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PRIMARY SOURCES: RATIONING

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Rationing
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Ask anyone who remembers life on the Home Front during WWII about their strongest memories and chances are they will tell you about rationing. You see, the war caused shortages of all sorts of things: rubber, metal, clothing, etc. But it was the shortages of various types of food that effected just about everyone on a daily basis.

Food was in short supply for a variety of reasons: much of the processed and canned foods was reserved for shipping overseas to our military and our Allies; transportation of fresh foods was limited due to gasoline and tire rationing and the priority of transporting soldiers and war supplies instead of food; imported foods, like coffee and sugar, was limited due to restrictions on importing.

Because of these shortages, the U.S. government’s Office of Price Administration established a system of rationing that would more fairly distribute foods that were in short supply. Every American was issued a series of ration books during the war. The ration books contained removable stamps good for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat, cooking oil, and canned goods. A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving the grocer the right ration stamp. Once a person’s ration stamps were used up for a month, she couldn’t buy any more of that type of food. This meant planning meals carefully, being creative with menus, and not wasting food. More than 8,000 ration boards across the country administered the program.

Let's take a closer look at some WWII Ration Books. You’ll notice that they change slightly throughout the war. The first two images explain how ration books were to be used. It could get a bit complicated. As a matter of fact, when a Gallup Poll on March 5, 1943, asked Americans, Do you understand how the food point rationing system works?, only 53% of men answered “Yes”; 76% of women answered “Yes” (why do you think that was?).

Click on each image to enlarge.

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Primary Source Gallery


How to use your ration book How to Use Your Ration Book, continued Application for war ration book

Rationing could be complicated. A Gallup poll in 1943 found that 53% of men and 76% of women were confident in their understanding of rationing.

 

Instructions were provided in each book. In addition, ration "explainers" were employed to explain the process.

 

Obtaining ration books required filling out this form by the stated deadline.

dividing bar Ration book one, front Ration book two, front Ration book two, back

Ration books were intended only for the family applying for them. Trading, giving away, or selling stamps was forbidden.

 

Ration book covers changed over time.

 

Just because someone had the stamps didn’t mean they had to use all of them. The stated rule at the bottom emphasized conservation.

dividing bar Ration book four, inside Ration book four, back Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

The inside of a ration book containing the stamps that had to be surrendered to buy. Notice the number and letter sequences on the stamps.

 

Black markets were a problem during rationing. Notice the added messages on the back of this ration book.

 

Here you will see an explanation for the numbers and letters on the stamps from an earlier image. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

dividing bar Price chart Local newspapers Fuel tips

The back of the page contains an interesting note on how prices and points do not influence each other. Prices can fall without a fall in the number of points required to buy the item. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

 

People could check their local newspapers to be sure that they were not using too much fuel for the conditions. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

 

Most homes had fuel oil delivered to them to provide heat. Here are some helpful tips to make the wartime process more efficient. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

dividing bar Mailed tips Extra points Book Holder

To help with fuel usage, tips like these were sent out. Electric and gas companies send out tips similar to these today to help people control their bills. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

 

Aware of the fact that some people had medical needs that required additional help, the War Price & Rationing Board accepted applications for extra ration points. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

 

Ration books were very valuable and had to be presented to the grocery clerk. Holders like these would help protect the book and its stamps. Gift in Memory of Charles Warren and Norma T. Davis, 2011.389

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Related Links

Explore the Home Front and other WWII topics with a Virtual Field Trip

Get artifacts shipped directly to your classroom with Operation Footlocker

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EDUCATION PROJECTS:

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Student Travel – WWII Educational Tours
High school and college students, learn the leadership principles that helped win WWII on a trip to France or during a weeklong residential program in New Orleans. College credit is available, and space is limited.

See You Next Year! HS Yearbooks from WWII
Collected from across the United States, the words and pictures of these yearbooks present a new opportunity to experience the many challenges, setbacks and triumphs of the war through the eyes of America’s youth.

The Victory Gardens of WWII
Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!

The Science and Technology of WWII
Visit our new interactive website to learn about wartime technical and scientific advances that forever changed our world. Incorporates STEM principles to use in the classroom.

Kids Corner: Fun and Games!
Make your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time.

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