Seventy years ago this week, coffee rationing began in the United States. Although not necessary for survival—though that's debatable—coffee has
been a staple in the American diet since the Boston Tea Party, and coffee
rationing was extremely unpopular.
During World War II,
Latin America produced bumper crops of coffee beans, and those countries were
Allies or neutral. However, the demands of the military on shipping required
diversion from importing coffee. To make sure men in uniform received enough,
civilians had to do with less.
In preparation for
rationing, in October 1942, sales of coffee were halted to prevent hoarding. On
November 29, 1942, rationing began. Americans had received War Ration
Book One in May 1942 for sugar rationing, so the Office of Price Administration
merely adjusted the value of the stamps. Stamps #19-28 were each designated for
one pound of coffee during a specified five-week period. When the time period
expired, so did the stamp. Coffee stamps could only be redeemed for family
members over the age of fifteen.
One pound every five weeks produced less than one cup
a day. While some coffee drinkers benefitted from the generosity of non-coffee
drinking friends or family members, most made do with less. Reusing grounds made
a watery beverage dubbed "Roosevelt coffee" in honor of the president. People
found if they used less and percolated longer, they could stretch their
ration further. Coffee substitutes such as chicory or Postum (wheat bran,
wheat, molasses, and maltodextrin) were used grudgingly or mixed with real
coffee. Another war victim was the familiar coffee can. Due to a shortage of
tin, manufacturers packaged coffee in glass jars.
Things Come to an End
On July 28, 1943, President
Roosevelt—who had patriotically switched his morning beverage from coffee to
milk—announced the end of coffee rationing. Coffee was the first item to come
off rationing. However, in September 1944, the Office of Price Administration
raised the price of coffee to curtail demand—under the threat of a return to
What do you think? How would you get by on one cup a day?
Labels: coffee rationing, World War II