Rationing and World War II – Lessons We Can Learn About Goods and Other Limited Resources
I stumbled across a rationing coupon book that I acquired at an auction years ago, and it made me start thinking about what we might learn from these events. Could it help us determine what to stockpile, what to have in abundance, what might be essential? Perhaps it could shed some light on these type of issues. As a minimum, it would give us a perspective of sorts.
Unimaginable for most of us…a life centered around rationing goods.
Having an inquiring mind, much like others standing in line at the grocery store checkout, I did a little research and learned something about a time before I was born, when the world was at war (for the second time).
Here are the items that were most commonly rationed:
- Gasoline, fuel oil, kerosene and solid fuels (probably coal)
- Cars, bicycles and tires
- Sugar, coffee, meat, cheese, canned goods in general
- Rubber footwear and shoes
- Farm equipment
- Chicken wire and barbed wire
Clearly, energy resources were limited because everything associated with manufacturing, processing and transportation required energy. Canned, dried and preserved foods that shipped and stored well were used as rations for soldiers. Forms of transportation were most likely used on military bases, in the field and for essential transportation needs. Rubber products like tires and footwear were limited because the source of raw materials had been taken over by enemy troops. Oddly enough, fats were essential for making explosives, and I suppose since everything was done by hand, typewriters were a must for writing orders, documentation, correspondence and the like.
Stamps were used for rationing goods.
Some of the items that were rationed might seem odd to us, but we need to keep in mind that metals and rubber were in short supply, and raw materials were redirected from daily living to war production. So, although we might be able to draw parallels with what might become rare or rationed during an emergency today, we need to keep all of this in historical context. I hardly think typewriters or other office equipment will ever be rationed simply because the personal computer is as common as a wristwatch…which were not rationed.
Many items were also recycled. When you look at what kinds of materials were collected for recycling, it included:
- scrap iron and steel
For the sake of conservation of rubber, driver speed was encouraged to be 35 mph or less, regardless of the speed limit. This would also save on fuel, but fuel savings wasn’t the biggest concern, it was rubber.
Across the country there were thousands of rationing boards at local levels, and violation of rationing carried a penalty of 10 years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine. That would be a stiff penalty today. There are plenty of manslaughter cases that get far less time behind bars than 10 years. And, $10,000 is a high price to pay today for the average person, so you can imagine what it would have been like back in the 1940s.
The lessons for me in this stroll back in time are simple, and I’d like to share them with you. My take on this is:
- The government was as serious as a heart attack when it came to rationing.
- Be prepared with essentials so you’re not held hostage by rationing or variances in the marketplace.
- Stay current on commodity issues so you can anticipate higher demand and the possibility of hoarding and rationing.
- Practice conservation so you’re already “tuned up” for rationing.
- Try to provide some of your needs through a garden and small animal husbandry.
- Establish relationships with others and practice trading for things as a way of sidestepping rationing.
I won’t suggest that another world war will cause rationing in the foreseeable future, but I will suggest that other forces in the marketplace can create nearly the same effect…high demand, higher prices, and limited availability. We’ve seen this when Katrina hit the New Orleans area. With oil refineries knocked out, the price of fuel soared almoist 50 cents a gallon, just overnight. When FEMA rode into town to rescue the folks in New Orleans, they quickly bought up nearly every form of mobile home and recreational vehicle across the country and shipped it to Louisiana.
Also, more recently we had rationing of fuel through an odd and even license plate scheme in New Jersey in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Something similar could happen with floods, earthquakes, major snow and ice storms, or a civil disturbance. During the Detroit riots of 1968 (when I was 11 years old) gasoline sales were restricted to vehicles only, all in an effort to prevent gasoline from being readily available in containers for the manufacture of homemade fire bombs. Now, can you imagine the rigid controls placed on products and services in Japan after the recent tsunami turned their world upside down?
Remember, these things never happen to you, until they do.
Clair Schwan believes that if you’re thinking about the possibilities out there, then almost nothing can catch you by surprise. And, one of the best ways to foretell the future is to learn about the past.