No so between 1941 and 1945. We were reminded of these terrible times recently while looking at two War Ration Books issued to Samuel and Elizabeth Mulcahy, great-grandparents of Rob McCullough, publisher of the Commonwealth Journal. The ration books are well preserved, each containing several unused stamps.
Beginning in May 1942, war ration books and tokens were issued to each American family, dictating how much gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, nylon and other items any one person could buy. Across the country 8000 rationing boards were created to administer these restrictions.
The main purpose of the restrictions on gas purchasing was to conserve tires. Japanese armies in the Far East had cut the U.S. off from its chief supply of rubber.
There were four rationing classifications. An "A" classification entitled the holder to four gallons a week. A "B" classification was worth about eight gallons a week. "C" was reserved for occupations like doctors. "X" went to people whose very survival required that they be able to purchase gasoline in unlimited quantities. Rationing was handled through the federal Office of Price Administration.
To get a classification and rationing stamps, citizens appeared at the OPA office in person and swore they (1) needed gas desperately and (2) owned no more than five automobile tires (any in excess of five were confiscated by the government).
Each driver was given a windshield sticker that proclaimed his classification. The buyer surrendered his stamp at the point of purchase, and the vendor forwarded the records to the OPA.
Gas rationing began on a nationwide basis on December 1, 1942. It ended on August 15, 1945. Speed limits were 35 mph for the duration. For a short time in 1943, rations were reduced further and all pleasure driving was outlawed.
Having a stamp didn’t always mean rationed items were available. Self-service was still in the future and clerks in retail stores “waited” on customers. If a store got in a supply of a rationed items, specifically sugar, it often was saved for regular customers. Signs, often hastily printed on cardboard, would say, for example, “No Sugar.” If you were a regular customer, the sign didn’t mean you.