Rationing of Non-Food Items on the World War II Home Front

Four hands grasp equal quarters of a red circle. The hands seem to belong to men and women of difference classes. One hand wears a work glove; one wears a fancy glove; one has a wedding ring.
Rationing Means Share and Share Alike. Poster, Office of Price Administration, 1942.

Collection of the Hennepin County Library, Minnesota (MPW00223).

Rationing was overseen by the federal Office of Price Administration (OPA), assisted by information from other wartime agencies. Using their nation-wide overview of supply, demand, and the economy, the OPA dictated which items to ration, set ceiling prices, and allocated available supply.

These limits both ensured a fair distribution of goods and helped to keep inflation in check. Rationing was managed at the local level by volunteer rationing boards. By the end of the war, over 100,000 citizen volunteers were managing the program organized into about 5,600 local boards.[1]

Rationed non-food items included tires, cars, bicycles, gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene, solid fuels (like coal), stoves, footwear, and typewriters (information on the rationing systems for food are written separately). To buy these items, consumers had to present both the appropriate paperwork and the money to pay for the item.

Tires, Bicycles, and Gasoline

The rationing of these commodities was largely to preserve rubber for the war effort. (Many other rubber-based products like hoses and raincoats were not rationed, they simply disappeared from shops.) Before the war, the United States had built up a stockpile of crude rubber, but it was only enough for a single year in peacetime. And although researchers (including Japanese scientists at Manzanar) were working on alternative sources, the technology was not advanced enough to supply both the military and civilians.[2]

Black and white photo of a group of men looking at rows of plants. Behind them is a row of incarceration camp barracks and power lines and a few trees.
Dr. Robert A. Emerson and Japanese American colleagues incarcerated at Manzanar War Relocation Center in California looking at a plot planted with Guayule. Photo by Dorothea Lange, War Relocation Authority, June 28, 1942.

Collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (538018).

Working with Robert A. Emerson from the California Institute of Technology, Japanese American scientists at Manzanar developed a sustainable, natural source of rubber using Guayule. Guayule is a small, woody, drought-resistant shrub that looks like sagebrush.

For the team, this was a chance to show that many of the Japanese Americans being forcibly incarcerated were, in fact, patriotic. Emerson paid for much of the equipment out of his own pocket.

To add to the project's glassware supply, those at Manzanar ate a lot of peanut butter and jam, donating the empty jars to the cause. Researchers also repurposed equipment like milkshake blenders and washing machines.

Guayule rubber from Manzanar was much stronger than that developed by other teams working outside the camp. It was also at least as strong as the product made from the rubber tree.

Despite its success, the Manzanar project was not allowed to continue after the camp was closed. In fact, the lab equipment and surviving plants were destroyed. Members of the research team were convinced that big oil stopped the program to protect their synthetic rubber business.[3]

A poster with a yellow background and black and red letters. In the foreground is a black and white photograph of a white man carrying a tire away from his car. 
“Keep America Rolling! Save your 5 best tires. Sell others to Uncle Sam” poster. Office for Emergency Management, 1942.

Collection of Northwestern University Libraries (ark:/81985/n2x923k0g).


Three quarters of rubber in the US was used for car tires. In wartime, however, rubber was needed for military vehicles, boots, gas masks, and rain coats, among other items. A single battleship required over 75 tons of rubber.[4] The government stopped the sale of tires in mid-December 1941, and rationing began January 5, 1942. Tires were the first item rationed, and remained rationed through the end of December 1945.[5]

Civilians were allowed to keep 5 tires – four on their passenger vehicle, and one spare. The rest had to be surrendered. Good tires were so scarce that the government recommended recording their serial numbers in case they were stolen.

Replacement tires were available only through application to the local rationing boards. They issued certificates to those whose vehicles met the qualifications. These included: public transportation; transportation of food and fuel; garbage trucks; and for public safety like ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars.

The rationing board could also issue certificates for retreading tires, also known as recapping. This process attached new tread to an old tire, extending its life.[6] These days, tires regularly last 50,000 miles or more. But tires in the World War II era lasted a mere two years under normal usage. Blowouts and flats were common, making life with rationed tires even more difficult.[7]

Black and white photo looking down a paved road with fields and trees. On the side of the road is a speed limit sign.
A “War Speed 35” speed limit sign posted along an Arkansas highway. Photo by John Vachon, Office of War Information, October 1942.

Collection of the Library of Congress (

The federal rationing of gasoline was largely to reduce wear on tires, as was the “Victory Speed” of 35 miles per hour (tires wore out twice as fast at 60 miles per hour than at 35).[8] Tires were inspected twice a week or more – sometimes by employers -- to ensure proper tire pressure (a tire rated at 30 pounds of pressure wore through 21% more rubber at 27 pounds and cut its lifetime in half at 21 pounds).[9]


The government rationed bicycles from July 1942 to September 1945. The goal was to reduce the amount of wartime materials used for bicycles, but also to ensure that those who rode instead of drove could get one (thereby saving on car tires and gasoline).[10]

A black and white magazine advertisement showing men’s and women’s models of the Huffman company’s Victory Bicycles. National Museum of American History.
An April 1942 advertisement for the Huffman Civilian Transport Models of Victory bicycles. “Made and sold in cheerful accordance with the sanctions imposed by our Government’s Victory Program.” The Huffman Manufacturing Company was located in Dayton, Ohio, an American World War II Heritage City.

Collections of the National Museum of American History (

Shortly after the December 1941 Japanese attacks, the government took over control of the bicycle industry. They halted the bicycle trade entirely, and forbade bicycles from leaving “a factory, a jobber, a wholesaler, or a retailer’s place of business after 11:59 tonight” (April 3, 1942). They hoped this would prevent hoarding, and also gave them the opportunity to evaluate supply and demand.[11]

The government issued specifications for what became known as Victory bicycles. These were designed and built only for adults; bikes for children were not manufactured during the war. Victory bikes were lightweight, weighing no more than 31 pounds (lighter by about a third than pre-war). They were made of steel only with no copper or nickel parts, and a minimum of chrome plating. Paint was used instead on handlebars and wheel rims. Accessories like chain guards, bells, and whitewall tires were removed, and a maximum tire width of 1-3/8" was set.[12] Behind the scenes, there were disagreements between the OPA and the Wartime Production Board (WPB) about the necessity of bicycle rationing – were bicycles a luxury? Was the rubber needed to make bicycle tires better used for other war needs while people continued to put wear on the car tires they already owned? This debate was eventually resolved, and Victory bikes went into production.[13]

When rationing began in July 1942, the OPA had 150,000 Victory bicycles and 90,000 pre-war bicycles to divide up. To get a bicycle, you had to apply at the local rationing board and prove you needed a bicycle. For example, your job was too far to walk to, and there was no good public transportation. By August 1942, access to bicycles was further limited to health care workers, school teachers, fire fighters, and others in critical occupations. New and used bicycles became much in demand, as thousands used them to get to their war jobs.[14] Despite this, the numbers of bicycles made and allocated by rationing boards never met the actual demand.[15]

A booklet with 10 bulk gasoline coupons worth 100 gallons each. Printed in black on a cream colored paper with “Gasoline Ration” and an American Eagle security printing in green. Coll. Duke University (ark:/87924/r3tx35h0g).
This booklet contains ration coupons for 100 gallons of gasoline each. Booklets like this were issued to companies and organizations which needed (and could store) large amounts of fuel. Office of Price Administration.

Collection David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University (ark:/87924/r3tx35h0g).


Gasoline rationing began on the East coast in mid-May 1942. Enemy submarines had been targeting and sinking the tankers bringing it from the Gulf of Mexico. Rationing gave the government time to establish overland delivery systems including rail cars, tanker trucks, barges, and new pipelines. Nation-wide gasoline rationing began in December of 1942 to limit the amount of gasoline used by civilians, but also to save wear on tires. Gas stations and commercial users also had their gasoline rationed. There are news reports of drivers following gasoline delivery trucks to gas stations and lining up for miles to fill their cars the day before gasoline rationing went into effect.[16]

A black and white infographic with drawings for each category indicating what they are for.
“How Mileage Is Rationed.” This poster details the most common gasoline ration categories and how much gas/how many miles each category is allocated. Office of Price Administration, November 1942.[56]

Collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NAID: 514538).

Gasoline rations were based on need. Every car had to have a sticker in its front windshield showing how much fuel the driver was allowed (these amounts shifted slightly throughout the war, depending on supply and demand). Ration stamps with the same letter were required when purchasing gasoline. There were several different types of sticker, each with a letter. For example, “A” stickers went to most drivers, allowing 2-4 gallons of gasoline per week; “B” stickers allowed 8-10 gallons per week for those who commuted long distances to work and who carried 3 or more passengers; “C” stickers allowed unlimited gasoline for those with certain critical jobs including doctors, mail carriers, telegram delivery, etc. There were also different rations and stickers for motorcycles, emergency vehicles, farm vehicles, and commercial trucks. The “X” sticker, which had no limit on how much gasoline could be purchased, was issued to VIPs, including (controversially) several congress members. On the reverse of each sticker were printed reminders to drive under 35 miles per hour; to share the car; to check tire pressure; to stop, start, and turn slowly; to rotate tires; and to consider whether the trip was really necessary.[17]

At the gas station, attendants checked the sticker on the windshield, making sure that it and the license plate matched the buyers' ration stamps. After these and other checks were complete, attendants detached the correct number of ration stamps and took payment for the gasoline.[18]

It was possible to lose access to rationed gasoline. Those who kept more than the 5 tires allowed by the government could not get their rations until they surrendered the extras. People who sped, went on joy rides, or misused the gasoline rationing system forfeited their rations. In several cities, night courts were set up to handle the number of people who disobeyed the pleasure driving regulations. Gasoline rationing ended in August 1945.[19]

Stylized color image of a man in a suit, tie, and jaunty hat driving a convertible. In the passenger seat is a ghostly outline of Hitler. Stylized color image of a man in a suit, tie, and jaunty hat driving a convertible. In the passenger seat is a ghostly outline of Hitler.

Left image
“When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler! Join a Car-Sharing Club Today!” This poster encourages people to carpool and share their car with others. US Government Printing Office, 1943.
Credit: Collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NAID: 516143).

Right image
The OPA held nightly hearings for violators of the pleasure driving rules. This man in Pittsburgh, PA is mad because his gas ration book was taken away. He was caught driving to a baseball game. Photo by Marjory Collins, Office of War Information, 1943.
Credit: Collection of the Library of Congress (

Left: 6 stamps with circles for 1 gallon each and 6 for 5 gallons each. Right: 10 stamps, 2 each for 1 fuel oil unit in Periods 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Plus two coupons with circles good for 10 gallons each. Form printed in black over green safety printing.
Fuel oil ration coupons issued by the Manitowoc Co. War Price and Rationing Board. Good for the purchase of 710 gallons for the heating year ending August 31, 1945. The ones with circles can be used anytime. Office of Price Administration, 1944. Manitowoc is an American World War II Heritage City.

Collection of the Edwin Majkrzak Historical Research Center, Kiel Public Library (

Fuel Oil, Kerosene, and Solid Fuels

Fuel oil, kerosene, and solid fuels were used for home heating, lighting, hot water, cooking, and other necessities, as well as commercial and agricultural uses. Rations were allocated by need – for example, those in colder parts of the country needed more heating fuel than those who were not.

One poster from 1945 announces that “All fuel is scarce, plan for winter now!” and encourages people to make sure their heating system is working and to order fuel at once. It also urges people to winterize their home -- a word that most Americans would not have been familiar with.[20]

Fuel Oil and Kerosene

Fuel oil and kerosene were rationed from October 1942 through August 1945.[21] These fuels included range oil, coal oil, stove oil, lamp oil, tractor fuel other than diesel, furnace oil and diesel.[22]

Illustration of an older man looking through a frosted window at a thermometer outside showing a temperature around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Text is in blue, red, and black. Illustration of an older man looking through a frosted window at a thermometer outside showing a temperature around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Text is in blue, red, and black.

Left image
“All fuel is scarce. Plan for winter Now!” This poster urges people to winterize their homes; to check their heat source; and order fuel at once. Solid Fuels Administration, 1945.
Credit: Collection of Northwestern University Libraries (ark:/81985/n2q816t1r).

Right image
“Don’t SHIVER next Winter… Order Coal NOW!” poster. Solid Fuels Administration for War, 1944. 
Credit: Collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NAID: 514163).

Solid Fuels

Solid fuels (various types of coal including anthracite and bituminous coals and processed fuels like briquettes) were rationed from September 1943 to August 1945.[23] Much of the shortage of solid fuels was at the supply end. When young miners left to join the military, they left older men and men not eligible to serve in the military because of a 4-F certification (unfit for military service due to physical, mental, or moral reasons) to carry on the work. Unlike in other wartime jobs, women did not replace men in the mines, in part because miners considered it bad luck. Women in the mines were believed to bring disaster like an accident or cave-in.[24]

A larger issue, however, was a labor dispute between the United Mine Workers of America and the mine owners in early 1943. Unable to reach an agreement as their previous contract expired, workers across the coal industry went on strike April 1, 1943. One of their key demands was for portal-to-portal pay. This meant that they would get paid for the full number of hours they were on mine property, not just the time they were down in the mine.[25]

When no solution to the strike was forthcoming, the Coal Mines Administration (led by Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes) seized the mines on May 1, 1943. The Administration appointed existing mine managers to continue operations. Mines were returned to former owners as labor conflicts lessened, but then re-seized and re-returned as labor unrest continued. By June 1944, the disputes had ended. Mine workers won back payment for portal-to-portal work as well as portal-to-portal pay moving forward.[26]

Unlike other goods that were easily stockpiled, coal was bulky, and could not be stored at the mines until it was needed.[27] To help solve the storage issue and ensure that enough coal was available, consumers were urged to apply for and purchase their winter coal early. Like other rationed goods, maximum prices for solid fuels were set by the government. The goal was for consumers to receive up to 90% of their previous year’s amount, distributed (as much as possible) in equal monthly shipments.[28]

Printed in black on security paper with blue-printed “US Government Ration” and the Great Seal of the United States. Certificate includes who it was issued to, ration board id, and whether it was a heating or cooking stove.
Stove Purchase Certificate. After successfully applying to their local rationing board to buy a stove, consumers got numbered certificate like this one. They gave it, with payment, to the seller. Office of Price Administration, 1943.

Collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University Libraries (ark:/87924/r3w08ws3d).

Printed in black on green paper with a red serial number in the upper right. The form details include the name and address of the buyer and seller; the make, body type, serial number, and engine number of the car.
Certificate to Purchase 1942 Model Passenger Car For Use. When completed by a local rationing board, this certificate allowed the applicant to buy a car. Vehicle prices were set by the government. Office of Price Administration, 1943.

Collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University Libraries (ark:/87924/r3d21rv1c).

Stoves and Cars

Both stoves and cars were rationed so that their materials (largely steel) and production capacity could go to the war effort.


Heating and cooking stoves were rationed from December 1942 to August 1945.[29] In order to get a new one, you had to apply to the local ration board for a purchase certificate.


Cars were rationed between February 1942 and October 1945. An analysis of the number of cars versus the number of people in the US in 1941 reveals about 88 percent of American households had at least one car.[30]

In February 1942, the government ceased the manufacture and sale of all civilian vehicles, and stockpiled the rest to be rationed. All automobile production capacity went to the war effort, manufacturing military vehicles from cars to airplanes.

To get a car, you had to apply to your local rationing board for a purchase certificate. Necessary workers like police, doctors, and farmers were eligible, but still had to show that they had an older car with more than 40,000 miles on it.[31]

Black and white photo. A large group of African American men and women sitting and climbing into a wooden horse-drawn wagon. They are dressed up for an evening on the town. Left: a dark colored horse, perhaps waiting for another wagon-load of revelers.
A group of African American war workers leaving the United Service Organization (USO) branch of the YMCA in Washington, DC. Due to gas rationing, they used horses and wagons instead of trucks. Photo by Roger Smith, Office of War Information, June 1943.

Collection of the Library of Congress (

Most Americans had to make do with the car they had at the start of the war (though some switched to horse power). Some were able to keep their vehicles limping along despite a shortage of parts. Some people, in fact, took pride in how run down their car could be and still run.

Not only was it increasingly difficult to keep cars running, but beginning in February 1942 the government imposed a Wartime Motor Vehicle Use tax. Every month, drivers had to buy a new tax stamp costing as much as $5 (roughly equivalent to $76 in 2023).

Many people just stopped driving. The number of households with cars dropped to about 73% by 1945. Instead, people carpooled, used public transportation, or bicycled. Some even bought cars together, sharing access and costs. This set the stage for a great consumer hunger for cars once the war ended.[32]

Printed in red on yellow with red security printing of the Great Seal of the United States. Spaces for the name and address of the purchaser, how many pairs of what type, and information about the issuing rationing board. Serial number in upper right.
Rubber Footwear Certificate. When completed, this allowed for the purchase of rationed rubber footwear (like rubber boots). Office of Price Administration, 1944.

Collection of Northwestern University Libraries (ark:/81985/n2d797b7p).

Shoes and Boots

Rubber boots were rationed as early as October 1942 to save on rubber usage. On February 7, 1943, with only a couple of days’ notice, leather footwear joined the ration list.[33] Both leather and rubber from shoe soles was needed for the war. As well as rationing shoe quantity, the OPA limited the colors of shoes available. Only black, white, “town brown,” and “army russet” could be made and sold. Two-toned shoes were prohibited, as were boots taller than 10 inches and heels thicker than 2-5/8 inches. All non-essential frills and trimmings, men’s sandals, house slippers, running shoes, and golf shoes vanished from the market. Shoes and boots remained rationed until October 1945.[34]

A black and white newspaper ad. Cost: $1.99 and up per pair. Upper left corner: a stork carries a baby in its beak. Lower right corner: drawing of a shoe.
Ad for the Cannon Shoe Store in Wilmington, NC announcing arrival of 300 pairs of non-rationed “play shoes” (non-rationed shoes were often referred to as “play shoes” for adults and children). Wilmington Morning Star, July 23, 1943. Wilmington is an American World War II Heritage City.

Wilmington Morning Star, July 23, 1943, p. 6. From the Chronicling America collection at the Library of Congress.

Each person received three shoe coupons per year in 1943. This was reduced to two pairs of shoes in March of 1944 because of shortages of leather. Those who needed footwear for work, like mail carriers, and those who were pregnant or needed medical shoes could get additional pairs.

You could also apply to your local rationing board for a purchase certificate if your shoes were destroyed in a fire or flood or stolen. These applications were long, and required listing all of the shoes you owned and explaining why a replacement was necessary.[35] Those who could not get extra pairs had to made do with what they had. Beginning in 1943, the quality of shoe repairs increased when the government allowed cobblers to buy old stock and single shoes to use for repairs.[36]

Those with children in their lives know that their feet can grow really quickly. But children were also bound by the ration limit on shoes. To ensure that they had shoes, adults would cut back on their ration allowance and share their saved coupons with family and friends who needed them.[37]

Not all shoes were rationed. Second-hand or manufacturer’s seconds did not require a ration coupon. Neither did shoes made from non-rationed materials, including plastic, small amounts of reclaimed rubber, cardboard, fabric, and reclaimed fire hose. The demand for these unrationed “synthetic” shoes was so great in 1943 that manufacturers could not meet it. Many limited the quantities available, and supplied their better customers first.[38]

Printed black on yellow. Has the same info on both sides; page separates along a perforation: 1 copy to the OPA, 1 to the renter. Info includes: name and address of the renter, how many typewriters and for how long, and makes, models, and serial numbers.
Typewriter Rental Certificate. When completed by the local ration board, allowed an individual or business to rent typewriters from the government if they could prove their need. Maximum rental rates were established by the government. Office of Price Administration, 1942.

Collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University Libraries (ark:/87924/r3v40k86f).


Typewriters were rationed from March 1942 through April 1944. [39] The metal they were made from, like the metal from so many other items, was needed for the war effort. Perhaps even more in demand were the machines themselves. Wartime meant massive amounts of paperwork, and clerks and others needed typewriters to do their work. Civilians were asked to donate their working, nonessential typewriters to the war effort. Those who needed a typewriter had to apply to rent one from government stockpiles via their local ration board.[40]

Despite the best efforts of the government, the volunteer rationing boards, the police, and civilian defense workers, there were many people who found ways to work around the ration system. These included theft, counterfeiting, hoarding, fraud, and organized crime in illicit trade, also called the black market.

This article was written by Megan E. Springate, Assistant Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, for the NPS Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education. It was funded by the National Council on Public History's cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.

Last updated: November 16, 2023