(I wrote this for my column in a local paper in November of 2005. I think it is still appropriate for Veteran's Day, 2013)
Can you imagine today’s “I have to have it!” society being placed in a time machine and being transported back to the dark days of World War II? With today’s attitude of overbuying and waste how would these people handle the teamwork approach to rationing of major consumer items? It would be interesting to see their reaction to the rallying call of, “If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!”
With the arrival of war on December 7, 1941 a lot of strain was administered to the pipelines of supply and demand. The war consumed a lot of goods which threatened to cause shortages on the home front so in the spring of 1942 the rationing of items such as most types of food, gasoline, and even clothing was instituted. Everybody was affected and the way Americans coped with these inconveniences was a testimony to their strong will.
Clubs were formed to work together to maintain supply channels so that the guys fighting on the fronts could have more. Scrap drives were organized to provide more metal, paper, and rubber. Many people removed the bumpers from their cars to help that effort. Recycling was popular as used cans were a good source for ammunition casings.
WWII ration stamps
In order to provide more fresh produce for the troops, many families planted “victory gardens.” Those gardens provided families with produce so that normal supplies could benefit the soldiers. It’s estimated that there were over 20 million victory gardens planted on private property providing 40% of America’s produce. War bonds were sold as a source used to provide funds for the war. Hollywood played a big part in the sale of bonds as stars entertained around the country to solicit sales.
Rationing was handled through the use of “War Ration Books” that contained stamps used to buy various items like food, gasoline, and tires. It was a dizzying experience to control but few complained. The America of the wartime 1940’s had a teamwork discipline. A common slogan of the time was “Do with less so they will have enough!”
One negative aspect of all this patriotism was the appearance of the “black market.” By utilizing the black market a person could buy a lot of items that were in short supply even though they would have to pay inflated prices. It was annoying to those who worked hard to conserve but it still existed to supply those who could afford it.
So there it was: wartime America. As always, this country faced up to adversity and made it through. Although World War II ended in 1945, prosperity was returning by the late 1940’s and the Depression of the 1930’s became just a bad memory. More women were entering the workplace while the invention of television was making its way into the living rooms of America while sending a chill down the spine of Hollywood.