Rockwell Files: The Ration Board

In this 1944 illustration, Norman Rockwell observed a World War II ration board — and managed to sneak himself into the picture

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


Readers of 1944 would have recognized the slice of homefront life pictured in Norman Rockwell Visits a Ration Board. Every adult in those years lived his or her life around constant shortages of gas, meat, sugar, and rubber, and ration coupons allowed the purchase of a strictly limited amount of these products. Occasionally an unexpected need would come up, and a citizen could appeal to the local rationing board for extra provisions.

When Rockwell asked permission to portray his own ration board in Arlington, Vermont, he was met at first with suspicion. They’d been approached by citizens with so many angles for obtaining rationing exemptions, they might have been excused for thinking Rockwell had hit on another ploy. But Rockwell convinced them he was earnest.

They asked — jokingly, no doubt — that he at least make them look good in the finished picture. Rockwell instantly recognized a bargaining point. “If I do, will you give me a B card?” he replied.

Like most Americans, Rockwell had an “A” card, which entitled him to purchase three to four gallons of gas each week. But if his rationing board thought his work was important to national defense, he could have been given a “B” card, which would let him buy up to eight gallons a week.

We’ll never know whether he failed to make his illustration flattering enough or whether the board members simply failed to see why the artist’s work rose to the level of national security, but Rockwell’s request was rejected.

This article is featured in the July/August 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: ©SEPS

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. Sadly, you have printed the picture incomplete. My Uncle James Riley McCooey was the Chairman of the Rationing Board and was sitting at the far right, the head of the table. He had a pipe in his mouth. The response to Mr. Rockwell, as family legend has it, was that if he didn’t make them look good, the board would “take away his A card”. And indeed, in the poster of this print, it has the same story. My uncle was possessed of a quick but very dry New England humor.
    Pam Baker

  2. I recognized Rockwell right away, Jeff. The board members look like ‘tough customers’ to me from their facial expressions and body language. I’m not that surprised his request for the ‘B’ card was rejected, despite who he was.

    The board I’m sure had pretty strict criteria they had to meet (and justify) to grant a card for twice as much gas in 1944. He likely needed the extra gas for possibly going on location regarding a new Post cover, which would have been business, not pleasure. Meanwhile, it looks like the man standing holding his hat probably didn’t get what he wanted either.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *