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Thursday, June 07, 2012

For What It's Worth

In the early months after Pearl Harbor it was decided by the Roosevelt administration - for obvious reasons - to secure for military purposes a vast array of our nation's natural resources, agricultural produce, and industrial output, and to ration the remainder for civilian use. From the effort came the ration book that every American family had to use in order to buy butter, eggs, gasoline, meat, shoes, hosiery, and on and on.

One commodity in particular was of grave concern to the U.S. government at the time - rubber.  Because it was a resource that wasn't readily found here and inventories were in critically short supply.  Before the war America's stocks came out of Asia.  But that part of the world was swallowed up by our enemy, the Japanese, early on.  So rubber assets - and how to conserve them - became a momentous issue.

In mid-1942 the President appointed a committee (made up of financier Bernard Baruch, M.I.T. President Karl T. Compton, and Harvard President James B. Conant) to study the matter and make recommendations that would allow for the U.S. government to both supply the military with its needs of rubber-based products and keep America's then-29,500,000 car owners from having to hoof it to the grocery store.

In September of that year the committee came to Roosevelt with its recommendations.  Among them:

● To severely ration gasoline in order to cut down on driving.

● To restrict annual civilian driving mileage to 5,000 per year (!).

● To accelerate Goodyear's research dealing with the development of synthetic rubber.

And ...

● The establishment of a national speed limit.

That speed limit?

Do speedometers in cars even go that low these days?

A time long, long ago ...

* See Time magazine September 21, 1942 for details.