Bureaucracy: Consumer Rationing in World War Two

Massmann, Robert E, and Ruth E. Adomeit. Consumer Rationing in World War Two. New Britain, Conn: REM Miniatures, 1979. Print.


This exhibit contains two components: a miniature pamphlet, titled War Ration Book Four, and a miniature book, titled Consumer Rationing in World War Two. Both pamphlet and book are 2 inches by 2.5 inches, and they are collected in a cardboard sleeve with a miniature WWII-era announcement affixed to the cover.  The announcement was purportedly issued by the United State Office of Price Administration, urging people to “Never buy rationed goods without ration stamps” and “Never pay more than the legal price.” The collected set was published in 1979 by Robert E. Massmann, a well-known publisher of miniature books.

The pamphlet collects several WWII ration stamps pasted onto the pages. The only text in the pamphlet is handwritten in the front cover. It reads, “These are genuine World War II ration stamps” and is signed by Massmann. The ration stamps are 1.5 in by one-half inch paper rectangles, and they would have been distributed by the U.S. government in books of 28 beginning in 1942. Rationing operated as an exchange or trade system: consumers would give their ration stamps to merchants in exchange for goods, such as tires, household cleaning supplies, sugar, and oil. It is important to note the types of items that were rationed—the items were staples, not luxuries. In addition to helping conserve valuable war materials, the goal of these rationing stamps was to help save time, money, and manpower needed for the war effort.

The book that accompanies the pamphlet is a brief history of rationing and its connection to the expansion of labyrinthine bureaucracy in the war years. Although the ration stamps were intended to support the American war effort by streamlining the distribution of commodities, several problems resulted from the use of ration books, including counterfeiting. Another problem was that some commodities were deleted from and subsequently re-added to the list of rationed items, creating confusion. A third problem associated with ration books was that consumers had to register for each book, typically once a year starting with the first book in 1942, the second book in 1943, and so forth. This registration process was not only inconvenient, but it allowed the government to keep track of consumers.

Despite the attempts to streamline the rationing system and process, Massmann’s text makes clear that his miniatures are not intended to celebrate the rationing system itself but its passing. In the opening pages of the book, he writes, “Bureaucracy surely reached one of its pinnacles with the growth of the ensuing complexity of booklets, cards, stamps, coupons, certificates, and tokens.” The closing sentence expresses his “fervent hope that such measures never again become necessary.”

Find Consumer Rationing in World War Two in the UNT Libraries Catalog.