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“Rationing Safeguards Your Share”

This post was written by Lynn Weinstein, Business Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.

It hasn’t been since World War II began that many have faced such a challenging time of shortages. Given our current environment, in which we want to be as prepared as possible to protect and keep our families safe while not unintentionally harming those who may have disabilities or weakened immune systems by over shopping, it may be interesting to take a look back at rationing during WW II.

Ration For Victory. A poster based on an equitable rationing plan for war-time emergency. Designed and produced by the Office of War Information (OWI).

Everyday life for all Americans was altered after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when the U.S. government entered into a war economy. Taxes were raised and war bonds were issued to fund the war effort. In May 1942, the rationing of consumer goods began with the Office of Price Administration setting price limits and rationing food and other commodities in order to ensure the proper distribution of resources, manage shortages, and discourage hoarding and needless consumption.

Banks began distributing coupons for rationed goods, which eventually included sugar, coffee, meat, gasoline, fuel oil, tires, and shoes. Millions of Americans needed to be educated in the complexities of the new rationing system. Food rationing affected what people would eat and how they would prepare food, resulting in special cookbooks and marketing campaigns aimed at getting Americans to use new shortenings and foods that were not rationed.

Meat rationing preview. Washington correspondents get preview of meat rationing. In left foreground is Mrs. Philip Crowlie, OPA’s “typical housewife,” explaining the system to a reporter, while Harold Rowe, food rationing chief, figures point values on the scale.

After the war, the  Library of Congress distributed the World War II Rationing Collection 1942-1946, consisting of unused certificates, coupons and stamps issued by the U.S. Office of Price Administration (OPA).  It also issued information on the World War II rationing program to select libraries, archives, and historical repositories in order to document the rationing program that had been implemented to ensure adequate supplies were available to the military. To learn more about ration books, and the warnings which accompanied them, view these images which were part of a related exhibit at the Smithsonian.

World War II changed all aspects of life from news to culture, and called for collective national sacrifice from everyone in everyday life, making the distribution of food and supplies a moral and social issue as well as a logistical one.

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