Make It Do - Coffee Rationing in World War II

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.

Why Coffee?

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.

Ration Books

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.

Making Do

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.

All Bad 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 rationing.

What do you think? How would you get by on one cup a day?

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