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Rationing and Recycling
During the war everything seemed to be rationed or in short supply: gasoline and fuel oil and rubber; bobby pins and zippers and tin foil; shoes and whiskey and chewing gum; butter and coffee and nylons and tomato ketchup and sugar; canned goods and cigarettes and the matches needed to light them.
From THE WAR Episode 2:

NARRATOR: As the country mobilized for total war, Americans at home were asked by their government to do without most of the luxuries and many of the necessities they had begun to take for granted. Everything seemed to be rationed or in short supply: gasoline and fuel oil and rubber; bobby pins and zippers and tin foil; shoes and whiskey and chewing gum; butter and coffee and nylons and tomato ketchup and sugar; canned goods and cigarettes and the matches needed to light them.

JIM SHERMAN: I guess the deep down feeling I had is that they made us sacrifice and if we were sacrificing, we would somehow feel closer to the war effort. And I think that’s really what they were trying to do, was to get your attitude in that our fighting men and women don’t have these, so you shouldn’t have these, and somehow you’ll get tied into the war effort.

KATHARINE PHILLIPS: We did without during the Depression, so doing without these commodities really was not hard. Recipes were adjusted according to what you could get. Now there were shortages all over. You could get very little white flour. Cakes were all adjusted to no sugar, very little fat or shortening of any sort. So cakes took it as hard as anything. To have a birthday cake was a real treat, because it meant they had to save everything to make one cake.

NEWSREEL: Look Miss! See that. You could drive a car from Los Angeles to New York with the gas that plane burns up in just one hour of combat. It takes two million gallons of gas to send a single thousand bomber raid over enemy territory. That’s enough to drive a thousand private automobiles seventy-five hundred miles a year for four years. Now where would you rather see that no gas sign? At his station? Or here?

NARRATOR: But many people tried to get around rationing, and a thriving black market grew up to satisfy those who couldn’t do without. According to one study, one in every four retail transactions during the war was illegal.

From THE WAR Episode 3:

NEWSREEL: Fight Waste! What is there we can all do on the home-front to help the men coming back home, and the men still over there? Make your home an arsenal for victory by fighting waste every day from now until the war is over.

1. Don’t waste anything.
2. Buy only what is necessary.
3. Salvage what you don’t need.
4. Share what you have.

MUSIC: Opus One, Tommy Dorsey

KATHARINE PHILLIPS: All the old iron beds were pulled out of the garages and they were put in the metal drives. The Boy Scouts did a great deal of that. The city took up the old streetcar lines. It went down Government and Dauphin Street, and we added those to the scrap pile. But everyone took part in World War II down to the youngest child.

NARRATOR: The Office of Civilian Defense called upon each American family to become a “fighting unit on the home front.” Everyone was asked to collect scrap metal from which armaments could be made. In one year alone, Mobile’s citizens amassed 22 million pounds. Children were the most avid collectors.

JIM SHERMAN: The motto was ‘wash and squash.’ You wash out the can and then you take the top off, then you take the bottom off, then you put the top and the bottom together, in the middle, and then you’d squash it, you’d stomp on it. And then you put these in a box and then, I don’t know, if it was every week or every other week, the city would come by, and they would pick up. You’d set them out on, on your curb, kind of like recycling now. And then the city would come by and they’d pick up all these tin cans.

NARRATOR: In Sacramento, 22 big “Victory Bins” were set up on downtown street corners for the duration, even though some people thought they were unsightly. Luverne, Minnesota had been founded by Civil War veterans, but now the town council volunteered to melt down the cannon balls that formed part of the memorial to the Union dead to make munitions for the new conflict. And in Waterbury, Connecticut, 281,135 pounds of tin were collected, along with 65,000 pounds of rubber, 225,458 pounds of rags – and 372,733 pounds of fat.

JIM SHERMAN: If you were lucky enough to get a pound of bacon, for example, and you get the fat in there, you were supposed to pour that into a tin can and then take it down to the salvage guy. Now, I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how’re they going to make ammunition out of bacon fat?

KATHARINE PHILLIPS: All of this we knew made ammunition, but we didn’t know how. But anything to help the boys.

NEWSREEL: Fats make glycerin and glycerin makes explosives. Every year two billion pounds of waste kitchen fats are thrown away. Enough glycerin for ten billion rapid-fire cannon shells. A belt one hundred fifty thousand miles long. Six time around the earth. A skillet of bacon grease is a little munitions factory.