“War Comes to Town”

“War Comes to Town” (07/16/1942)
by A. B. Chapin (1875-1962)
18 x 18 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

Archibald B. Chapin was a renowned editorial cartoonist in the Midwest. He spent his early career in Kansas City, St Louis and Philadelphia. In 1942, he moved to Schenectady, New York, and drew a weekly cartoon for the National Weekly Newspaper Service. He died October 19, 1962, which means he was certainly staying active as an editorial cartoonist into his late 80s.

In early 1942, the US population needed to adjust to the civilian consequences of being in a large-scale war in ways that we have not faced since WWII.

This cartoon is from July 16, 1942.

In early 1942, the Japanese conquered the prime rubber producing nations of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, eliminating 91% of America’s rubber supply. And because cargo ships were needed for military purposes, the ability to import rubber from South America was reduced. The synthetic rubber program had just begun and didn’t produce enough to meet civilian and military needs. The military required rubber for vehicle and aircraft tires, pontoon bridges, gas and oxygen masks, medical equipment, boots, raincoats, shoes, and even erasers. Rationing of tires and rubber goods was announced on December 27, 1941, to start on January 5, 1942. Civilians were allowed to keep five tires per automobile, and were required to surrender any others. Men’s rubber boots and work shoes were rationed starting September 30, 1942 but most other civilian products made from rubber were no longer produced. People simply had to make do with what they had.

That same year, the United States began its first major national scrap drive. From June 15-30, 1942, the United States held a nationwide rubber drive. People brought in old or excess tires, raincoats, hot water bottles, boots, and floor mats. In exchange they received a penny a pound.

Rubber was not the only commodity needed for the war effort. Imagine going to the store and not finding batteries, thumbtacks, alarm clocks, or paper clips on the shelves. Metals were also needed for military purposes. Ships and planes and jeeps and guns and ration tins and helmets took precedence over civilian products.

The last automobile rolled off the assembly line on February 10, 1942, and cars wouldn’t be manufactured again until August 1945. On April 2, 1942, the US War Production Board ordered a reduction in the use of metals in packaging of civilian products. Anyone who wanted to purchase a tin tube of toothpaste, shaving cream, or medicated ointment had to turn in the old tube first. By March 1943, these restrictions resulted in the rationing of canned foods. Many everyday items became hard to find—can openers, kitchen utensils, steel wool, batteries, hair curlers, razor blades, wristwatches, thumbtacks, paper clips, pins, needles, zippers, garden tools, and bed springs.

In July 1942, a call went out to the public to donate late-model, nonessential typewriters to the military. Typewriters were rationed in the US from March 6, 1942 to April 22, 1944, requiring a certificate from the local ration board for a purchase.

Some programs ended up as humorous failures. In July 1942, the US government proclaimed a stop to the manufacture of beauty products—but a great uproar led to the repeal four months later. Sliced bread also briefly became unavailable, to conserve the metal blades. This ban lasted only a few months – don’t screw with sliced bread. Alarm clock production stopped in the US on July 1, 1942. However, employers all over the nation lobbied to resume production to reduce absenteeism.

These drives were often great community events, with performers, speeches, and opportunities to throw your scrap metal at a bust of Hitler. The need for paper increased during the war, too. The military’s love for paperwork could be blamed, but the military also used lots of paper packaging for supplies. On the civilian side, paper packaging had replaced tin for many products. Publishers found their paper allotment cut by 15 percent. Newspapers, magazines, and books were printed on fewer pages with thinner paper and narrow margins. Paperback books had been introduced in 1939 and also allowed for less paper. However, more scrap paper was needed. A paper drive in mid-1942 brought in so much paper that mills were inundated and actually called for a stop.

Here you can see a rubber drive underway, as is a scrap collection. Travel by horse and bicycle are featured.

“What’s the matter with the Government, anyhow? If I was running things, I would show them how to win this war”

“Got your ration card (for gas)?”

“How did you get your harvesting done? (with College boys)”

“Here goes another eighteen seventy-give to sock the Japs (you paid $18.75 for a $25.00 war bond)”

“A card party” (benefit card parties – whist, bridge and 500 will be played, proceeds to charity)

“She doesn’t save her tires to help win the war (driving 3 blocks to the store)… and she doesn’t do Red Cross or any other work, either”

“What will he do when they start to ration coffee?”

“I forgot my sugar card… Henry will need to use molasses in his coffee”

“I don’t know where my boy is, but I hope he can help stop terrible things…”

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