How World War II affected American transportation

Memorial Day is next week, and you might be looking forward to spending time with family, grilling some burgers, or hanging out at the lake. While it’s perfectly alright to partake in these activities on Monday, let’s not forget the reason we celebrate this holiday.

On Monday, we won’t just be eating good food and kicking off the summer season, we’ll be honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

World War II was a bloody, trying time in American history. The National WWII Museum estimates 416,800 members of the American military were killed during this war.

Not only was this war costly in human life on the battlefield, it also made life much more difficult for those at home. 


From more and more women stepping out of the home and into the workplace due to labor shortages, to a rise in poverty and a shortage of housing, lack of schools, hospitals, and child-care facilities, American families made their own sacrifices during the war. The war also impacted American transportation in numerous ways.

Gas rationing restricted private driving

During the war, Americans had to change the way they ate, dressed, and even traveled due to rationing efforts. Everyone knew what everyone else’s gasoline allotment was because stickers marked A, B, or C placed on windshields indicated how much each driver could get. Curbside arguments arose over why one family was receiving more gas than another, according to  

The amount of gasoline someone could receive was tied to factors like the distance to one’s job. In addition to A, B, and C categories, truck drivers were denoted with Ts while politicians and other “important” occupations sported Xs.

Tire rationing/rubber ration

The war in the Pacific cut off most sources of natural rubber, making it among the first items to be rationed. Scientists and manufacturers were frantically trying to develop synthetic rubber strong enough for tires, but despite heavy government financing, production of enough of it to meet demand was at least two years away.

According to World War II author Sarah Sundin, local Tire Rationing Boards doled out certificates for tires or recapping upon application. New tires were reserved only for vehicles involved with public health and safety (medical, fire, police, garbage, and mail services), essential trucking (food, ice, fuel), and public transportation. 

Recapping was allowed at the discretion of the local board for people with these occupations, and sometimes for taxis and defense workers who shared rides. Civilians could only keep five tires per automobile and had to surrender any others.


The purchase of new cars was restricted to people with certain occupations

Although tires could be tough to come by, the American public generally had a better chance of obtaining tires than driving away in a new car. From February 1942 to October 1945, no cars, commercial trucks, or auto parts were manufactured. The U.S. Office of Price Administration mandated no new-car sales to nonmilitary personnel, set price limits, and required indoor storage of unsold new cars.

Within two months of the December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, the last civilian cars exited the assembly lines, and auto plants were converted to military-only production of arms, munitions, trucks, tanks and planes. By December 1942, Detroit had become the "Arsenal of Democracy" and didn't resume civilian production of automobiles until the war ended in 1945.

The government sought to ensure the 532,000 new cars remaining would be saved and gradually given out to those critical to maintaining public safety and keeping the war effort going. Those allowed to purchase new cars included doctors, police and fire departments, critical war workers, and traveling salesmen.

Whether they were rationing gasoline and tires or fighting on the battlefield, Americans made sacrifices both at home and abroad to protect our country. While dealing with rations and widespread family separation must have been difficult on the home front, we are especially thankful for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This Memorial Day, join us in remembering those who have given all for this country.