Sep 24, 2009

Ration Warning

Another image produced for the US government. Its caption reads: "The United States is at war and the law will show no mercy to anyone who sells - or buys - black market food."

As this series of images from World War II demonstrates, rationing isn't fun. Putting such a system in place consumes enormous amounts of human energy, is difficult for consumers to understand, is unpleasant for sellers as well as buyers, and requires enforcement mechanisms that threaten dire consequences for cheating.

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. [American Memory link]

Sep 22, 2009

Rations Bureaucracy (3)

Am I the only one who's confused - and thanking my lucky stars I was born in a peaceful era in which resources are plentiful? As the caption accompanying this photo explains:

"When the weight of a rationed product does not come out to even pounds, the point fraction table at the bottom of the official consumer table show point values for ounces. If the odd weight comes out to a fraction of a point, a retailer can collect an extra point if it is a half point or more. But if it is less, the customer does not need to give up an additional point."

(See posts immediately previous to this for additional info.) Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. [American Memory link]

Sep 20, 2009

Rations Bureaucracy (2)

Like the previous image, this photograph appears to have been produced by the US government in order to explain ration procedures to the general public. The caption reads:

Point values on butter, lard, margarine, and other edible fats and oils are set by kind and weight. Points on rationed cheese are set the same way. Points on canned meat and canned fish are also set by kind and weight.

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. [American Memory link]

Sep 18, 2009

Rations Bureaucracy (1)

Taken in 1943 by US government photographer Alfred T. Palmer, this image was apparently used to explain the rationing system to consumers. Its caption reads:

On the day rationing begins, the row of "A" stamps becomes valid. And a new row of stamps becomes good every week on Sunday: "B" the second week, "C" the third, and so on. Stamps will continue to be good after the week is over. But they will expire at the end of the month. At that time "A," "B," "C," and "D" stamps will all expire together.

[American Memory link]

Sep 16, 2009

Scarce Meat

Taken by Alfred T. Palmer in 1943, this photo was meant to demonstrate the concept of meat rationing in the United States during World War II. Its long caption is worth reproducing in full:

"[E]very single farmer, butcher, or local slaughterer who slaughters and sells meat, is required by law to get a permit from the nearest county War Board of the Department of Agriculture. This permit must be obtained by all who want to slaughter meat after March 31. It can be revoked and taken away from any permit holder who slaughters and sells more meat than the law allows him to under his quota. Every one of these permits will have a number. And the number of every permit holder must be plainly marked on all the primal cuts of the meat he sells. This provides one more way you can spot illegal meat. Permit number (or establishment number) missing? A phony price? An offer to sell without ration points? Watch for any of these signs. They point straight to black market meat." [bold added]

The caption on a related photo reads: "Meat is rationed by the kind and cut as well as by the pound. Every kind and cut has its own point value."

[American Memory link]

Sep 14, 2009

Children Only

The sign reads: Oranges for children only. Described as an official British photo, this image highlights the grim measures that may become necessary during wartime.

The photo caption explains: "In the distribution of certain foods, such as oranges, British children and invalids receive priority. Through this plan various foods are allocated to those who need them most to maintain good health."

Image is dated April, 1943. [American Memory link]

Sep 12, 2009

Controlled Consumption

"A shopkeeper cancels the coupons in a British housewife's ration book for the tea, sugar, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week. Most foods in Britain are rationed..."

[American Memory link]

Sep 10, 2009

Waiting for Shoes

In June 1943 in Washington D.C., these folks were part of a larger crowd waiting their turn to purchase shoes "on the last day on which war ration shoe coupon seventeen" could be used.

Photo by Esther Bubley. [American Memory link]

Sep 8, 2009

Gasoline Ration Card

Taken by an unidentified photographer during the early 1940s, the fine print on this document emphasizes that successful rationing depends on faith and trust. There is "an agreement that the holder will observe the rules and regulations governing gasoline rationing as issued by the Office of Price Administration."

Meanwhile, the caption that accompanies this photo underlines the bureaucratic nature of such endeavors: "Gasoline ration card B3. Registrars are empowered to issue B3 cards to persons whose applications show that their vocational requirements are greater than those which the basic allotment card A provides and cannot be met by B1 or B2 cards."

[American Memory link]

Sep 6, 2009

Gas Rationing

During World War II, gasoline was vital to the military campaign. As a result, the amount available for domestic US consumption was rationed. The caption accompanying this photo reads: "Gas station attendant checking ration coupons against license plate of Washington, D.C. Dodge automobile. Sign on sidewalk reads 'Today's quota sold'."

Photo by Albert Freeman, July 1942. [American Memory link]

Sep 1, 2009

Coal Mountain

A coal loader in Minneapolis, 1939. (Click image for larger view.)

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Aug 30, 2009

Train in the Mist

A West Virginia trainyard, September 1942.

Photo by John Collier. [American Memory link]

Aug 28, 2009


The information desk in Chicago's Union (train) Station. 1943.

Photo by Jack Delano. [American Memory link]

Aug 26, 2009

Steam Engine

A train departs from Chicago's Union Station, January 1943.

Photo by Jack Delano. [American Memory link]

Aug 24, 2009

Meeting the President

A farmer receiving drought assistance from the government speaks with President Roosevelt in North Dakota, 1936. Click image for a larger view.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein. [American Memory link]

Aug 21, 2009

Milk Train

Be sure to click this image for a larger view. The caption accompanying this shot tells us this milk arrived in Caldwell, Idaho via train. 1941.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Aug 19, 2009

Iowa Train

Awaiting a freight train's departure in Iowa, 1940.

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Jul 31, 2009

on vacation - back soon

All the best

Jul 27, 2009

Truck Stop

A gleaming, vital image of a trucker grabbing a meal at a Mississippi truck stop in 1943. (Click photo for a larger view.)

Taken by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Jul 25, 2009

Pepe's Cafe

Taking a break at Pepe's coffee shop in Key West, Florida, 1938. The chairs and tables look European in both design and scale.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein. [American Memory link]

Jul 23, 2009

Greek Coffee

A lush, crisp shot of the owner of a coffee shop in 1938 Pennsylvania. (Click image for a larger view.)

Photo by Arthur Rothstein. [American Memory link]

Jul 21, 2009

Reading the Mail

This young man, photographed in 1942 Idaho, looks remarkably contemporary.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jul 19, 2009

Making Soap 2

Cutting homemade soap (comprised of grease and lye) into bars. In a rural community with few medical services, ensuring that the knife didn't slip was crucially important. New Mexico, 1939.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jul 17, 2009

Making Soap

Ah, yes, the good ol' days, when one spooned grease and lye into a tub set over a woodfire. Eventually the whole mess hardened and one cut it out of the tub in chunks.

The thing we forget when we romanticize living 'close to the land' prior to modern manufacturing is that it involved hour upon hour of unpleasant, tedious and frequently dangerous work. There's a reason the people in so many of these photos look older than their years.

Photo taken by Russell Lee in New Mexico, 1939. [American Memory link]

Jul 15, 2009

Candy Stand

A candy stand at a farm auction frequented by Amish, Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch families. Pennsylvania, 1942.

Photo by John Collier. [American Memory link]

Jul 13, 2009


Deciding on which candy to buy. Idaho, 1941.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jul 8, 2009

Helping Out

George Carell's seven-year-old son lends a hand in his father's workshop that produces war equipment. 1942 New Jersey.

Photo by Howard Liberman. [American Memory link]

Jul 6, 2009

Worry and Hardship

A father with his sick child. This man moved his family from Texas to Oregon in a homemade trailer in 1939 in order to secure work in a potato field.

Photo by Dorothea Lange. [American Memory link]

Jul 4, 2009

Hanging With Grandad

A fourth of July picnic in Vale, Oregon. 1941. (Click the image for a larger view.)

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jul 2, 2009

Fruit Pickers

A father with his four sons in 1940 Michigan. The caption accompanying this images reads: "Migrant father and sons living in back of truck in fruit pickers camp...The two older boys work with their father picking cherries."

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Jun 30, 2009

On the Move

A fine shot of a father and his son. The image caption says they're boarding a train in West Virginia, bound for New York state where they'll work as agricultural laborers.

Photo by John Collier. Sept. 1942. [American Memory link]

Jun 28, 2009

Father of Nine

Tip Estes, a 43-year-old father of nine, with four of his offspring. Indiana, 1937.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jun 26, 2009

Three Generations

A father, his daughter, and his grandchild. When this photo was taken in San Antonio, Texas in 1939 this family's home was described by the photographer as a "shack".

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jun 24, 2009


Three days ago, Father's Day was celebrated in Canada and the United States. That same afternoon, the father of a young friend of mine departed this mortal coil, having lost a battle with cancer.

The child being held by her father in this photo was awarded first prize in the 'healthiest baby contest' at the Shelby County Fair and Horse Show.

Taken by Marion Post Wolcott, in Kentucky. 1940. [American Memory link]

Jun 17, 2009

Healthy Specimen

August Ehlen, a Colorado farmer, examines a sugar beet. 1939.

Photo by Arthur Rothstein. [American Memory link]

Jun 16, 2009

Tea in Wartime

This 1943 photograph has the following caption:

"North Africa, long starved by the Axis, sees the American flag on tea from the United States, 800 tons of it. Six million half-and-quarter-pound flag-stamped packages have been distributed so far. Fourteen million packages of cotton goods, used clothing, condensed and powder milk, sugar, tobacco, and other essentials have gone into North Africa since our occupation in November."

[American Memory link]

Jun 15, 2009

Four Freedoms

Taken in 1943 by an unidentified photographer, the caption accompanying this photo reads:

"In enemy-occupied countries where matches are scarce, five tons of them have been circulated by methods which must remain military secrets for the present. They carry this message to every match lighter: "The Four Freedoms--Freedom to speak, Freedom to worship, Freedom to think, Freedom from want."

[American Memory link]

Jun 14, 2009

Flag Day

Women at a New Jersey flag company trim threads from a flag made for the United States government. Americans commemorate the adoption of their flag each year on June 14th.

Photo by Marjory Collins, 1943. [American Memory link]

Jun 13, 2009

Beet Fields

Minnesota sugar beet workers in Minnesota, 1937. (Click the image for a larger version).

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

Jun 12, 2009

Sugar Beets

Loading a truck with sugar beets. Nebraska, 1938.

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Jun 11, 2009

Community Chest

Many of us associate the term "community chest" with the boardgame, Monopoly. Turns out, it was an earlier incarnation of the United Way charity. Nebraska, 1938.

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]

Jun 10, 2009

Field Trip

Highschool students visit the Lincoln Memorial in 1942. The caption accompanying this photo says these students were chosen for their "intellectual alertness" and rewarded with a week-long trip to Washington, D.C.

Photo by Marjory Collins. [American Memory link]

Jun 3, 2009

Standing Tall

A monument dedicated to the copper miners of Arizona. I love the watercolor look of the clouds.

Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1937. [American Memory link]

Jun 2, 2009

After the Rain

Sunbathers in Maryland, 1943.

Photo by Esther Bubley. [American Memory link]

Jun 1, 2009

Missouri Umbrella

Taken in a school in Missouri, 1938.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

May 31, 2009

Recovering from the Rain (Two)

A day laborer repapers his roof. His house was in such poor condition that such repairs were necessary after every rainfall. Oklahoma, 1939.

Photo by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

May 30, 2009

Recovering from the Rain (One)

The caption accompanying this photo is succinct: "West Texas farmer replanting cotton. Had three inches of rain which washed out the first crop."

In an agriculture-based economy, too little rain is disastrous. Too much is also bad news. More seed must be purchased and time must be spent re-planting. Not to mention the costs associated with an abbreviated growing season.

Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1937. [American Memory link]

May 29, 2009

Keeping Dry

Workers seek refuge from the rain in Louisiana, 1938. (Click the image for a larger view.) The man on the far-right has a stump rather than a foot.

Taken by Russell Lee. [American Memory link]

May 28, 2009

Pittsburgh in the Rain

Rain, like sunshine, is life-giving and vital. Too bad we humans have no control over how much of it falls - or at what speed or intensity.

Photo by John Vachon, July 1941. [American Memory link]

May 27, 2009

Detroit in the Rain

As automakers slide into bankruptcy, in Michigan rain is a blessing, a curse - and a metaphor.

Taken in July 1942 by Arthur S. Siegel. [American Memory link]

May 26, 2009

Umbrella Repair

A man repairs an umbrella in Baltimore, Maryland. 1943.

Photo by John Vachon. [American Memory link]