Dakota Datebook

Wartime Rations

Monday, April 1, 2013


When the United States entered World War II near the close of 1941, few Americans realized the extent to which everyday life would change. North Dakota braced itself by preparing to increase crop and animal production in the coming years. Much of Europe was already facing massive shortages, and rationing had become the order of the day in Great Britain.

Overall, North Dakota’s economy benefited from the war, as the state’s agricultural goods were guaranteed a buyer in the form of Uncle Sam, but individual families soon felt the pinch at home. As the American economy shifted from a consumer market to wartime production, ration books and tokens were issued for the limited quantities of many goods needed to support the country’s military.

The newly-formed Office of Price Administration enforced the ration system and ensured that prices of rationed goods remained fixed. The first items to be rationed were tires and cars in early 1942. Coffee and sugar soon followed in May of that year, with each person able to purchase a pound of coffee every six weeks. Within months, gasoline, shoes, kerosene, bicycles, typewriters, and nylons joined the list of rationed goods.

In 1942, North Dakota farmers found it difficult to purchase rationed farm equipment, and even the purchase of common farm staples like chicken wire were restricted. However, in March of 1943, the most pervasive and difficult rationing was announced by Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard. The Fargo Forum reported that, beginning on April 1st, 1943, meat, butter, cheese, canned goods, and edible fats and oils were also to be rationed, since these foods were needed for the troops overseas. Each person would only be entitled to two pounds of meat per week, and less than 6 pounds of cheese per year.

To put this in perspective, Americans consumed nearly twice as much meat in 2007, and the average American included over five times as much cheese in their diet in 2010, with an average per capita consumption of over 33 pounds! Despite the difficulties, the new system of dietary rations, which began on this date in 1943, lasted until the end of the war in 1945.


Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job



Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 75. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.

The Fargo Forum and Daily Tribune. Friday (Morning ed.), March 12, 1943; p. 1.









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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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