Like most Americans during World War II, Oklahomans submitted to a comprehensive system of rationing. Because the United States had experienced wartime inflation during World War I, the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply was established in April 1941 to prevent inflation during World War II. However, the organization had little authority. Consequently, in August 1941 Congress reorganized the agency and changed its name to the Office of Price Administration (OPA). The Emergency Price Control Act of January 1942 increased OPA's powers and authorized it to set ceiling prices on commodities. OPA regulated according to directives from other government agencies such as the War Production Board, War Food Administration, and Petroleum Administration for War. Despite regulation, prices rose, and OPA began rationing scarce consumer goods under the Second War Powers Act (1942). Commodities were allocated first to the armed services and U.S. allies. Civilian allocations were determined once agencies certified amounts available for rationing.
OPA administrators Leon Henderson (1941–42), Prentiss Brown (1943), and Chester Bowles (1943–46) devised the rationing program to equally distribute civilian allocations. OPA employed sixty thousand persons but relied primarily on two hundred thousand volunteers. Rationing was administered on four levels: the national office in Washington, D.C., where policy was formulated and regulations written, nine regional offices (Oklahoma fell within region eight headquartered in Dallas, Texas), approximately ninety-three district offices, and over fifty-six hundred local War Price and Rationing Board offices located in counties throughout the country. Known as local boards, they linked OPA with consumers. Oklahoma County's three original board members were V. P. Crowe, R. J. Clements, and Fred Bailey.
OPA developed four methods for rationing, and ration currency included stamps, coupons, tokens, certificates, and checks. First, uniform stamp rationing constituted stamps for a stated equal quantity of a single commodity. Stamp books were distributed directly to each adult and child, about one hundred thirty million people. Producing the ration books was one of the largest print jobs in U.S. history. Local boards served as registrars, delivered the books to distribution points, and provided instruction. War Ration Book One circulated from May 4, 1943, to April 30, 1944. Its holder could purchase one-half pound of sugar per week (half the normal consumption). Book One was eventually used for coffee and shoes.
In Oklahoma, teachers and school officials were responsible for issuing War Ration Book One, which contained twenty-eight stamps. Only one person in each family needed to apply for the books, which were distributed to each family member. The applicant signed a form stating the amount of sugar currently on hand in the household. Any amount over two pounds per person was considered to be hoarded sugar, and the appropriate number of stamps were removed from the ration book. On May 19, 1942, state rationing administrator Bert McDonel reported that Oklahoma led the nation in registering almost 94 percent of its total population. Oklahoma's success was attributed to organization and education of the public through the press and the cooperation of schoolteachers.
Sugar rationing created an additional concern for women who canned. They could receive one pound of sugar for each four quarts of fruit they canned and one pound per family member each year for use in making jams and jellies. Women had to complete an application form in order to receive the additional quantities. They had to state the number of quarts they canned in 1941, the number of quarts on hand, and the number of quarts to be canned during the application period.
The second method for rationing constituted a "point system." The OPA determined the point value of goods, with scarcer items worth more points. Rationing of processed foods (blue stamps) began on March 1, 1943, with the issuance of War Ration Book Two. Processed foods included commercially canned soups, juices, dried fruits, and canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Four weeks later the point system extended to dairy products, meats, fats, and oils (red stamps). Oklahomans descended on grocery stores and swept shelves bare of butter, lard, and shortening after the OPA announced that the sale of these items would be halted for a certain length of time. In 1944 each stamp became worth ten points and fiber-disc tokens, smaller than a dime, became change. Again, Oklahoma teachers issued the books. Oklahoma households had to inventory the total number of canned goods they had on hand and report that quantity on the application for War Ration Book Two. Individuals considered to have an excess of canned goods had stamps removed from the ration book. Home-canned goods did not have to be reported.
On February 26, 1943, the Daily Oklahoman reported that Oklahoma City had a shortage of book two. Ration officials called other state schools for excess books, and Ardmore immediately shipped one thousand. Anyone who did not receive book two by February 27 had to wait until March 15 to apply.
Ration Books Three and Four were issued in 1943 and used through 1945. Book Five, already printed when Japan surrendered, was not distributed. Following the distribution of book three, one thousand volunteer workers were headquartered in the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce dining room, located in the Commerce Exchange Building. Maude Adeline Kite, prominent Oklahoma City civic leader, headed the volunteer office within the Oklahoma office of civil defense. The volunteers worked in three shifts preparing a detailed file on each Oklahoman who applied for book three. An estimated eight hundred thousand cards were prepared that represented as many families. A total of 2,042,738 units of War Ration Book Three were issued to Oklahomans. When ration book four was distributed, fire station employees, rather than teachers, issued them. Again, each household had to prepare an application, and this time, they had to present book three for each family member at the time of application.
To prevent hoarding, ration stamps were redeemable for a specific period and could be cancelled at any time. Newspapers informed the public of stamp validity dates. Approximately three billion stamps less than one-inch square changed hands every month. Wholesalers and retailers who received large numbers of stamps from consumers used ration banking accounts or ration checks serving like dollar checking accounts.
Thirdly, differential coupon rationing constituted coupons issued upon application for variable shares of a single commodity to different consumers according to need. On January 5, 1942, the OPA began rationing tires. Rubber was the first item deemed scarce, which resulted in gasoline rationing and a thirty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit to preserve tires. Each motorist was assigned a sticker coupon with a priority letter, "A" to "E," "R," "S," and "T," to be displayed on the windshield. For example, "A" coupons were worth three to five gallons of gasoline per week for essential business such as shopping, church, funerals, and medical attention. "B" coupons covered essential driving such as commuting to work. War workers received supplemental allowances. Truck owners received "T" coupons and generally received all the gasoline they needed.
The fourth method used for rationing constituted certificates for major purchases. Individual buyers completed an application for a specific item. If approved based on their need, they received a certificate that authorized them to purchase tires, automobiles, typewriters, bicycles, rubber footwear, or kitchen appliances.
After World War II ended, rationing and price controls were gradually abolished. OPA disbanded in 1947.
Stan Cohen, V for Victory: America's Home Front During World War II (Missoula, Mont.: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc., 1991).
Oklahoma State War Council Newsletters, 1942–1946, Oklahoma State War Council Collection, Oklahoma State Archives, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.
Rationing Stamp Collection, Oklahoma State Archives, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.
Oliver E. Rooker, "Supplying the Civilians: A Photo Essay of World War II Ration Stamps," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 69 (Winter 1991–92).
U.S. Office of Price Administration, Rationing in World War II (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1946).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Tally D. Fugate, “Rationing,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=RA016.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.