Memories of War: From girdles to gasoline, rationing comes to Oklahoma
By the beginning of 1942, the initial shock of Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry into World War II were beginning to fade, and the hard realities of wartime life were beginning to set in.
Able bodied men and women were shipping off to far away shores. Factories were converting their operations to manufacture the machines designed to kill the enemy. The reality and civic responsibility of rationing was beginning to take hold.
Less than a month after Pearl Harbor the front page of the Jan. 3, 1942 edition of The Oklahoman featured a story about the impending rationing of cars.
Seizure hinted for U.S. Cars
“Price administrator Leon Henderson said Friday the government may have to buy or commandeer private automobiles when available stocks of new cars – estimated at a maximum of 650,000 units – are exhausted.
“I can’t see any passenger car production for the duration” other than about 200,000 units which the automobile industry will be allowed to complete before production finally is halted about January 31.”
Automobile rationing will begin about Jan. 15, and about 450,000 cars now held by dealers have been “frozen”.
There would be more. An act of Congress on Jan. 30, 1942 allowed government agencies to begin rationing food to discourage hoarding and ensure everyone got their fair share of commodities that were in short supply.
Citizens were issued ration books with coupons that could be exchanged for staples like coffee. Rubber was also rationed. Tires were hard to come buy during the war, even for kids who might need one for their bicycles.
Meat, dairy products and even some canned items soon joined the list. But sugar might have been the most controversial of all the rationed items.
Locally, a story in The Oklahoman warned grocers they would be in violation of anti-trust laws if they required customers to purchase a certain amount of other items before they could buy sugar. The sweet stuff also made its way to the editorial pages with readers wondering how they would carry on without it.
Everybody is talking about the ban on girdles but what I’m thinking about is the sugar rationing – one pound to each member of the family, going into effect next month.
Spring is coming on and then the canning season. How are we going to can our fruits with such a small amount of sugar? Still we are urged to do more canning than ever before.
I wouldn’t mind limiting the amount of sugar per person -- it is one of the things expected in war times, but how can there be a shortage when farmers aren’t producing what they can?”
Though I may sound unpatriotic to some, I’m willing to make any sacrifice necessary to help win the war. Sometimes I think some of us lose our sense of values along that line.
Mrs. Bessie M’Galliard
The farmers M'Galliard was talking about were those getting subsidies from the government not to grow sugar cane in the years leading up to the war. A policy that was heavily criticized in a January 28, 1942 editorial in The Oklahoman.
Don't blame the war
Of course we face a sugar shortage and of course the country is at war. And of course the war will be blamed for all the inconveniences occasioned by the rationing of sugar. But the war is not the parent of this threatened shortage. It is not even the step parent. This shortage was made to order and rendered inevitable by the action of the government in paying millions of dollars for not producing sugar. The government tried for years to create the shortage and now attributes the shortage to a war that did not break until after the shortage began to manifest itself.
Even women's stockings and girdles weren't safe from Uncle Sam. The petroleum products used to make nylons were needed for the war effort and it wasn't long before they were in short supply. A story in the January 25, 1942 edition of The Oklahoman chronicled the last minute rush by women to get their hands on girdles.
Girdle Rush Puts Squeeze on Salesgirls
It isn’t stretching things a bit to say that a few more days like Saturday and the girls who sell girdles won’t need to wear them, because gosh, what a workout they did have.
Ration sugar, ration tires, take away automobiles…that’s okay. We’ll just tighten our belts and see it through. But take away girdles – wow – that’s bringing this right to the foundation of our civilization…a blow beneath the belt, as they would say in the prize ring.
Grim faced ladies – suddenly brought face to face with this battle that is war – were on hand when stores opened Saturday and from then on it was rear guard action with a vengeance.
“Oh, mister, it was awful,” the lady in charge of corsets at one department store panted. “We had 10 girls doing nothing but handle girdles and they – poor things – didn’t get to sit down a single moment all day.”
The rationing would hit some industries in Oklahoma hard. Before the war, there were 800 car dealers in the state. But when the rationing of cars started, most shuttered their doors. Rationing would go on throughout the remainder of the war, though as it wound down restrictions were loosened on most items. But not on sugar. It was rationed until 1947.