Gas Rationing in World War II

1922 Ford Model T located at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska.

I used this photo of a 1922 Ford Model T coupe in a post the other day, and I wanted to point out that the car has a gas-rationing sticker from World War II on the lower driver’s side corner of the windshield. 

It is an “A” sticker which was the basic ration, and therefore the most common, but drivers could apply for supplemental rations “B” and “C” if they could show a need for extra mileage based on their occupation or if they were performing duties deemed essential to the war effort.  

Gas rationing in the United States began in eastern states in the spring of 1942 and was in place nation wide on December 1st of that year.  The primary goal of the rationing was not to protect the gas supply but to conserve rubber after the Japanese cut off America’s supply of the precious commodity.

Gas rationing involved a complicated system that was designed, in theory, to prevent cheating.  Each car (and its tires) had to be registered to receive a sticker, and no gas was to be transferred to any vehicle that didn’t have one.  A coupon book was issued for a specific car, and you could not buy gas for one car with coupons issued for another car.

Gas ration form published November 5, 1942.

To purchase gas, you gave the attendant coupons equivalent to the amount of gas bought.

Photo of a gas station attendant in Merion, Pennslyvania, published in the July23, 1942, issue of the Caledonia Record.

The driver was not supposed to remove coupons from the book prior to the purchase.  The attendant pasted the coupons on sheets that had to be turned in to the distributor before the gas station’s supply would be replenished. 

In connection with the recent pandemic and associated hoarding, I have heard people draw comparisons to this period of WWII rationing.  They tend to wax poetic and idealize it as a time when people embraced the idea of making do with less simply because it was their patriotic duty.  Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but people will always be people and the newspapers back then were filled with stories about hoarders and cheats:

In October of 1942, the National Safety Council warned the public on the dangers of hoarding gasoline, saying that the vapor was highly explosive and a spark could cause an explosion that could destroy a house and cause death or injury.  “You may get an extra ride by hoarding gas, but the chances are it will be to the hospital.”

In Allentown, Lehigh Valley motorists drained every service station in the area the night before rationing took effect:

In Boston, there was such a rush for gasoline that it made the “Yukon gold rush look like an amateur showing” in comparison. Drivers waited for hours at gas stations, hoping for a gas truck to show up, and more than 50 cars followed a gas truck along the Concord Turnpike until it reached its destination with everyone clamoring for gas before the truck even came to a halt.

Also in Massachusetts, 112 gas rationing books containing coupons for 36,000 gallons went missing from the Cambridge rationing board’s supply.  Not coincidentally, it was also reported that the state OPA (Office of Price Administration) director was investigating a report of bootleg ration books being sold in Cambridge. In California, an entire carload of gas rationing books went missing, and, in our nation’s capital, 10 filling stations were linked to black-market racketeering in ration coupons.

In October of 1942, many California tire dealers were charged with violating tire rationing regulations including the California Highway Commission Chairman. It was claimed that the Governor of California was trying to cover for him.

In Oregon in 1944, a surprise raid on the city’s largest high schools found many drivers with illegal rations, both teachers and students.  One driver had four “A” books, none registered to his own car, and many of the students were driving “C” cars.

Other stories reported the illegal mixing of kerosene and other substances with gas to increase mileage as well as hoarding gas in closed gas stations, but I think you get the picture. Some people did find lawful ways around the restrictions, however. The first picture shows F & M students using “a 34-year-old horse and a runabout that’s even older” to make it to campus, and I just love the last photo which features a group of young women with a car-sharing club that were all employed at the Hamilton Watch plant in Pennsylvania:


“112 Gas Rationing Books ‘Missing’ in Cambridge.” The Burlington Free Press, 21 July 1942, p. 1

“Answers to Gas Rationing Questions.” The Caledonian Record, 23 July 1942, p. 1.

“Car Sharing and Horse Used to Save Gas.” The Lancaster New Era, 25 July 1942, p. 1.

“Gas Ration Forms are Distributed.” The Salinas Californian, 5 November 1942, p. 2.

“Gas-Rationing Sticker Must Be on Autos.” The North Hollywood Valley Times, 18 December 1942, p. B.

“Gas Sidelights.”The Boston Globe, 21 July 1942, p. 8.

“Inquiry Into Black Market in Gas Rationing Launched.” The Los Angeles Times, 15 November 1942, p. 11.

“Jaloppy Roundup Finds Many With Illegal Rations.” The Medford Mail Tribune, 15 March 1944, p. 1.

“Last Minute Motorists Have Their Worries.” The Morning Call [Allentown], 22 July 1942, p. 5.

“Oil Scion’s Bride to Be.” The Caledonian Record, 23 July 1942, p. 8.

“OPA Answers Your Gas Rationing Questions.” The Salinas Californian, 10 November 1942, p. 10.

“Public Warned on Danger Involved in Gas Storage.” The Bakersfield Californian, 14 October 1942, p. 5.

“Rent Control Forms, Gas Ration Books Still Lost.” The Pasadena Post, 13 November 1942, p.1.

“Tire Dealers Give Selves Up.” The Los Angeles Times, 21 October 1942, p. 10.

“Tires Must Be Listed to Get Gas Rationing Books.” The Fresno Bee, 6 October 1942, p. 1.