driving was also banned. Various women’s magazines and governmental agencies issued cookbooks and articles on how best to use the rationed items in an effort to assist in the war effort. Housewives were also encouraged to sell their fats and grease back to their butchers to be converted into explosives for the war.
By 1946, all rationing was ended. The Office of the Price Administration, who was in charge of managing rationing in the United States, was dissolved in 1947.
All rationing was ended in 1946, except for sugar. Sugar was continued to be rationed until 1947³. The Office of Price Administration was terminated in 1947, with its various functions reassigned to other federal agencies.
What an awesome find!
Can you even imagine what would happen if our country went on rations again? We are a spoiled lot, many who feel entitled to anything and everything they want. It could be ugly.