On Shortages, Rationing, and Such

April 11, 2011
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Barb Checket-Hanks

One of the things people on the home front remember about WWII was the rationing of materials and food, which were diverted to the war effort. In short, consumer goods took a back seat to military production. It had its effect on the fledgling refrigeration industry.

The list of rationed household items included tires, cars, bicycles, gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene, solid fuels, and stoves, in addition to more mundane items such as rubber footwear, shoes, coffee, processed foods, meats, canned fish, cheese, canned milk, and fats.

The restrictions that had the greatest effect on the electric refrigeration industry were those involving metals. Military use of refrigerants also limited what was available for nonmilitary uses.


Recycling became a matter of necessity. “Return cylinders promptly to speed your deliveries” pleaded Du Pont; “There is a serious cylinder shortage. We cannot obtain new cylinders.”

In 1942, G-E announced that it would rebuild units in order to aid its customers. It applied to all of the manufacturer’s household items, except furnaces, air conditioning equipment, and radios - and they were being re-evaluated. Its primary purpose, according to the company, was to provide service to customers “whose appliances fail during a war emergency.”

The need for food rationing also gave greater importance to the refrigeration industry, because of its impact on food preservation.

“Ample food for war depends largely upon commercial refrigeration,” stated an ad from Wilson Cabinet Co., Smyrna, Del. Its “farm-quick freezer” promised to refrigerate food quickly, reducing the risk of it going to waste - “waste” being a dirty word during those times. “Adequate refrigeration is indispensible in war,” the company stated.

Perhaps the greatest nod to the importance of refrigeration came from the government itself. “Refrigeration servicemen operating their own cars or trucks apparently will have little to worry about,” reported the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration News in our May 4, 1942 edition, regarding the gasoline card rationing plan that was to go into effect May 15 in 17 Eastern states. “No commercial vehicle will face restrictions under the plan.”

In addition, “It would also seem likely that refrigeration servicemen who have worn-out automobiles used in their work might get new cars under the ‘easing up’ of rationing of new automobiles,” we reported in the same issue. That was a big break. A need for a new vehicle was ascertained by meeting certain conditions, such as the need to travel quickly; to transport passengers or heavy tools and materials; to work late at night; or other unusual circumstances.


If you know someone in this industry, or retired from this industry, who likes to occasionally remind you what things were like during times like this, we invite you to enter them in a contest. During The NEWS’ 85th anniversary year, we are looking for our oldest subscribers, who will be celebrated in the pages of The NEWS and will win a special prize.

Please send your nomination to Barb Checket-Hanks, barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com; 2401 W. Big Beaver Rd., Suite 700, Troy, MI 48084. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Publication date: 04/11/2011
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