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

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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.

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Comments

  1. 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.

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