That Time The U.S. Gov’t Rationed Food – And Threatened Jail For Those Who Didn’t

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That Time The U.S. Gov’t Ordered Americans To Ration Food – And Threatened Jail If They Didn’t

If you were asked to picture people lined up at a grocery store with ration books in their hands, you would probably imagine people in war-torn Europe. However, during World War II, government-issued ration books were a very real part of American life.

To distribute food and other items that could be in short supply due to the war effort and also to create a sense of unity, the federal Office of Price Administration (OPA) established a rationing system for the nation’s citizens.

That Time The U.S. Gov’t Rationed Food – And Threatened Jail For Those Who Didn’t The government then launched a promotional campaign for the ration books that included widespread radio ads, posters and pamphlets. The campaign appealed to Americans’ patriotic sense of duty, and it warned that non-compliance could be met with stiff fines and even jail time.

For example, on the National World War II Museum website, you can see an image of the warning page from War Ration Book One.

Punishments ranging as high as Ten Years’ Imprisonment or $10,000 Fine, or Both, may be imposed under the United States Statutes for violations thereof arising out of infractions of Rationing Orders and Regulations.

Ration book covers included symbols of military aircraft and tanks to remind citizens of their purpose.

Initially, rationing began with gasoline and tires, as the government geared up to transport American troops overseas.

Nationwide, gasoline rationing began Dec. 1, 1942. A typical American with “nonessential” driving needs was allowed enough gasoline for roughly 3,000 miles per year. As a result, families put their vacation road trip plans on hold indefinitely.

Several months later, the rationing program expanded to include food and food products. Many processed and canned foods were in short supply because they were being reserved for the troops, and the transportation of fresh foods was becoming limited due to gasoline and tire rationing. In an effort to keep the distribution of food fair and equal (in other words, to discourage a black market), the OPA issued monthly ration books to every American.

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That Time The U.S. Gov’t Ordered Americans To Ration Food – And Threatened Jail If They Didn’t

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The books contained removable stamps good for specific items such as sugar, meat, cooking oil and canned goods. A shopper could purchase a rationed item only with the proper stamp. Once you used your stamps for the month, you could not buy any more of those particular foods that month. As a result, menu planning and menu creativity became an essential part of everyday life.

The system was complicated with points allotted to each item on the list.

Each household member received 16 points of red stamps and 48 points of blue stamps per week. Blue coupons were for canned and bottled fruits and vegetables, and red coupons were for meats, hard cheese and fats. Grocers displayed the ration points for items on their shelves, and shoppers would pay the total amount of stamp and cash owed when they checked out of the store.

If you wanted to splurge for sirloin one month (at about nine points per pound), you might have to limit your consumption of canned soup (four points per can). To make things even more difficult for grocers trying to keep up with the program and for shoppers aiming to get the most out of their ration books, the point values would change as supply and demand rose and fell.

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Generally, fresh produce and baked goods were exempt from the ration program. In addition, many families planted “victory gardens” to supplement their food supplies. By 1945, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced nearly 40 percent of the vegetables Americans consumed.

That Time The U.S. Gov’t Rationed Food – And Threatened Jail For Those Who Didn’t The ration books listed many rules and regulations for their use. Here are some of them:

  • “Every person must see that his War Ration Book is kept in a safe place and properly used. Parents are responsible for the safekeeping and use of their children’s War Ration Books.”
  • “When you buy any rationed product, the proper stamp must be detached in the presence of the storekeeper, his employee, to the person making delivery on his behalf. If a stamp is torn out of the War Ration Book in any other way than above indicated, it becomes void. If a stamp is partly torn or mutilated and more than one-half of it remains in the book, it is valid. Otherwise, it becomes void.”
  • “If you enter a hospital, or other institution, and expect to be there for more than 10 days, you must turn you War Ration Book over to the person in charge. It will be returned to you upon your request when you leave.”
  • “When a person dies, his War Ration Book must be returned to the local Ration Board in accordance with the regulations.”

American eating habits changed as a result of the rationing program. To save on ration points, for instance, many families switched from butter to Oleomargarine. To save on meat consumption, shoppers bought the new Kraft Macaroni and Cheese packaged product. Sales of cottage cheese skyrocketed from 110 million pounds in 1930 to 500 million pounds during the rationing program, as people used cottage cheese as a meat substitute in meals.

Although World War II ended in 1945, the rationing program continued until 1946. Gradually, life – and grocery shopping – returned to normal and the average American’s consumption of meat, butter and sugar rose to pre-rationing levels.

If you would like to know more about America’s food rationing program, visit the National World War II Museum website.

Better yet, talk with someone who lived through it to get a first-hand perspective.

Do you think something like this could happen in America again? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Five tips to modify a Zippo lighter for survival firemaking

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I don’t smoke, but love Zippo lighters. They are worth considering as an axillary survival firemaking tool.

by Leon Pantenburg

Like many GIs, my dad came back from World War II with a heavy smoking habit. Thankfully, he quit when I was young, but I remember Dad’s worn Zippo.

The fuel supply of a Zippo-style lighter tends to dry out quickly, making it non-functional.

This Zippo is part of my survival firemaking kit. It shouldn’t be your only ignition tool.

It was the same lighter he’d carried as a World War II infantryman in Europe, and even though the wheel that made the sparks showed a lot of wear, the Zippo never failed. It rode in his pocket everywhere.

Since boys emulate their fathers, I got a Zippo as soon as I was allowed. One of my favorite jobs was lighting bean straw when Dad was plowing. The straw would ball up between the frame and plow share, and when it got too big, Dad would kick the wad of straw into a furrow, and I got to light it. When I went squirrel hunting after school, I carried my Ruger 10/22, a three-blade Stockman pattern pocket knife and my Zippo. All the gear worked just fine.

The Zippo lighter was first produced in 1933,  and I’m guessing the Zippo was the primary firemaking method for military people during twentieth century wars. Many, if not most, of the service members smoked back then. Matches have never been reliable,  but a Zippo usually functioned well under extreme circumstances. It could run on gasoline, and as long as you had a wick and spare flints, the lighter would function.

But history doesn’t prove a Zippo should be your primary survival firestarting method. My experience is that a Zippo can be wildly erratic.

I extensively field tested a Zippo about ten years ago. My Zippo was filled to the saturation point with lighter fluid, then checked out how many fires it would make before it failed. Over the next two days, the total number of lights was 974! (This is probably some indication of my social life!)  When full of fluid, the Zippo worked immediately after a one-minute ice water bath. It came out the freezer overnight and fired on the second try. I sealed the hinge and opening with a piece of duct tape, and left it alone for a month, and it still fired.

I filled the lighter to saturation with fluid and timed it. From ignition to flickering light was 32 minutes. After closing the top, it restored itself well enough to burn another four minutes.

But the Zippo-style lighter was wildly inconsistent in other areas. That same fully saturated lighter dried out completely in three days in hot desert heat. Having it sealed didn’t matter. And sometimes, for reasons I never figured out, the Zippo just wouldn’t light.

But I include a Zippo with my firemaking kit and here’s why you need one:

A Zippo works in the cold: A butane lighter is affected by altitude, and if it gets cold or wet, it may not work at all. Matches are unreliable.

Add several feet of duct tape and a poptop to a standard BIC mini lighter and you have a firestarting kit. Secure the lighter to a lanyard with the poptop.

Add several feet of duct tape and a poptop to a standard BIC mini lighter and you have a firestarting kit. But cold temperatures or sand or mud could disable it.

A Zippo can work with gasoline. If there is an internal combustion engine somewhere around, chances are you can fuel your lighter.

Durable design: Unlike many butane lighters, the Zippo design protects all the weaker parts. A Zippo can handle being stepped on, dropped or being stomped into the mud. If the lighter is sealed with a piece of bicycle tubing, it is waterproof. A butane lighter, such as my beloved BIC minis, could be disabled by dropping them in cold water, or by getting a grain of sand in the sparker.

One handed operation: You can light a Zippo with your weak hand, even if your other arm is broken and immobilized. You could put the lighted Zippo under a pile of twigs, and have enough time to dry it out.

There are a few tips that can improve your Zippo for survival use.

Replace the fuel reservoir stuffing: I got this comment  from reader Ranger Rick Tscherne:

“As a backup emergency fire starting system when carrying and using a Zippo lighter…remove the fiber from the bottom of it and replace it by stuffing it tightly with pure cotton. Then should you run out of lighter fluid, you just simply open up the bottom and pull out some of the cotton, not much, and place it near the flint spark wheel and PRESTO! You got fire just like a Spark-Lite Fire Starter.”

Put spare flints and wick in the fuel reservoir area: Take off the thick felt cover on the bottom , and put several  flints on top. Remove enough stuffing that a wick will fit. Neither of these modifications will affect lighter efficiency.

Seal lighter with duct tape or a piece of bicycle tube: This will slow, but not stop evaporation.

Check the lighter every time before you go out. This action will assure you have at least one ignition source that should work.

Carry charcloth: Charcloth is a material that can catch any spark, and create an ember. This can be used to make a fire with a dysfunctional lighter. As long as it sparks, any lighter can be used to start a fire.

I haven’t found the one reliable ignition source for emergency firemaking. The best advice is carry several different type of sources. Then, regardless of the situation, something should work.

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