During the Second World War, you couldn’t just walk into a shop and buy as much sugar, butter or meat as you desired, nor could you fill up your car with gasoline whenever you liked. All these things were rationed, which meant you were only allowed to buy a small amount, even if you could afford more. The government introduced rationing because certain things were in short supply during the war. Civilians first received ration books—War Ration Book Number One, or the “Sugar Book”—in May 1942. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others.
Here is some more information about the rationing which took place: Sugar was the first consumer commodity rationed; Coffee was rationed nationally on 29 November 1942.
By the end of 1942, ration coupons were used for nine other items; typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and food oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies, and fruit butter were rationed by November 1943.
Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.
To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued “red point” tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and “blue point” tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply.
A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and rubber for tires. To receive a gasoline ration card, a person had to certify a need for gasoline and ownership of no more than five tires. All tires in excess of five per driver were confiscated by the government, because of rubber shortages. An “A” sticker on a car was the lowest priority of gasoline rationing and entitled the car owner to 3 to 4 US gallons of gasoline per week. B stickers were issued to workers in the military industry, entitling their holder up to 8 US gallons of gasoline per week. C stickers were granted to persons deemed very essential to the war effort, such as doctors. T rations were made available for truckers. Lastly, X stickers on cars entitled the holder to unlimited supplies and were the highest priority in the system. Ministers, police, firemen, and civil defense workers were in this category. A scandal erupted when 200 Congressmen received these X stickers.
All rationing in the U.S. ended in 1946.