On March 29, 1943, the U.S. government began requiring Americans to ration fat, meat, and cheese as part of a massive national program to help win World War II. It was just one in a long series of sacrifices made on the home front.
The war could be won, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stressed, only if all Americans shared in the effort. During his second wartime fireside chat, he said that although not everyone could fight overseas, there was “one front and one battle where everyone in the United States – every man, woman, and child—is in action. . . . That front is right here at home, in our daily tasks.”
That meant, in part, a rationing program to help save scarce goods for the military and distribute available items fairly. The list of rationed goods included everything from sugar, canned food, and fat (the latter used in the manufacture of explosives) to tires, bicycles, and gasoline. Each item was assigned a price in points, and Americans were given books of Ration Stamps with which to buy things.
“Yes, you can buy rationed shoes from Sears by mail,” read a wartime Sears catalog. “Simply detach War Ration Stamp No. 17 from your War Ration Book No. 1 (sugar and coffee book) and pin it to your order.” Some things, such as new cars and appliances, were simply not available because factories were busy churning out tanks, planes, and bombs.
People walked instead of driving and used corn syrup in place of sugar. Women went without nylon stockings, men wore “Victory” suits that used less cloth, and children learned to do without new toys. Few complained – they remembered the soldiers who were making the real sacrifice. “Do with less so they’ll have enough,” a poster from the Office of War Information urged. And Americans did.