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Make It Do – Shoe Rationing in World War II

During World War II, many items were rationed in the United States, including shoes.

Why Shoe Rationing?

Due to the serious rubber shortage (Make It Do – Tire Rationing in World War II), footwear made of rubber or with rubber soles was rationed or unavailable. Also, the military had a high need for leather, not just for shoes and combat boots, but for those popular leather flight jackets. As a result, civilians made do with less.

Rationing of Rubber Footwear

Starting September 30, 1942, men’s rubber boots and rubber work shoes were placed under rationing. To obtain a new pair, a man had to apply to the local ration board, prove he needed the shoes for essential industry—not for sport—and turn in the old pair. Galoshes and overshoes were not rationed because they used less crude rubber, but sportsmen couldn’t get boots, and sneakers were no longer produced.

Shoe Rationing

US rationing books owned by my mother and grandmother, WWII (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

US rationing books owned by my mother and grandmother, WWII (Photo: Sarah Sundin)

On February 7, 1943, the United States instituted rationing of leather shoes to begin February 9. Each man, woman, and child could purchase up to three pairs of leather shoes a year, using designated stamps in War Ration Book One, and later in Books Three and Four. To simplify the system, only six shades of leather were produced. However, the supply of leather continued to decrease. On March 20, 1944, the ration was reduced to two pairs of leather shoes per year. Shoe rationing continued until October 30, 1945.

Exceptions

The strict rule that the ration stamp had to be torn from the book in the presence of the retailer was lifted for catalog purchases. If you wanted an extra pair of shoes, you had to fill out a long application at the ration board, listing every pair of footwear you owned, and explaining why another pair was essential for your occupation and why another pair was required to prevent serious hardship.

US poster, World War IIWhat about Children?

No exceptions were made for children and their rapidly growing feet. Families pooled their stamps, and adults made do with fewer shoes to provide for their children’s needs. However, pediatricians and podiatrists complained publicly that shoe rationing would produce a generation of “foot cripples.”

Making Do

To make do with less, people took care of the footwear they already owned, keeping rubber boots clean, dry, and away from excess heat or cold, and repairing shoes and boots whenever possible. Shoes made of fabric, such as espadrilles, were not rationed and became fashionable. Women also turned to fabric purses and belts.

Some people did not make do. Theft and black market profiteering were a continuing problem. For example, on May 3, 1944, a man was arrested in Pittsburg, California for stealing seven pairs of shoes from a shipment. The June 8, 1944 issue of the Antioch Ledger reported his sentence—six months or $500.

Tales from a Shoe Store

This story comes from Charles Martin, who worked as a stock boy in a shoe store while he was in high school (1941 to 1943). He gave me permission to share his experiences.

“When the current stamp was about to expire, there would be a rush, mostly by women, to buy any pair of shoes, whether they fit or not. Later, when we got in new styles, they would exchange the ones they had bought for the new ones. Finally the store had to put a time limit on how long the first pair could be exchanged. The store would run ads in the paper when a new shipment of shoes was expected, and women would line up that morning to get a shot at the newest. Sometimes things got a little difficult because there would only be a few pairs in the most common sizes.  More than once there were unpleasant situations that made the shoe clerk nervous.”

How would you do with only two or three new pairs of shoes a year?

9 Responses to “Make It Do – Shoe Rationing in World War II”

  1. Rick Barry

    I’m always fascinated by the WW II mentality of a nation united to win the war.

    The mention of rubber reminds me of a newspaper article I found in my own research. During the war, some young fellows in Chicago unearthed a cache of worn-out tires in a city dump. They were excited to find them, because those bald tires had become valuable treasure.

  2. Liz Tolsma

    This is very interesting. In Europe (and I’m not sure about the US b/c I haven’t done much research on the US), shoes, coats, and material for clothing were also rationed. Even if you had a coupon and the money to buy these necessities, they usually weren’t available. In Germany, the need for warmer coats for the soldiers fighting in Russia was so severe (Hitler hadn’t planned on spending a winter there), that women donated their coats and went without. Bad when the winter of 44-45 was the worst winter in memory.

  3. Sarah Sundin

    Rick – isn’t that funny? Imagine what a treasure trove we could find in the dumps now with our disposable culture!

    Liz – so true. While the American civilian was inconvenienced, the European civilian truly suffered. Clothes were never rationed in the US, although there were restrictions on how much fabric could be used. And under rationing, the average American was actually better nourished than during the Depression. People turned from the processed foods that were becoming part of the diet and started eating more home-grown produce, more poultry instead of red meat, etc. As you know – definitely not the case in Europe!

    Kiersti – I’m glad you’re enjoying the book!

  4. Jocelyn

    Sarah, fantastic article! I will have to share it. Thanks so much for all the great accompanying images, too! I always love these historical insight posts.

  5. Morgan Tarpley

    I would not not survive as I like to buy shoes too frequently. lol

    Such a fascinating time period. My boss was only three or four years old during the war, yet he had his own ration book. He brought it to work to show us one day. Interesting. I cannot fathom living like that nowadays. How long would people last? A day.

  6. Sarah Sundin

    Morgan – I know! We’re so spoiled nowadays. I’d like to think we could find the fortitude to deal, but not all of us would do well.