Make It Do – Metal Shortages During World War II

US poster encouraging conservation of metal for military purposes. Read more: "Make It Do--Metal Shortages in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.

US poster encouraging conservation of metal for military purposes, WWII

Imagine going to the store and not finding batteries, thumbtacks, alarm clocks, or paper clips on the shelves.

During World War II, both metals and factories 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 car rolled off the assembly line on February 10, 1942. And on April 2, 1942, the War Production Board ordered a reduction in the use of metals in packaging. This resulted in the rationing of canned foods (Make It Do – Rationing of Canned Goods in World War II).


Many everyday items became hard to find – can openers, kitchen utensils, steel wool, batteries, bobby pins, hair curlers, razor blades, wristwatches, thumbtacks, paper clips, pins, needles, zippers, garden tools, and bed springs. People learned to take care of what they had – or make 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 during the war due to restrictions or shortages of rubber, tin, and steel. Manufacturers converted to wood or even cardboard.

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII


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 turn in any late-model, nonessential typewriters to the military. Typewriters were rationed from March 1942 to April 22, 1944, requiring a certificate from the local ration board for a purchase.


Some shortages ended up as humorous failures. In July 1942, the 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 order to conserve the metal blades. This ban lasted only until March 8. Alarm clock production stopped July 1, 1942. However, employers all over the nation lobbied to resume production to reduce chronic absenteeism. In March 1943, alarm clocks were produced again.

Which of these shortages would have been most difficult for you?

6 Responses to “Make It Do – Metal Shortages During World War II”

  1. Katers

    Oh goodness.. needles and bobby pins. Yikes.

    So basically, I didn’t have fabric to make a wedding dress.. I couldn’t get nylons.. and I was frantic about loosing my needles and bobbypins.

    I had to pray my washing machine didn’t break (maybe I did that anyway), ration my sugar (and other foods), and figure out what I could donate.

    I think maybe everyone learned to just do without huh.

  2. Sarah Sundin

    Kate – they sure did. People had to be more careful with what they had, do good maintenance, and get things repaired. We could all learn from that!

    My grandfather was in the Navy while my grandmother raised my infant father. She could not buy a washing machine or dryer. She HANDWASHED my dad’s diapers and hung them to dry – and she prided herself that they never had a stain 🙂 She was a character.

  3. Abigail

    It seems women can’t be without their beauty products, even if there is a war on. That’s just a little sad.

    I’ve been watching the “World at War” documentary with my father over the past few evenings. It’s been interesting to listen to the interviews and watch as World War II unfolds, and to actually see some of the things as they happen. Some parts are even amusing, like the Finnish soldiers on skis. I can’t get over the humorous picture that makes!

  4. Sean M. Pearson

    I think at that time I would have been using a bicycle for transportation because of the gas rationing. So I would have had problems finding metal parts to do regular maintenance like replacing the chain, sprockets, and rims.

  5. Sarah Sundin

    Abigail – I agree, we women can be a bit pathetic 🙂 And I find a lot of those amusing stories too, like the ski troops. My all-time favorite funny image was sheep in parachutes. I blogged about it in May (http://sarahsundin.blogspot.com/2011/05/sheep-in-chutes.html

    Sean – bikes were a problem too! They encouraged bike riding to conserve fuel and rubber tires, but bikes used metal and rubber too.

  6. Michelle

    I think I’d just enlist so that the military would clothe me and I wouldn’t have to worry too much about transportation and food and whatnot 🙂 I know that would come with it’s own set of challenges, but I like that solution!