Rio History: When Rubber Meets the Road







By Steve Hathcock

I was chatting with Rod Bates the other day, at Rio Bravo Gallery located next to Little Caesars Pizza in Port Isabel, when a young woman came in and showed him some items that had come from her father in law’s estate. Among the old bank notes and currency was an odd little book that Rod easily identified as a War Ration Coupon Book issued during World War II. 

As the Japanese conquered the rubber producing regions along the Pacific Rim, military planners in Washington realized rationing would become necessary if the country entered the war. As a result, The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was created by Executive order during the summer of 1941. A rationing system was put into place shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Tires and cars were the first item rationed and a temporary freeze on sales of both was initiated as factories were converted to wartime production. Only certain professions qualified to buy any remaining inventory with doctors and clergymen topping the list. 

During the war years civilians were issued ration books with each classification of item having its own stamp. Each person in a household, including small children and infants, were issued their own allotment of everything from sugar and canned milk to tires and gasoline. An “A” sticker on a car (issued to those with the lowest priority) allowed its owner to buy 3 to 4 gallons of gas per week. “B” stickers, which were issued to those employed in the military effort, allowed for the purchase of eight gallons of gas a week, while a “C” sticker which was issued to those deemed very essential to the war effort, such as doctors. Truckers were issued a “T” sticker which allowed the user larger amounts of gasoline, based on delivery manifests. “X” stamps, which carried the highest priority, were issued to police, firemen and civil defense workers and allowed its holder unlimited supplies. 

Each stamp had either a drawing of an airplane, gun, tank, aircraft carrier, or an ear of wheat, fruit or other garden item and a serial number. Some stamps also had alphabetic lettering. 

The system could be confusing. For example, in addition to its cash price, one airplane stamp was required in order to buy a pair of shoes, while one stamp, number 30 from ration book four, was required to buy five pounds of sugar. The commodity amounts changed from time to time, depending on availability. Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.

To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued “red point” tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and “blue point” tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes (16 mm) and were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply.

Of course there was a black market in stamps. To fight this, the OPA ordered merchants not to accept stamps that they themselves did not tear out of books. However, the booklets themselves were of poor quality, and a buyer often times claimed that the stamps had “fallen out” while in actuality the stamps may have come from a family member, a friend or the black market. Rationing ended in 1946.


Below is a related article from the Brownsville Herald:

Brownsville Herald April 16, 1944

Baled Rubber Washes

Up On Valley Beaches

Fisherman lands bale thinking it a bass

Priority gold is being washed ashore on Padre Island it was reported Saturday ‘ Good, grade-A, rubber latex baled and in good condition has been hauled out of ‘the gulf at Boca Chica,

More is reported strewn along the beach on Padre Island.

George Harnlick and George Nelson thought they had hooked a deep sea bass at the Boca Chica jetty, two days ago but it was a bale of rubber. The bales now being washed ashore, it was believed, might be cargoes of the ships sunk in the Gulf two years ago, when the Nazi submarine menace was at its height.

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