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Advice & More July 2016

Silver Screen, Golden Years

Gas Rationing in World War II-era Movies

By Jacqueline T. Lynch

As noted in Life magazine of August 27, 1945, the end of rationing received as much joyful hysteria across the nation as did the end of the war.

In these days when the price of gasoline dominates our conversation, we might care to look back on the era of World War II gas rationing, at least as it was presented in the movies.

The purchase of war bonds and scrap collection were promoted with cheerful and unrelenting vigor to the public, but the rationing of gasoline was handled by the movies in an almost subliminal way. No need to antagonize an already grumpy audience about doing the right thing when the government was making them do it anyway.

In Since You Went Away (1944), Claudette Colbert and Joseph Cotten take a moonlit drive and she remarks, "It's pleasant being in a car again, isn't it?" To which Mr. Cotten replies,"Yes. We used to take everything so for granted. Now I feel like a king just because I can rent one for a week."

Soon a motorcycle cop stops them to chat because, "It gets so lonely along this road since gas rationing."

The gas rationing in the U.S. during World War II was really more to conserve tires than it was to save gasoline. The Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies and their rubber plantations cut off our supply of rubber. Rationing began on voluntary basis, but by spring of 1942 much of the eastern seaboard states adopted mandatory rationing. By December of 1942, it went national and continued until August 15, 1945.

And, for speed demons out there, the speed limit was set at 35 mph for the duration of the war. Car pools were the order of the day. Motorists were issued ration books, and stickers to place on their cars that determined how much gasoline they were allowed to purchase each week. If you had a sticker with the letter "A" on it, you were allowed three to four gallons per week. As we can see in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Falling Hare (1943), in which an airplane runs out of gas because it has only an "A" sticker on its fuselage, the "A" sticker didn't get you very far.

The MGM cartoon, Swing Shift Cinderella (1945) depicts a scooter on which the fairy godmother is riding also has an "A" sticker. You couldn't get to the ball on an "A" sticker.  In fact, the police might even stop you for pleasure driving, which wasn't allowed. But an "A" sticker could get you to work, at least if you didn't live 50 miles from your workplace, the way some folks do today.

The "B" sticker got you a little more gas, eight gallons a week.  In I'll Be Seeing You (1944) we see Joseph Cotten and Ginger Rogers getting into an automobile with a "B" sticker on it. The movie shows you there is a sticker on the car and these characters in the movie are observing the law, but it's not even mentioned. No hard sell to remind us of our patriotic duty.

However, in another scene where they take a bus to the country, two men stepping down from the bus behind them with golf bags remark cheerfully, "I told you it was no use wasting any gas." They have done their duty by leaving the car at home and taking public transportation to the golf course.

"C" stickers were for physicians, clergy, mail carriers, and railroad workers. "T" stickers were for truckers. They were allowed unlimited amounts of fuel. An "X" sticker went to members of Congress.

In Christmas in Connecticut (1945), we see the "B" sticker on the sheriff's car after he has brought Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan home after a night in jail. One would think a sheriff would get a "C" sticker, but perhaps the use of certain cars and stickers on the studio back lot was a bit haphazard.

In The Big Sleep (1946), you can see the "B" sticker on private eye Humphrey Bogart's car. The "B" doesn't stand for Bogie. Or Bacall, who's in the passenger seat. The film was completed in early 1945, but wasn't released until 1946, so it was anachronistic the moment it was released, as rationing ended when the Japanese surrendered.  As noted in Life magazine of August 27, 1945, the end of rationing received as much joyful hysteria across the nation as did the end of the war.

When Bogie tells the district attorney he earns $25 per day on the job he's doing, plus expenses, the DA responds, "That's $50 and a little gasoline."


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century, available online at Amazon, CreateSpace, and the author. Website:

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