This Day in History: November 29th

Today in History: November 29, 1942

coffee2Rationing was a fact of life during World War II throughout many countries in the world, and most attempted to bear it with good humor; but coffee rationing, which started on this day in history in the United States, wasn’t accepted so resolutely.

Before the start of the war, Americans were drinking more coffee than at any other time in the country’s history, with consumption estimated at 20 pounds per adult annually.

Rationing had nothing to do with availability, as coffee supplying countries were producing record crops. Transporting the product was the issue; all ships were being used to serve in the war effort, and German U-Boats were lurking in the shipping lanes to attack Allied merchant vessels.

On November 29, 1942, every American over the age 15 was entitled to be able to purchase one pound of coffee every five weeks, which amounted to less than one cup per day over that span, or about half of the previous consumption levels. Some people lucked out and benefited from the rations of non-coffee drinking friends and family, but most had to suffer through withdrawals from one of the world’s favorite drugs so prevalent in coffee.

Naturally, various ways to make a little coffee go a long way were bandied about, most of them pretty vile. The obvious solution was to use less coffee per cup. Adding chicory or postum to the coffee, or, in really desperate circumstances, used alone as a coffee substitute, was also grudgingly practiced. Reusing the grounds resulted in a watery, rather icky beverage called “Roosevelt coffee,” in “honor” of the president.

Life magazine ran an article on November 30, 1942 covering the newly implemented coffee rationing. They reported coffee shops were now limiting each patron to a single cup. Life claimed they did encounter a coffee shop willing to provide a second cup – for the low, low price of $100 (about $1300 today).

Coffee wasn’t the only necessity that was rationed during World War II. By the end of 1942, gasoline purchases were restricted to three gallons per week. Butter, sugar and milk were staples that were also rationed, leading to an active black market for those that could afford it.  At one point, pre-sliced bread was even banned, though this was a banning too far and public outcry quickly got sliced bread back on the shelves.

President Roosevelt ended coffee rationing on July 28, 1943.

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