A few of us senior citizens still remember the rationing of certain commodities during World War II. Today it’s hard to believe, with all the television commercials and mailboxes full of flyers, that at one time most of these products were rationed.

Four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United State’s government passed the Emergency Price Control Act which granted the Office of Price Administration (OPA) the authority to freeze prices on just about everything. Rationing began with stiff penalties for anyone breaking the new rules.

The war caused shortages of all types of supplies such as rubber, metal and certain food items. Transportation of food was also limited due to the gasoline shortage.

The rationing and prices were to be frozen for the duration of the war. To determine the amounts of items allowed per family, the local Ration Board sent out questionnaires for each family to fill out. Any changes to the number of family members had to be reported to the local Price Control Office. Each person in the family received a ration book, including babies who had coupons for canned milk that would not be available to others. This was the first time the United States had experienced rationing.

More than 122 million ration books containing ration coupons were mailed each month to families across the United States. The rules for the handling of each ration book were strictly enforced and offenders severely punished. This rationing of goods was very traumatic for the citizens of Seguin.

The rules on rationing were published in the Seguin Gazette-Bulletin under the titles “Ration Book Reminders.” Directions on how to fill out the many different forms and locations where people could get assistance with their paperwork were published in all the local newspapers.

Ration books and coupons were like money and if anyone lost a ration book or a coupon, or had them stolen, the results could present a big problem for the owner.

A blackmarket system quickly developed with the buying and selling of stolen ration books and coupons. To prevent the blackmarket in stamps, the OPA ordered store owners and service station personnel to not accept stamps that they did not personally tear out themselves. Buyers sometimes circumvented this by claiming that the books had come apart or that the stamps just fell out.

Because the Japanese had seized the Dutch East Indies where 90% of our rubber came from, strict rationing was placed on tires. Tires had been among the first things beside food items to be rationed, so in order to reduce the wear on tires, gas rationing was increased. Additionally, a top speed of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save gasoline and tires. To receive a gasoline and tire ration book, a person had to certify a need for gasoline and ownership of no more than five tires for their vehicle. All tires in excess of five per automobile were confiscated by the administration for government use.

The War Production Board (WPB) ordered the end of civilian auto sales on Jan. 1, 1942. In the automobile factories, the assembly lines were converted to building military vehicles with the last new civilian car rolling out on  Feb. 10, 1942. More than 500,000 unsold new cars were left with the dealers. Ration boards evaluated the sales of those automobiles and they were made available to only certain professions such as doctors, clergymen and other necessary public officials carrying out their duties.

The rationing of gas coupons was an extraordinary change. If you needed gas, the service station owner would take your ration book, compare it to the car and owner’s identity, the gas type (Ethyl or regular) posted on the windshield sticker, and if the gas was allowed by the dated coupon. Only four gallons could be purchased at one time and the car owner then had to date and sign the back of the coupon, along with the car identity number. An “A” sticker on the windshield was the lowest priority for gasoline and would allow only four gallons per week. ”B” stickers were issued to military industry workers entitling the holder up to eight gallons per week. Doctors and persons essential to the war effort were also allowed eight gallons. Sightsseeing was banned. The rationing of gasoline also ended all forms of racing, including the Indianapolis 500.

If you had a blowout or a worn out tire and needed a replacement, you had to bring in the old tire with the I. D. and serial numbers intact. Inner tubes were often cut, a section removed and then vulcanized back together to make it fit a smaller tire. All tires and tubes required coupons in order to be replaced.

When I was a child we owned a very large plum orchard that produced many bushels of plums. My parents wanted to make a supply of plum preserves for our family and relatives but couldn’t get enough rationed sugar. I remember Mr. Hartmann at Hartmann’s grocery store on east Court Street near present day Auto Zone, agreed to supply sugar in exchange for a supply of plum preserves.

War ration book number one, or the “SUGAR” book, was issued on May 4, 1942. Sugar was the first food commodity to be rationed. A half pound per person per week was allowed. Most rationing restrictions ended in August 1945 except sugar rationing, which lasted until 1947.

Coffee was rationed because of the shortage caused by the German U-boat attacks on shipping from Brazil. Some ships were attacked in the Gulf of Mexico. Dog food could no longer be sold in tin cans and manufacturers switched to dried versions of dog food.

There were many scrap drives and I remember seeing Model Ts and old Model As, old tractors, and farm equipment being loaded onto trucks to go to the scrap yards. Paper, newspapers, cotton rags, used oils, etc., were saved. Anyone buying toothpaste in a metal tube had to turn in an empty tube.

Anything made with metal was rationed. Metal furniture, typewriters, radio components, washing machines and stoves were restricted. Other items rationed beside gasoline and tires were bicycles, footwear, silk, nylon, meat, margarine canned food, canned milk, coal, some processed foods, flashlights and batteries.

This was perhaps the first example of recycling. Rationing gave everyone the feeling they were sacrificing for the war effort and supporting the military. 

Very different from when we returned from Vietnam.

Floyd McKee is a native of Seguin. He is a retired Air Force Colonel and eight of his ancestors were among the 33 Rangers that organized and developed Walnut Springs and Seguin.

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