Ration tokens, “Red Points” 2002.1.4667
Many of us had our first experience with rationing during Hurricane Sandy this year. Lines for gasoline were hours long and were restricted to certain days, and grocery deliveries were unable to be filled. While this was the first semblance of rationing that has occurred in the United States in a long time, it was nothing compared to the system set in place during World War II. Because of the need for the workforce and factories to shift from farming and producing civilian goods to producing war materials, the result was shortages of everyday items like children’s toys and gasoline. To prevent people from hoarding goods, and thus driving prices up which could lead to inflation, the Office of Price Administration was created. The OPA regulated the prices of many goods, including food and material like nylon and ended up with a hefty list of regulated goods by the end of the war. This list of rationed goods grew to include sugar, butter, coffee, meat, tires, gasoline, and rubber boots to name a few.
The OPA created price ceilings for each item that got rationed. These price ceilings fixed the maximum price that the item could be purchased for, to prevent overpricing. These prices stayed roughly the same throughout the entire war. Every person was issued ration books, even small children. These books contained cards good for certain amounts of rationed goods. Even if you had the money to pay for an item, you couldn’t buy it unless you had a ration card for it as well.
Since these ration cards were good for certain amounts, if someone wanted a smaller amount than what the card called for, they received change in the form of red or blue “points.” For example, if you wanted to buy ¼ pound of sugar, but had a ration card for ½ pound, you would get points to make up the difference. Similarly to how change was used, these points had different values based on the colors. Because all spare metal was needed for war material, the points were made up of vulcanized fiber. The image above shows a few red points.
Rationing in the United States ended by the close of the war, when factories began producing civilian goods again and farms no longer had to feed an army. For more information on rationing, the role factories played during World War II, and the war on the homefront, visit the World War II exhibition at the New-York Historical Society!