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“Aluminum for Defense”: Rationing at Home during World War II

The productive capacity of the United States during World War II surpassed all expectations. To boost that production and maintain supply levels for troops abroad, Americans at home were asked to conserve materials and to accept ration coupons or stamps that limited the purchase of certain products. Gasoline, rubber, sugar, butter, and some kinds of cloth were among the many items rationed. American responses to rationing varied from cheerful compliance to resigned grumbling to instances of black market subversion and profiteering. Government-sponsored posters, ads, radio shows, and pamphlet campaigns urged Americans to contribute to scrap drives and accept rationing without complaint. “Aluminum for Defense,” a comic program from New York’s radio station WOR in 1941, conveyed some of the tone of these campaigns. This excerpt, complete with clashing pots and pans, moved from Times Square to Harlem to the tony Stork Club.

Listen to Audio:

Announcer: Aluminum for defense.

Joe Ripley: Good evening, everyone. This is Joe Ripley speaking from Times Square in the heart of New York City. And all this week, Americans from coast to coast were contributing old aluminum for national defense.

Well, we’ve asked the Honorable Stanley M. Isaacs, the borough president of Manhattan, to come to our microphone and see if he has a word for you. Here’s Mr. Isaacs.

Stanley Isaacs: I want to thank you people of Manhattan for the way you have responded to the appeal of our Mayor LaGuardia for aluminum for defense. This drive is a mighty important one. It’s the first time that all of the people have had an opportunity to take part in the defense program. And don’t think that the results are not being carefully watched abroad.

Ripley: And now Bill Robinson, you, as mayor of Harlem, can you give us, as we start here, a report on how Harlem is going ahead with this great drive?

Bill Robinson: Oh, brother, Harlem is hittin‘ on all six cylinders. Every time I make a [s]top, they’re throwin’ pans and pots out of the window.

Ripley: The place is really jumping with pots and pans, huh, Bill?

Robinson: I mean, it’s jumpin' high.

Frank Gunn: This is Frank Gunn speaking to you from the Stork Club, where an aluminum-collection party is now in progress. Standing before our mutual microphone right now is one of the screen’s most lovely singers and actresses, Kitty Carlisle.

Kitty, do you think it’s a good idea for people around the country to give aluminum-collection parties such as this party here at the Stork Club tonight?

Kitty Carlisle: I think it’s a simply wonderful idea. And if you’re like me and you don’t really know the difference between tin and aluminum, it doesn’t make any difference. Bring everything you have, because the more, the merrier.

Gunn: Still another of the famous persons here at the Stork Club tonight is lovely Miss Josette Daly, New York debutante. What is your contribution, Miss Daly?

Josette Daly: Oh, gobs of bracelets and hair curlers.

Gunn: Gobs of bracelets and hair curlers.

Daly: Yes.

Gunn: Well, would you just chuck it in the box over there, Miss Daly?

Source: Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Recorded Sound Division.

See Also:Fibber McGee and Molly on Mileage Rationing