Rationale for Rationing

The front cover of a WWII ration book.
(The Education Collection of The National WWII Museum)
Materials and energy were in short supply
during World War II. Sixteen million Americans
were fighting for victory, and the 117 million
people on the Home Front were working
hard to support them. Posters all around told
people how important it was to support the
war effort. People grew their own food, saved
and reused material as much as possible, and
went without in order to aid the war effort.
The daily lives of Americans changed in drastic
One of the most dramatic changes was
rationing. Tires (and anything else made of
rubber), sugar, meat, butter, cheese, milk, eggs,
tea, chocolate, cloth, wood, metal, leather,
paper, ink, bicycles, cars, fuel, and shoes were
all rationed.
In spring 1942, all families registered for food
rationing through their local schools. Not only
did people need money, they also needed
ration books to buy groceries. Without a
ration book, grocery necessities couldn’t be
purchased. Some limited foods like meat and
dairy required red stamps while processed
goods required blue stamps. While fresh fruits
and vegetables were not rationed, they were
limited because citizens were encouraged to
grow their own produce in victory gardens.
Adults who drove to work received a B sticker
to display on their windshield allowing the
purchase of enough gas to get to and from
work. Citizens who commuted using the bus or
train or worked at home received an A sticker,
which allowed about three gallons of gas a
Supplies got even tighter in early 1945 as
the Allies began to liberate parts of Europe.
The United States took responsibility for
providing food to refugees. The war caused
a great deal of damage to food production
and manufacturing in Europe, and supplies to
clothe and feed the people there had to be
brought in. Rationing didn’t last long in the
United States after the war, but in England,
which suffered a great loss of production of
food and goods from the war, rationing lasted
until 1954—nine years after the end of World
War II.
Ration stamps had to be torn out in front of
the grocer at the time of sale to discourage
selling stamps. Families were encouraged to
preserve their own food by canning. Since
sugar is required to can fruits and vegetables,
families who were canning could apply for
more rations of sugar. Otherwise, families
could buy only one pound of sugar every two
weeks for each person in the house.
A US Government poster explaining how to use ration books. (The Education Collection of The National WWII Museum)
How much sugar in grams do you consume
in a day? Find nutritional information for the
foods you frequently eat and drink by doing
internet research or looking at the nutrition
information labels.
What do you think might cause the United
States to have rationing of food and other
goods again? How would people handle it?