Friday, July 22, 2011

The Girl is...thinking about rationing during World War II

In The Girl is Murder, Iris makes reference to the various rations that are currently underway: sugar, gas, butter, coffee, clothing, and other home items. So what is rationing?
Rationing is a way of mandating a reduced use of resources that are either no longer easily attainable, or need to be used elsewhere, usually by the military. Rationing began in the U.S. in 1942 with the tire ration, a necessity since the source for rubber needed to make tires, East Asian countries, had been conquered by the Japanese and was no longer available to the Americans. In order to slow down the wear and tear on tires people already owned, the speed limit was lowered, a gas ration was instituted to limit the amount of driving you could do, along with a ban on pleasure driving and races like the Indie 500.
Other rations, like restrictions on food, were instituted because the troops needed the food. Similarly, clothing was rationed so that the cloth could be used to make uniforms.  Because a lot of factories were converted to make products needed for the war – planes, ammunition, etc. – a lot of products were no longer available, like new appliances, cars, and even typewriters.
In addition to rationing, programs were started to encourage people to collect things for the war effort. People saved fats and turned them in so that they might be used to make things like nitroglycerin for bombs. They turned over their silk and nylon stockings and underthings so that they might be used to make parachutes.  They collected tin cans and newspapers for the effort.
Just like in today’s increasingly green world we’re encouraged to “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” during World War II people on the homefront were told to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” to decrease the amount of waste and demand for various products.
As a way of combating the restrictions on food and contributing to the war effort, a lot of people began creating "V-Gardens." They would can their surplus food and donate it when possible.
So how was rationing controlled? Each person in a household received a rationbook which included coupons for the controlled items. Once you used up your coupons, that was it until the next ration book was issued. Ration stamps were valid only for a set period, to forestall hoarding, though plenty of people tried to hoard certain goods before rations started.
To receive a ration card for gasoline, you had to prove you had a legitimate need for gas and owned no more than five tires (anymore than five tires would be confiscated). You were then assigned a letter than determined how many gallons you would be allotted. An A sticker meant you could receive a piddly 3 to 4 gallons of gasoline per week. B stickers were issued to workers in the military industry, entitling their holder up to 8 gallons of gasoline per week. C stickers were granted to persons who were essential to the war effort, such as doctors. T rations were made available for truckers. Lastly, X stickers on cars entitled the holder to unlimited supplies and were the highest priority in the system. And the most frequently counterfitted.
That was the other side of rationing: a rising black market on those goods that were no longer available. A lot of people, particularly the mob, saw rationing as an opportunity to make money by creating counterfit ration tickets and supplying the restricted goods at greatly inflated prices. And while the government tried to counter these illegal efforts by reminding people that this was illegal and immoral, there were enough people who were tired of doing without to keep this underground effort in business.
It’s entirely possible that rationing wasn’t actually necessary during World War II, at least not the extreme that it was instituted. Instead, it may have been a way to improve morale but letting people who couldn’t serve believe that they were contributing to the war effort. By making a sacrifice people who otherwise felt powerless about the war, believed they were making a difference.
How do you think people might react to rationing today? Do you think instituting rationing would make you feel more invested in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?


  1. Hi Kathryn! I found you via Goodreads and can't wait to read your books. I write novels set during WW2, as well, so I'm quite excited to find another like-minded individual. :-)

    This is a great article on rationing. I think our mentality now is so much different than during the war that rationing now would probably start a riot. Sad...but then again, I'm an old-fashioned soul who longs for those days!

  2. Hi, Melissa -- it's great to hear from you! Tell me more about your books.

  3. Kathryn - Sorry, just now made my way back here. Been a busy week as I went to a writing conference in Denver and pitched to an agent! (Thankfully, she overlooked my botched attempt and asked to see the first two chapters).

    My latest novel is set in a fictional Nebraska town during World War II. Brooklyn native Celia Baldwin runs afoul of the town's residents when she uncovers disturbing secrets about their German past. Something happened the night of Oct. 20, 1917, something everyone wants to forget. Only Celia won't let them...