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Rationing During World War II

Instructor: Freda Bradley

Freda holds a Master's Degree in History and teaches a variety of college history courses.

To meet the needs of all the citizens on the homefront equally, a rationing system was implemented during World War II in nearly every country. This lesson shows how rationing was used and which items were most often affected.

What Is Rationing?

In wartime, a significant portion of production and manufacturing resources are given to military needs. That leaves fewer supplies for those left at home. During World War II, rationing was implemented to control the equal distribution of items in short supply.

American Ration Poster Printed by the Government

Although the primary goal of rationing was equal distribution, a secondary goal was to free valuable factory resources for war production. Therefore, adherence to rationing was also considered a highly patriotic duty. Anyone caught hoarding resources was breaking the law, but they were often chastised by their friends and neighbors for their unpatriotic behavior. Over 8000 ration boards were set up in America alone to ensure everyone understood and adhered to the complex rationing system.

Uniform Coupon Rationing

A set amount of certain items were distributed weekly or monthly to every citizen. This included coffee, tea, sugar, and clothing. In England, only 4 ounces of sugar was permitted weekly per person. Conversely, in Germany, 4 ounces of sugar was allotted daily until much later in the war. Government issue ration coupon or stamp books were required to be presented to merchants before purchase. Once the allotted amount was purchased, the coupon or stamp was either removed from the book or marked off showing the allotment had been distributed for that period.

In America, only two pairs of shoes could be purchased in any given year. In England, all clothing was rationed and the campaign Make Do and Mend suggested ways to repair and recycle clothes to make them last.

England Make Do and Mend Poster

Point Rationing

Meats, cheese, butter, and canned goods were assigned points. In addition to money, the consumer would also be required to have accumulated the total number of points from their ration stamps for that purchase. A housewife doing weekly shopping, therefore, would have to budget both her total stamp values and the family finances to decide how best to spend the family's allowance for the week.

Point values changed often. The housewife would be expected to keep up with all the changes and budget accordingly. Each family member had a set number of points they could use per month, generally less than 50 points per person. Meat, cheese, and butter were commonly rationed with points, but by 1943 in America all canned, dried, and frozen foods were also point rationed. For example, one can of peas could be 14 points while a can of pineapple would be 20 points. Clearly, these two items alone would take over half of one family member's points for the month and not generate a month's worth of meals. So, careful planning was critical.

Although point rationing was difficult in nearly every country throughout the war, food shortages were especially difficult in German occupied France. Food access for French citizens was severely limited by the occupying German troops. The average French citizen at this time received less than half the rations of their German counterparts.

Meat Ration Stamps

Differential Coupon Rationing

Gasoline was the most common example of this ration. In America, most families were assigned an 'A' ration for gasoline giving them permission to purchase only four gallons of gasoline each week. War workers received more, but carpooling was expected. Trucks were given 'T' rations if they were delivering essential goods, which gave them far more access to gasoline than any other group.

American A Ration Coupons

Similar rations existed throughout Europe with one significant difference. While pleasure driving was banned in many countries, in Germany, special ration stamps were printed for the vacationing German citizen that included gasoline and food rations.

German Vacation Ration Stamps

Certificate Rationing

All rubber and steel was placed under the control of local ration boards, including farm machinery, vehicles, and tires. In Denmark, farmers shared equipment between neighbors. Often, school boys were taught farm equipment repair, which helped keep farmers producing food at higher levels.

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