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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Biar

Sugar Rationing during WWII - A Memorial Day Tribute

Updated: May 31, 2021

As all years, this Memorial Day we reflect on those men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we can live in liberty and freedom. My Daddy fought as part the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He was a cook on an oil tanker named The Beagle. I have researched his tenure in the Navy and that of other young soldiers during the Second World War.

WWII required so much sacrifice, not only by the brave men and women who served overseas, but by American citizens who sacrificed on the home front to support our boys fighting. (Note: WWII combat was only permitted by males. However, women helped the soldiers in so many ways. From providing coffee and donuts on the front lines as part of the Red Cross to serving as Women Airforce Service Pilots, women were essential).

WWII rationing poster
WWII rationing poster

Rationing was one of many ways Americans sacrificed to help our country win the war. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) depended upon citizen volunteers to run local rationing boards. The first item to fall under rationing was tires in January 1942. That meant no new tires for citizens unless you were a doctor, nurse, police, or firefighter. Owners of buses, some delivery trucks, certain tractors, and farm tractors could apply for new tires through their local rationing board.

Food sacrifices were also significant. The first food rationed (and the last to be opened back up to the free market) was sugar. Delicious, wonderful sugar!

Sugar rationing WWII
Sugar rationing WWII

When the Philippines was defeated by Japan in 1942, a significant source of sugar for the U.S. vanished immediately. Additionally, cargo ships were cut by half as they were needed for military purposes. Therefore, shipments from Hawaii, Central America, and South America were cut dramatically. German U-boats also had destroyed many U.S. cargo ships. Sugar purchasing in the U.S. was markedly altered.

To purchase sugar (and all rationed items), families were required to register with their local rationing boards beginning April 27, 1942. While the ration books were transitioning into everyday life, all sugar sales were halted for a week. Starting May 5, 1942, ration books could be used to purchase sugar (additional stamps were later provided for special canning sugar).

In May 1942, one pound of sugar cost about $.08 and one rationing stamp every two weeks. By June 1942, the allotment changed to one stamp for two pounds of sugar every four weeks. To discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they already had in their pantry. They were then required to give up a certain amount of sugar stamps based on how many pounds over a certain amount they already had stored. It was tough.

To put the sugar sacrifice into perspective, today Americans consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. During WWII, Americans were limited to six teaspoons!

During WWII, sugar and chocolate were "fighting food!"
During WWII, sugar and chocolate were "fighting food!"

Sugar rationing was instituted to provide sugar fairly to all citizens and to ensure the U.S. could supply sugar to the military. Soldiers were given more than twice the sugar allotment they would have consumed before the war. Their K Rations provided sugar to ensure the men received adequate calories (per the nutritional thinking of the day). Sweets, chocolates, and sugars were promoted and thought of as “fighting food.” And our boys still wanted more (I would, too, if I was directly fighting fascism in Europe or Asia). A Navy report at the time said when servicemen bought food to supplement their rations, 40% of their purchases were on candy. Clearly, Americans needed to sacrifice their daily sugar allotment, so our boys had what they needed to succeed!

During this time, women’s magazines and food manufacturers were churning out new recipes cutting the original amount of sugar or providing alternative sweet sources. American housewives everywhere substituted items like honey, corn syrup, and maple syrup for sugar to make sweet treats like baked custard, quick coffee cake, and orange drop cookies.

The war in Europe ended in May 1945, and the fight against Japan ended in August 1945. However, sugar went on being rationed until June 1947.

This Memorial Day as you enjoy a cookie, cupcake, or ice cream cone, remember the sacrifices of our amazing nation. Freedom isn’t free.


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