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Today in World War II History

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Lessons from the 1940s Woman – Make It Do!

US poster urging mending clothes, 1943

US poster urging mending clothes, 1943

In our green times, we say, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but the 1940s woman puts us to shame. For her, “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do” was more than a slogan, it was a necessary, patriotic lifestyle.

Many consumer goods, such as rubber goods and some spices, were scarce because they were produced by Japanese-occupied countries. Metal goods, clothing, and leather were rationed to take care of higher needs in the military or to allow factories to convert from civilian to military production. Coffee and sugar were rationed to save shipping capacity for military purposes. Canned goods were rationed to reduce metal packaging. The famous stocking shortage was caused by the need to save silk and nylon for parachutes. And gasoline was rationed primarily to save rubber – the less you drove, the fewer tires you wore out.
US poster, 1943

US poster, 1943

These shortages and a complicated rationing system led women to creative ways of meeting their families’ needs. Women adopted fashions with knee-length, gently flared skirts, with few fabric-wasting ruffles, pockets, and pleats. Cloth espadrilles became fashionable since women were limited to two to three pairs of leather shoes each year. Women shared recipes for meatless meals and reduced-sugar desserts, and found creative uses for Spam. They planted Victory Gardens to supplement their rations. And – like my grandmother – they washed diapers by hand and line-dried them when they couldn’t buy new appliances.
US poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII. Read more: "Make It Do--Metal Shortages in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.

US poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII


This generation knew how to recycle! They collected leftover cooking fats, which provided crucial ingredients for explosives. They peeled tin foil off the back of chewing gum wrappers. They turned in old toothpaste tubes in order to get new ones. Paper drives, rubber drives, and scrap metal drives brought in tons of materials for the war effort. Their hard work helped win the war.
How about you? Whether you’re motivated by a desire to conserve resources or to save money, what are some new ways you could “Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do?”

4 responses to “Lessons from the 1940s Woman – Make It Do!”

  1. Carma Dutra says:

    I like to make dish soap, body and hair shampoo stretch by adding water to the bottle after it appears to be empty. There is a lot of “soap” left in that bottle.

    Of course the use of empty margarine tubs and other containers purchased at the store are a great way to save on buying other forms of storage containers and use the plastic grocery bags that you bring your groceries home in for storing a multitude of things or reuse them for garbage can liners.


  2. And we think recycling is a new concept… 🙂 I like using reusable grocery bags (when I remember them!) and, of course, as Carma says, cheap “tupperware” in the form of empty margarine tubs and such. We also choose to use cloth diapers with our baby, for a huge cost saving – we haven’t paid for diapers since she was a year old and those diapers will be free for the next babies.

  3. Jaime says:

    My Gramma taught me this philosophy for sure!! Her DH (Grampa) was in the Pacific all 4 yrs of the War (I have 4 yrs worth of his letters, all his medals, scrapbooks etc). She does everything from rewashing ziplock baggies, to reusing tinfoil if it wasn’t dirty. Bread bags are saved to eliminate the amount of ziplocks used. Boxes of twist ties from bread bags to use for future stuff as well. All sorts of amazing things!!

  4. Sarah Sundin says:

    Great ideas! Koala Bear – I used cloth diapers too and saved gobs of money. Now my kids are no longer in diapers (hallelujah!) but I use reusable containers for their lunches. Carma – I’m with you about getting that last little bit of shampoo, toothpaste, peanut butter – I paid for it and I’m going to use it! Jaime – my grandparents were great savers too. I don’t think they ever used anything just once 🙂

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“Another masterful installment in Sundin’s roster of WWII novels.”
—Booklist starred review for Embers in the London Sky

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