Coffee & Conflict: Rations in Wartime

We’ve already seen how the Boston Tea Party made coffee drinkers out of Americans and how coffee helped fuel Union soldiers during the Civil War. By the time the United States entered World War II, the beverage’s popularity was at its peak. Radio had become a new medium for selling coffee. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a radio show called, “Over Cups of Coffee” sponsored by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau who consistently advertised, “Get more out of life with coffee.” She even made her famous radio address following the Pearl Harbor attack on this radio show. At this time, the average American was drinking 20 lbs. of coffee per year, or more than one cup a day.

NBC Radio - Pan-American Coffee Bureau

While our brave soldiers put their lives on the line during World War II, folks at home had to make some sacrifices. Coffee business was booming in Latin America, but it was difficult to get shipments to the U.S. due to shipping demands of the military and fear of U-boat attacks. Imports from Brazil sharply declined, though Colombia and Central America were able to send their coffee by train across the Mexican border. Coffee that did make it to the U.S. was prioritized for those at war (the annual per capita for soldiers reached a whopping 32.5 lbs. during this time).


Beginning November 29, 1942, coffee was a rationed commodity. To prevent hoarding, coffee sales were limited in October, easing people into the idea of doing with less. Individuals over the age of 15 were only allotted 1 lb. of coffee every five weeks, about half of what they were previously used to. On February 3, 1943, it was reduced to one pound every six weeks. Many tried concocting substitutes much like the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, while others would water down their coffee or reuse their grinds. This watered down coffee (if you can call it that) became known as “Roosevelt coffee.” However, President Roosevelt wasn’t fond of the rationing either as he was used to drinking at least one cup of dark roast every morning, brewing it himself. Restaurants that previously offered bottomless cups of coffee would limit customers to only one cup, unless customers were willing to pay $100 for their second as one business promoted (reported by Life magazine).


The rationing of coffee was so unpopular in the U.S. that it lasted less than a year. Many blamed poor morale on the home front to the limited supply of coffee. So on July 28, 1943, President Roosevelt announced that coffee was off the rationing list. However, those who liked their coffee sweetened were out of luck because sugar continued to be rationed until 1947. American coffee drinkers had it better off than their Dutch counterparts though; by the summer of 1943, a pound of coffee cost $31 in Nazi-occupied Netherlands (that is, when it was available at all). In 1944, U.S. coffee prices were raised to lower demand, and while upset, people begrudgingly complied because it was either that or going back to rations.

Despite the eight months of rationing and the increase in prices, coffee still counted for nearly 10% of all imports during World War II. We also saw a drastic increase in women working in the coffee industry during wartime. And (sarcastic) surprise- they performed just as well on the job as their male predecessors. Girl power!


What do you think? Could you ration your coffee intake if the circumstances called for it? Could you cut it by half?

Keep caffeinated,




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