In recent U.S. military conflicts, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the general civilian population did not experience any drastic changes in lifestyle. The situation was much different in World War II, when every citizen was expected to make sacrifices to support the war effort.
During World War II, people couldn’t just walk into a store and buy as much food as they wanted. They also couldn’t fill up their cars with gas anytime they liked. Food and gasoline and many other items were rationed and buyers had to present government-issued ration stamps when they made a purchase.
The surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, brought the U.S. into the global war as a full-fledged combatant. In 1942, the federal government created the Office of Price Administration (OPA), which had the mission to ration scarce commodities and fix prices on certain items.
In 1942, the Japanese overran rubber plantations in the Dutch East Indies, the source of 90 percent of America’s rubber. The first item to be rationed in the U.S. was gasoline, primarily to conserve tires, rather than fuel. A Basic Mileage Stamp Book was issued, starting in May 1942, based on need. Most citizens were allowed just four gallons of gasoline per week.
More than 8,000 local OPA boards were formed across the U.S. OPA boards issued ration books based on several factors, including the number of people, their ages, and the number of infants, elderly, and handicapped in the home.
Marlinton resident Keith Moore recalled that the OPA had an office on Main Street in Marlinton, in the same building that would later house Hudson’s Variety Store.
“That’s where you had to go to sign up for your ration books,” he said.
The December 17, 1942, edition of The Pocahontas Times reads: “The Pocahontas County War Price and Rationing Board is planning to move soon from its present quarters in the First National Bank to the building on Main Street owned by J. E. Buckley, formerly occupied by the P. C. Curry store. With the increasing duties assigned to the ration board, there has been an urgent need for larger quarters and while the board must await confirmation from Charleston before the move can be made, it has been stated by local authorities that the confirmation likely will be forthcoming without objection.”
Food rationing began in the U.S. in 1943. The government issued four war ration stamp books in 1943. War Ration Book One contained 28 stamps and was used for sugar, coffee and shoes. Ration Book Two introduced blue stamps for the rationing of processed foods. Ration Books Three and Four were issued in 1943 and used through 1945. Book Five, already printed when Japan surrendered, was not distributed. Rationing would continue in the U.S. until 1946.
The October 21, 1943 edition of The Pocahontas Times reads: “War Ration Book 4 will be distributed to the citizens of Pocahontas County at school houses on Thursday and Friday, October 21 and 22. Bring a copy of Ration Book 3 for each member of the family. This is a speedy and convenient method of establishing identity. The applicant will fill out a simple form. Be sure to sign the form as well as fill in name. The registration in Pocahontas County will be held in all elementary schools from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those who do not register at the schools during this period will he required to wait sixty days before a subsequent registration will be permitted at the Rationing Board.”
Ration stamps had no cash value, but were required to purchase food items. All store items had a price marked as well as a ration stamp requirement. Every purchase had to include the right number of ration stamps. Red stamps were used to ration meat, butter, fat, oils and cheese. Blue stamps were used to ration canned goods, frozen fruits and vegetables, juices, dry beans, soups, baby food and ketchup. Generic stamps, imprinted with a picture of an artillery piece, battleship or tank, were used to ration various items, as announced periodically by the government. Local newspapers published charts that informed what commodity was being rationed and the number of stamps required for its purchase.
The July 19, 1945, edition of The Pocahontas Times contains an OPA ration chart, which shows the number of stamps needed to purchase food, shoes and gasoline.
In order to make exact change with ration stamps, the OPA issued red and blue, one-point tokens, to be used with their respective color stamps as ration “pennies.” The tokens were made from vulcanized fiber, due to the shortage of metal. Both ration books and tokens have become collectible items.
During the recent demolition of a house on Back Mountain Road, Gary Pritt, of Denmar Road, discovered two WWII Ration Stamp Book Three’s and a red ration token. Pritt remembered reading a magazine article about wartime rationing and knew exactly what the items were. He found the magazine article and used the artifacts to teach his three boys, Isaac, 15; Eli, 14; and John, nine, about the sacrifices of the war years.
“It’s good to remember how people supported the war back home,” said Pritt. “We could be speaking German right now if people hadn’t come together like they did. It’s a good thing to remember that there have been tyrants throughout history.”
Pritt plans to donate the items to the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum. Museum officials said they are grateful for the donation, which will be added to the Museum’s WWII-era display.
Another measure the U.S. and Britain took to ensure adequate food supplies during WWII was encouraging private and neighborhood “victory gardens.” According to a contemporary magazine article, there were 18 million victory gardens in the U.S. by May 1943. By the end of the war, an estimated one-third of vegetables produced in the U.S. came from victory gardens.
The Pocahontas County Historical Society invites visitors to come and examine the rationing artifacts, when the Museum opens in May.