The Ration Project

Photo from Wikipedia (wikicommons license)
WW2 Ration Book (3)

Over the last few years, I have been thinking a lot about how rationing effected the American family during WWII. What was the effect that rationing had on the American family. I’m not alone, there have already been a number of similar projects done both in the US and the UK – primarily with a focus of saving money and/or weightloss. I am sure that those two things will happen due to the regimented nature of rationing and the restrictions in consumption that comes with limited available stores of food.

For those of you who may not know, rationing is “the controlled distribution of scarce resources, goods, or services. Rationing controls the size of the ration, one’s allotted portion of the resources being distributed on a particular day or at a particular time.” (Wikipedia) In the US, this was done using ration books (as pictured above) that provided each person with a specific allocation of goods based on the number of coupons. The first item to be rationed in WWII was rubber, followed quickly by gasoline, and then in 1942, the first ration books were issued. This project will be taking place within the time period where rationing was most widespread and everything from food to shoes will be effected.

I will be talking about the history of World War II as I will be taking a class focusing on that period of history during my upcoming semester. I wanted to do the two simultaneously so that I could mesh the history, culture, and food together as seamlessly as possible.

I encourage you to check out the links to the other people who have done similar projects with rationing. What I am doing is a lot easier than those in the UK who have done projects based on British rationing during WWII. Rationing in the UK was significantly more restrictive than in the US and lasted from 1939 until 4 July 1954 while rationing in the US lasted only from 1941 until 1946.

The Rules

We will be using the ration point values from the listing given in the Des Moines Tribune on 23 October 1942 [note 1] to determine what points will be expended for what foods. To place this appropriately in history, this would be during the period of time that Ration Book 2 was being used in the United States.

Here are the points values that we will be using (from the American Historical Society):

  • Each person receives 48 points per month. For our family of three, that means that we have a total of 144 points monthly.
  • The amount of sugar that we are allowed per month is four pounds with a yearly canning allocation of 25 lbs per year.
  • The amount of coffee that one was permitted between late 1942 and mid 1943 was one pound per five weeks. [note 2]
  • Nylon stockings were difficult to find, fortunately, I am not required to wear stockings to work so it won’t be a hardship to not have them.

We will not be conforming to at least one of the rationing restrictions as it is detrimental to functioning – like commuting to work. Our family would have likely received an “A” sticker for our cars which would have allowed us only four gallons of gasoline per week per car. In order to make it to and from work for a full week, my husband requires twice that. So, we will not be keeping to the gasoline rations, but will be keeping track of our mileage and using the least amount of gasoline possible to keep the spirit of rationing.


Along with the rations, the important thing about rationing was that it always kept you in mind of the war that was raging in Europe. The War that needed your sugar, coffee, gasoline, precious metals, food, etc. Modernly, the United States is not at war, however, we have been engaged in “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan since 2001 and between 2003-2011 the US was engaged in the Iraq War. The American people have never been asked to cut back, give anything up, or to restrict our habits in any way. I’m curious what the general public feeling would be towards the currently military activity if, in order to support the effort, we had been required to restrict ourselves. Doing something in such a mindful way makes you feel part of, or at least close to, the activities that are happening so many miles away to other people and it changes your investment in the situation – bringing you closer to what is happening, rather than being so very far removed.

Above all, there is a spirit to this thing, the spirit of saving, reusing, fixing, and sharing. Making sure that you can share with others and doing something to take control of your situation and do what is necessary to make life easier, better, or a bit more tolerable for not only yourself, but your countrymen.

The nice thing is that my family is as excited about this project as I am and we’re all looking forward to participating and meeting the challenges that will come.

[note 1] I am looking into the veracity of this newspaper clipping as it states that the points values are for October 1943 in the main article, however, the year is somewhat obscured in the upper left corner. October 23, 1942 was a Friday and it would seem odd to list the points values that wouldn’t take effect for another year. It’s as good a starting point as any, so I’m going to go with that information until I find new, better information.

[note 2] One pound per five weeks means that at our current normal consumption of 1/4c of coffee per day (4T/day) and there are approximately 60T in a pound of coffee. This means that a pound would last us for 15 days. Fortunately, through the generosity of five of my friends, I now have just under 5lbs every five weeks. It was not illegal to share your coffee ration, so this is completely within bounds.

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About Jenn

Jennifer writes about Food History and other food-related topics on her personal blog when she is not working full time, spending time with her family, or being a full-time student.
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