In 1942, coffee joined the list of items rationed in the United States by President Theodore Roosevelt, causing millions of caffeine-deprived Americans to get the jitters. The sugar and milk that went with coffee was also in short supply because of World War II.
In fact, there was record coffee production in Latin American countries during this period but civilian ships that would have carried those precious coffee beans and other foodstuffs were needed for the war effort, and so limited supplies reached our shores. A rationing system was introduced to try to give a fair distribution of food to all US citizens (it’s estimated about a third of all food commonly consumed by civilians was rationed at one point or another) and, of course, a black market in coffee flourished.
People with means could afford to buy rationed goods at prices higher than the ceilings set by the Office of Price Administration (OPA) and many people were willing to pay inflated prices for a cup of the good stuff. Those who couldn’t afford black market coffee probably drank Postum, a roasted grain and caffeine-free beverage that enjoyed an enormous rise in sales and popularity during coffee rationing.
Empress Coffee was a 1940s coffee brand that emerged after the end of the war. It was marketed to the housewives who had kept things going at home and who must have been thrilled to get their daily cup of strong coffee back again.
Courtesy Private Collection.
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