Now more than ever, we need to hear about the power of home! What can we do from home that will make a difference? Well, I have an inspiring story for you. I’ve also included one of the recipes found in a book in our museum collection as well as a menu showing what foods were served in restaurants (Look for the baked beef tongue!) Perhaps you could try it and really see what quarantine as well as rationing would look and taste like…
The term “home front” is a fairly recent saying. During WWI, 1914-1918, this term came about in response to the Germans using airplanes to bomb cities for the first time. Airplanes were just starting to become a part of war and the idea that your cities were no longer safe was a brand new concept. The Germans were actually criticized for not fighting fair because they were the first to use their planes and, at that time, Zeppelins to bomb cities. Nothing like the scale or damage that happened in WWII during bombing runs, however, a mere twenty years later. But it was the first time it ever happened. Because the war ended up lasting for so many years, the nations involved had to get everybody immersed on all levels to maintain the pace of the war. So the idea of the home front being your factories, the morale of everyone concerned, and the general engine behind the war became a concept. WWI had the Western Front, the Eastern Front, and now the “Home Front.” People treated it with the same level of seriousness as any other aspect of the war. This idea proceeded into the next war. The nations had seen just how effective a backbone the home front could be.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, England was thrust on to the front line. Now most of America’s allies were involved in the war, however, all we could commit to do was help from a distance. WWI had ended only twenty years previously and our country was still spirling from the Depression. Our allies in China had been invaded by Japan in 1937, which arguably was the true beginning of WWII, when the nations started moving against each other. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Hitler took the Rhineland in 1936. After the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the American navel fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. was finally thrust into World War II. Everyday life across the country was dramatically altered. Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. Communities conducted scrap metal drives. To help build the armaments necessary to win the war, women found employment in many different areas they would normally never have been considered. In the earliest days of America’s involvement in the war, panic gripped the country. If the Japanese military could successfully attack Pearl Harbor and inflict catastrophic damage on the naval fleet and casualties among innocent civilians, many people wondered what was to prevent a similar assault on the U.S. mainland, particularly along the Pacific coast. Less than an hour after the Japanese bombed Hawaii, mines were being laid in San Francisco Bay. In coming days, trenches were dug along the California coast and from New Jersey to Alaska, reservoirs, bridges, tunnels, factories, and waterfronts were put under guard. Blackout curtains were hung in windows all across America.
“All over the Pacific that morning, the story was the same. In less than two hours over Pearl Harbor, Japan badly wounded the American navy and killed more than 2,400 people. Almost simultaneously, it attacked Thailand, Shanghai, Malaya, the Philippines, Guam, Midway, and Wake. In one day of breathtaking violence, a new Japanese onslaught had begun.” (Hillenbrand, 2010)
This fear of attack translated into a ready acceptance by a majority of Americans of the need to sacrifice in order to achieve victory. During the spring of 1942, a rationing program was established that set limits on the amount of gas, food, and clothing consumers could purchase. Gas rations in Colorado went down to three gallons a week. Families were issued ration booklets with stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables, and fruit to gas, tires, and clothing. Many children from that generation still have a taste for meat items like tongue, liver, and sweet breads (all leftovers inside the animals mashed into a meatloaf), because that’s what they were raised on. The United States Office of War Information released posters in which Americans were urged to “Do with less so they’ll have enough” (“they” referred to the U.S. troops). Meanwhile, individuals and communities conducted drives for the collection of scrap metal, aluminum cans, and rubber, all of which were recycled and used to produce armaments. Individuals purchased war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed conflict. From the outset of the war, it was clear that enormous quantities of airplanes, tanks, warships, rifles and other armaments would be essential to beating America’s aggressors. U.S. workers played a vital role in the production of such war-related materials. Many of these workers were women. Indeed, with tens of thousands of American men joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women began securing jobs as welders, electricians and riveters in defense plants. Until that time, such positions had been strictly for men only. During the war years, the decrease in the availability of men in the work force also led to an upsurge in the number of women holding non-war-related factory jobs. By the mid-1940s, the percentage of women in the American work force had expanded from 25 percent to 36 percent. Until 1943, women were wearing men’s clothing as denim and jeans had not yet been fit and made for women. The homefront was brought into the Second World War, and it would change the outcome. (Staff, 2010)