The Effects of Rationing During WWII

Written by robert allen
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The Effects of Rationing During WWII
Government propaganda during WWII urged citizens to sacrifice and contribute what they could to the war effort. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

From 1942 to 1946, the United States, looking to conserve resources for its war efforts in Europe and the Pacific, instituted a policy of rationing. Access to meat, sugar, rubber, oil and other war essentials were restricted through the use of ration cards and stamps designed to ensure that everyone in the country got exactly what they needed, and no more. Unsurprisingly, rationing programs had several pronounced impacts on the American home front.

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Although rationing didn't leave anyone to starve, it did sharply curtain consumption, particularly where luxuries were concerned. Clothing became more austere as fashion designers attempted to conserve cloth for soldiers' uniforms, scenic driving and auto racing were banned to save rubber, and homeowners were asked to turn their heaters down in an effort to reduce consumption of oil. Citizens were also asked to give up possessions: scrap drives collected anything that could be turned into metal for making planes and bullets and anyone with more than one spare tire was subject to further rationing for hoarding the precious rubber.

Change in Consumption Habits

Even people who had money soon found that there was little to buy. Factories were retooling to support massive military production, meaning that ordinary consumer goods simply weren't available. Staple foods remained in relatively constant supply, although some were earmarked for military consumption, forcing civilians to seek alternatives. Lacking beef, for example, horse meat became much more common during World War II, with whole markets springing up to satisfy the demand for protein.

Victory Gardens

Where consumers couldn't purchase foods, they were exhorted to make their own. So-called "Victory Gardens" turned schoolyards, lawns and other green spaces into productive farmland. Leftover vegetables and fruits were canned or preserved to keep people supplied with produce during the winter months. These gardens were an overwhelming success: By some accounts, 40 per cent of all American produce consumed during World War II was grown in such personal gardens, and people even found that they were overproducing, unable to consume their fruits and vegetables before they spoiled.

Post-War Economics

One of the most significant impacts of rationing in the United States, however, came after the cessation of hostilities. Consumers had had four years of saving with nothing to spend money on, and were tired of the privation. At the same time, factories geared for intense production now faced idle assembly lines as the demand for tanks and fighter planes dropped. The result was an immense spending boom, with people purchasing new homes, new cars and new consumer appliances in prodigious quantities.

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