May 7, 2012

Thu, May 7, 1942: Ration Book

“I am sending your Sugar War Ration Book which I suppose you are to give to Mrs. Sellars until school is out and we must be sure to get it to bring home then so be sure and take good care of it.
“To-morrow is the All School Picnic at Augusta and then the band is giving their Victory Program at night.  We are going in if nothing happens.  The admission is a 25¢ War stamp or more and you get to keep the stamps.  The band is divided into two groups to see who can sell the most stamps & bonds.  So Barbara asked Aunt Stella to buy stamps and Uncle Frank bought a $1000 bond so she almost fell over she was so tickled but this morning she found out that Dick Alley had seen Ed Varner and he (Ed) got a $1200 bond from Dick and of course Dick is on the other side from Barbara so don't know which side will win.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Thursday, May 7, 1942.  Throughout his college years, my father lived at Mrs. Sellars’s boarding house.  Since she cooked his meals, he apparently gave his ration book to her.  His uncle Frank was wealthy from oil revenue.
            Civilians in the United States suffered nothing like the civilians in other combatant countries in World War II.  Yet they were called upon to make sacrifices, by buying war bonds and by restricting consumption.  And, of course, many made the enormous sacrifice of losing a loved one in combat.  Unlike the current Afghanistan War and Iraq War, all Americans were continually made aware through their daily lives that the country was at war.  The Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply had been created in April 1941, before the war, and would be replaced by the more powerful Office of Price Administration (OPA) in August 1942.  After Pearl Harbor, the agency implemented a series of rationing programs on items such as gasoline, tires, canned food, meat, butter, sugar, coffee, and shoes.  Consumers had to master the use of complex ration books containing coupons with expiration dates, in order to buy their allotted share of restricted products.  Tires were the first products to be rationed, in January 1942, since Japan controlled Southeast Asian sources of rubber.  The government also put in gasoline rationing and a ban on pleasure driving, again to conserve tire rubber, in December 1942.  The OPA took coupons away from some drivers, found to be driving for pleasure, and not for an acceptable reason, such as work, health, religious services, buying necessities, or handling emergencies.  The difficult-to-police ban on pleasure driving was lifted in September 1943, although tire and gas rationing continued.
              Food rationing affected farmers, such as my grandparents, less than it did many others.  Their farm was self-sufficient in most food items, except sugar and tea.  Rationing likely affected their son away at college more.  Sugar was the first food item to be rationed, starting in April 1942.  It was scarce, in part, because German submarines made shipping from sugar plantations in Cuba and Central America difficult, and, in part, because the U.S. was shipping food to allies in Europe.  The sugar allowance was initially 8 ounces per person per week.  In March 1943, butter and meat rationing began.  Meat consumption (excluding chicken and fish) was limited to 4 ounces per person per day.  People in the military, however, received ample supplies of meat, over half a pound a day in the army, and about a pound a day in the navy.  Victory gardens became a popular way to compensate for food shortages.  By one account, they provided 40% of vegetable production during the war years.  Rationing restrictions began to ease by the summer of 1944, but did not fully end until 1946.  (Sources: "Rationing." World War II and the Postwar Years in America: A Historical and Cultural Encyclopedia. William H. Young and Nancy K. Young. Vol. 2. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010. 574-581. Web. 13 Apr. 2012; Harvey A. Levenstein, Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (University of California Press, 2003), p. 85; Susan B. Carter, et al., eds., Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to Present (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2006)

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