Seventy years ago this week, gasoline rationing began in the United States. Rationing was an important part of life in America during World War II. However,
the government was apprehensive about gasoline rationing. As a symbol of freedom
of movement, the automobile represented everything American, and politicians
feared riots and rebellion if they curtailed that
What tipped the balance wasn't a
gasoline shortage but a rubber shortage. The United States didn't have enough rubber for
military needs, much less civilian needs. While tires and other rubber items were rationed, the simplest way to reduce wear and tear on tires was to restrict
In 1942, a nationwide Victory Speed of 35 mph
was instituted, since higher speeds remove tread more quickly. People were
encouraged to use Victory Bicycles (except new bictycles weren't manufactured),
public transportation, and their own two feet. Commuters were told to "Carry
more to win the war," and to share rides or form car clubs (the term "car pool"
wasn't used yet). Employers experimented with staggered shifts to reduce traffic
- and therefore, gasoline use. Pleasure driving was discouraged and the
"Vacation at Home" was promoted, not just to save gas and rubber, but due to the
strain on the nation's train system by military transport.
Car manufacturing stopped on Jan.
1, 1942, and no new automobiles could be purchased after Feb. 22, 1942. A small
stock was held in reserve for critical replacements. Auto manufacturers
converted assembly lines to produce jeeps, tanks, and bombers, while the
American consumer made do. Car theft - and tire theft - became a large problem. On July
1, 1945, automobile production was allowed again, and the first car rolled off
the assembly line on Aug. 30, 1945 - a Hudson Super Six coupe.
Voluntary programs didn't do the
job. The rubber situation became critical, and on May 15, 1942, 8 million
motorists in seventeen Eastern states registered for gas ration cards. Rationing
began on the East Coast on July 22, 1942. These states were chosen due to better
public transportation and shorter distances traveled, and because the U-boat
menace off the East Coast made transport of oil and gasoline more hazardous.
However, this also wasn't enough, and on Dec. 1, 1942, rationing went into
effect nationwide. The program would continue until Aug. 18,
The American public learned to
deal with an elaborate system. Every motorist was issued a windshield sticker
displaying a letter. Some of these categories changed, emerged, or were eliminated during the war:
- A: most motorists - 3 gallons/week, reduced to 2 gal/wk March 22, 1944
- B: for war workers
who shared rides with 3 or more passengers - 8 gal/wk
- C: essential occupational use, such as physicians, clergy, and mail carriers
- D: motorcycles
- E: emergency vehicles such as ambulances, police, fire - unlimited
- R: non-highway use, such as farm vehicles - unlimited
- T: truckers, institued January 1, 1944 - unlimited
- X: a controversial sticker for VIPs - unlimited
At the gas station, the attendant
checked the windshield sticker and took the required number of ration book
coupons - also marked with the appropriate letter. Of course, payment was also
required - about 19 cents/gallon.
Despite rationing, a serious gas
shortage developed early in 1944. The high military use and restricted shipping
contributed to this problem. In January 1944 on the West Coast, very little
gasoline was available - and none at all in Sacramento, California, not even for emergency vehicles. On March 22,
1944, "A" class drivers were further restricted to 2
Not everyone complied. The black market became quite
profitable, cases of gas siphoning made the front page of small-town newspapers,
and several ration book forgery rings were broken up.
How do you
think modern-day Americans would deal with these restrictions?
Labels: gasoline rationing, rationing, World War II