Imagine going to the store and not finding batteries, thumbtacks, alarm clocks, or paper clips on the shelves.
During World War II, metals were needed for military purposes. Ships and planes and jeeps and guns and ration tins and helmets took precedence over civilian products. After the United States entered the war, factories quickly shifted from manufacturing civilian goods to military material. The last automobile rolled off the assembly line on February 10, 1942, and cars wouldn’t be manufactured again until August 1945.
On April 2, 1942, the US War Production Board ordered a reduction in the use of metals in packaging of civilian products. Anyone who wanted to purchase a tin tube of toothpaste, shaving cream, or medicated ointment had to turn in the old tube first. On March 1, 1943, these restrictions resulted in the rationing of canned foods (Make It Do—Rationing of Canned Goods in World War II).
Scrap drives and tin can drives reclaimed tons of metals, but not enough to prevent shortages. (Make It Do—Scrap Drives in World War II)
Many everyday items became hard to find—can openers, kitchen utensils, steel wool, batteries, hair curlers, razor blades, wristwatches, thumbtacks, paper clips, pins, needles, zippers, garden tools, and bed springs. When ladies went to the beauty salon, they were even required to bring their own bobby pins due to the shortage. People learned to take care of what they had—or do without.
Both large and small appliances were not manufactured during the war, so appliance stores shifted their business focus from sales to repairs. Often families or neighbors would share appliances. In July 1944, to encourage home canning but prevent botulism, 400,000 pressure cookers were released for sale, preferably for community use. In Antioch, California, the PTA purchased a pressure cooker to share within the community.
Many popular children’s toys couldn’t be manufactured due to restrictions or shortages of rubber, tin, and steel. Manufacturers converted to wood and cardboard. (Learn more about toys in WWII here: A WWII Christmas—Teaching About Christmas Past to Reduce Christmas “Presents”)
Not only did typewriters contain metal, but they were vital to a paperwork-dependent military. In July 1942, a call went out to the public to donate late-model, nonessential typewriters to the military. Typewriters were rationed in the US from March 6, 1942 to April 22, 1944, requiring a certificate from the local ration board for a purchase.
Some programs ended up as humorous failures. In July 1942, the US government proclaimed a stop to the manufacture of beauty products—but a great uproar led to the repeal four months later.
Sliced bread also briefly became unavailable. On January 18, 1943, the sale of sliced bread was banned in America to conserve the metal blades. This ban lasted only until March 8.
Alarm clock production stopped in the US on July 1, 1942. However, employers all over the nation lobbied to resume production to reduce absenteeism. In March 1943, alarm clocks were produced again.
Which of these shortages would have been most difficult for you?