Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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October 19, 1943


The Office of Price Administration instituted meat rationing on March 29, 1943 to ensure an adequate supply for the armed services and to distribute that portion set aside for civilian consumption equitably. The OPA set ceiling prices for various cuts and grades as well. Many butchers believed that meddlesome Washington lawyers overly concerned themselves with the specific means by which fresh meats were prepared for consumers.

Each civilian was issued a ration coupon book containing denominations of points. In making purchases both the ceiling price in cash and the required number of points in coupons had to be surrendered. But coupons and cash did not guarantee the availability of desired cuts. The customer who did not enjoy a close relationship with his or her butcher often had to settle for inferior portions. As fresh meat became scarce a substantial black market developed. It has been estimated that nationwide as much as twenty percent of the civilian meat supply was purchased illegally during the rationing period. Cattle and hogs were stolen from ranches and farms and their carcasses sold to unscrupulous wholesalers and retailers. Neighborhood butchers often ignored regulations regarding fat and bone content and there were not enough OPA inspectors for strict enforcement.

Ground beef was a popular commodity which could be stretched with rice, potatoes, bread crumbs, cracker meal, soybeans, oatmeal, and other additives. OPA regulations allowed consumers to view the grinding of the cuts they selected. This alleviated fears caused by rumors of ground fat mixed with dried animal blood being sold as hamburger.

Points to Consider

Why was hamburger required to be ground "at least twice" with the final grinding through the holes "not more than 3/16 of an inch in diameter"?

How do 1943 prices compare to the price of a pound of hamburger today?

Why might butchers have objected to such directives?

As a 1943 consumer how might you have felt about this directive?

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