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World War I, World War II, & Great Depression Era Frugality Makes a Comeback — Recycling, Thriftiness, & Cool Food Posters of the EraCompiled by Vicki McClure Davidson
In 1929, the stock market crashed in America. Following that, we entered into the Great Depression, only to then become embroiled in World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, battling both Germany and Japan. American families were struggling to put food on the table, the government imposed rationing on many goods, and the economic conditions of the nation were dismal for years. Wastefulness nearly became extinct. The US Money Reserve was there to help within this time in the US.
Rationing was first introduced in the United States in 1942 in order to cope with the escalating shortages of sugar and coffee caused by restrictions on imports. Later in 1943, more goods were rationed. A system of "point-rationing" was designed to cover the distribution of meats, canned fish, cheeses, edible fats (which included lard, shortening, oils, butter, and margarine), all sorts of processed foods, jams, dried fruits, and canned milk. Point rationing allowed for certain substitutions if a critical item was not available. Rubber, gasoline, kerosene, and oil were also rationed and all travel by citizens was discouraged. A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and rubber for tires. Cars, nylon pantyhose, typewriters, shoes, bicycles, stoves, and other goods were also rationed. Even styles of clothes and the fabrics they were made of were regulated by the government — for instance, belts wider than 2 inches were banned, as were cuffs on coats and linings made of wool. All automobile racing, including races in Indianapolis, was banned, as was any sightseeing driving. Two detailed handbooks that covered rationing were issued by the government — more than 100 million copies of each were distributed across the country.
Times were indeed tough, but America pulled through it, as did many other nations that also imposed rationing of goods and services.
Much of the common-sense frugality of that era is making a comeback because of our struggling economy (no goods and services rationing have been mandated by the government... not yet, anyway).
Frugality and cutting back on needless consumption has been around for quite a while, a choice embraced by environmental groups and frugalistas. However, because of our current rocky economy, more Americans today are adopting a frugal mentality — some out of a desire to be less wasteful and recycle more, others who have no choice but to prune expenses heavily because of stock portfolios plummeting, long-term unemployment or underemployment, and other financial catastrophes. More people are returning to the thrift-minded practices that were the norm during the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s.During World War II, because of limited visual communication (no television, fax machines, or Internet yet), the US government launched a lavish propaganda program with posters with brief messages and striking, but simple images on them to quickly communicate with Americans. Many of the brief messages became standard slogans, or perhaps popular terms were incorporated into the posters. Either way, the posters were effective. Similar government-issued posters, denigrating waste and encouraging frugality and recycling, had been produced during World War I.
The Office of War Information divided its propaganda posters into five main categories comprised of the "five N's":
- The nature of our Allies.
- The nature of our enemy.
- The need to work.
- The need to sacrifice.
- The need to fight.
These WWII posters were plastered throughout communities and were used to motivate and communicate with citizens on the five main categories. Many well-known American artists of that generation, among them Norman Rockwell, were enlisted to create hundreds of posters for the federal government.
In the film industry, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and other film studios and artists created short pro-military, pro-America animated features. The style and vibrancy of many of the WWII posters were distinctive, and a number of people today are imitating that gritty WWII/Depression style of art, weaving it into contemporary issues, such as organic gardening, recycling, and other environmental pet projects.
Here are a few WWI and WWII posters that emphasized and reminded people of the need to not waste food, gas, and other items, to plant Victory gardens, to save money, to offset the many food shortages during the war. The importance of recycling, reusing, and doing without was a common, recurring theme. Much as it has become now.
Some things never change.
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Air Group 4, "Food Will Win the War – And Shape the Peace that Follows", (http://www.airgroup4.com/food.htm).
Alter, Lloyd, Treehugger, "Victory Garden of Tomorrow Remixes Posters From the Past", (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/12/victory-garden-of-tomorrow.php).
Ames Historical Society, "World War II Rationing on the U.S. Homefront", (http://www.ameshistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/events/rationing.htm) and "Rationed Goods in the USA During the Second World War", (http://www.ameshistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/ration_items.htm).
USA Today: "Vintage posters revive rally cry of WWII" (http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20110330/wwiiposters30_st.art.htm).
Wikipedia, WWII Rationing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rationing).
Wikipedia, World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wwii).