In May of 1942, the United States was in its first full year of World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the date which President Franklin Roosevelt said would “live in infamy,” factories throughout America had retooled their machinery to manufacture a myriad of items necessary for the war effort. Factories which had produced vehicles for the general public began building military vehicles, tire factories switched from producing tires for the consumer market to producing tires for the military. The Office of Price Administration, which had the power to ration scarce supplies such as automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, shoes, coffee, etc., predicted that there would be a shortage of several items, including gasoline. The Office of Defense Transportation, which was established to control domestic transportation, concluded that rationing gasoline would cause owners to drive less, which would extend the life of automobiles and their tires, and would conserve fuel and oil for military use. For this reason, the government began rationing gasoline.
Car owners throughout the United States applied for ration cards. Each ration card had the car owner’s name and address, along with the make, model and serial number of the car. Along the bottom of the ration card were several tabs which would be punched with each purchase of gasoline (see example below). In addition to the card, the ration board issued each automobile a windshield sticker with a specific letter on it. The letter denoted how many gallons of gasoline the owner could purchase for that car per week. The most common was an “A” sticker which allowed the owner to get just 4 gallons of gasoline per week. Stanley’s car was assigned an “A” sticker.
On May 21, 1942, Stanley Stepno went to his local rationing office in Holyoke, Massachusetts to get a new gasoline ration card. He had used his last stamp to put a gallon of gasoline in his car. Stanley parked his car outside of his local rationing office and got in the long line. Every few minutes, Stanley got a step or two closer to the front of the line. Finally, after a long wait, it was Stanley’s turn.
Getting a new ration card was a long process. To get a gasoline ration card, Stanley had to prove to the ration board that he had a need for gasoline. Stanley needed the gasoline to get to and from work. Due to the rubber shortage, Stanley had to persuade the board that he owned no more than five tires, four tires on the car and a spare. After reviewing and verifying all of his information, Stanley received his new ration card. After a sigh of relief, Stanley made his way outside and passed by the long line of people who were begrudgingly waiting their turn. Stanley returned to the parking spot where he parked his car, but another car was in its place. While Stanley was getting his gasoline rationing card…someone had stolen his car.
1. The Boston Globe, May 21, 1942, p.24.
2. The Neosho Daily News, June 18, 1942, p.4.
3. Lentenello, Richard. “How Gas Rationing Worked During World War II.” Hemmings.com. December 30, 2019.