"Sorry, no meat today." Government Rationing During World War II.

"Sorry, no meat today." Government Rationing During World War II.
Bess Truman: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Four to five class periods

Required Documents
Application to Buy a Refrigerator
Pencil Coupons
Rationed Goods During World War II


Almostimmediatelyafter the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor the entire economy of the United States shifted to war production. It was quickly determined that the population of the United States would have to do their part in the war effort. In May of 1942, the U.S. Office of Price Administration (OPA) froze prices on many goods, starting with sugar and coffee. War ration books and tokens were then issued to each American family, dictating how much gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, nylon and other items any one person could buy. These items were essential for the war effort. Although these policies began under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, they continued after his death under the Truman Administration. Even the Whitehouse had to following the rationing policies. Following the war many of these policies continued on a more limited level and for other purposes. Bess Truman signed a "housewife's pledge" of voluntary food rationing in the White House, in order to set an example for other Americans to limit their consumption and permit food donations to be sent to the many devastated populations of postwar Europe.


Students will develop a first hand understanding of the rationing process. The students will read about and gain an understanding of how the rationing process worked during World War II. Students will respond to the process of rationing by completing a written response to discussion questions.

Materials Required:

Internet access; a way to project several websites or hard copies of the WebPages; a box of large zip lock bags.


1) The teacher will break the class into groups of four. Mixed ability groups may be a good idea for this process. Tell each group they represent a family.
2) The teacher will then ask the students to take out all their pencils pens and other writing utensils and place them on their workspace.
3) The teacher will then explain that there is an imaginary war, and that the government needs all available writing instruments for the war effort. (Be creative as to your reasons, perhaps they are going to be turned into ammunition, or used to take notes on spy missions, etc.) All these except one pencil per group will then be collected by the teacher and stored in the zip lock bags.
4) The teacher will then tell each “family” that their refrigerator is broken and that they need to purchase a new one. However, in order to do so they must fill out a request form and state their reasons for needing a new refrigerator. Explain that they will have a better chance of receiving one if each family member fills out a form. Distribute the Application for Authorization to Purchase New Domestic Mechanical Refrigerators form to each student. This is an actual document. You may want to discuss it.
5) Now the students will realize that the four of them only have one pencil between them to fill out these 4 forms. Allow a little problem solving to occur. After about five minutes tell them you have a way for them to get more pencils. Distribute some pencil coupons an allow them to use them to purchase up to two more pencils.
6) Have the students try to fill out the forms. They will not be able to complete the forms, but have them focus on Box 4 – Justification for Application. Discuss some of their responses.
7) Debrief this exercise and explain that they will now learn about a program that existed during the Second World War.
8) The teacher will distribute the list of rationed goods (word doc.) to the students. The class will discuss the meaning of the word rationing and construct a consensus definition. The discussion will then focus on the items on the list. The teacher will want to facilitate discussion on the following points: 

       ·         What are the categories that these items were placed in? Define each category.
       ·         What specific purpose could the Military have for each of the items on the list? 
       ·         What do the students think would be a good method for the government to ration these items? How would the process work?

9) The students will then go to the Rationing on the Home front website to further investigate the rationing process. Class discussion will follow.
10) The teacher will then have the students read the article from the website, World War II Rationing. Following this the class will answer the following questions: (this may be done on paper or in a discussion) 
   a.       Describe in general how the government rationed various items. 
   b.      What was one serious side effect of rationing? Explain your answer.

Extending the Lesson:

1) One possible extension to the lesson is to have a speaker who lived through rationing during the War come to the room and speak to the students about his/her experiences.

2) Another possible extension is to have students compare the rationing program of the WWII era to today’s environmental “green” movement.

Sources & Resources:

World War II Rationing

Rationing on the Homefront 

Credits: This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Municipal School District.