Early in the Second World War President Roosevelt established the Office of Price Administration (OPA). The new agency was charged with controlling prices of and regulating demand for materials essential to the American war effort and that of allied nations being supplied by the United States, particularly China, Great Britain and Russia. One of the OPA’s main tools was the rationing of a vast range of products, including for example coffee and cars as well as sugar and shoes. The program was implemented by issuing rational coupons and tokens to citizens and businesses. The response was predictable, and in some ways presaged the recent response to Covid-19: Millions of citizens embraced privation as a patriotic duty, millions others bent the rules as opportunity presented, and some broke the rules entirely and made a mint on the black market.
This Ration Map of the United States was issued in 1943, and features an outline map of the country all-but covered with humorous vignettes of Americans going about their daily business. The title suggests a send-up of the OPA’s policies, their execution, and their impact. Indeed, at lower left the mapmaker offers a guarantee of sorts:
“This Map is absolutely guaranteed to be goofy. Anyone finding any sense in it will be awarded a handsome, hand-embroidered coffee-cooler. End of quotes.”
And the map certainly delivers: while vessels sail off to China and Russia loaded with supplies, the “Home Front Grocery” is sold out, in Idaho the “last Idaho potato” is “on exhibition today only”, a few pathetic beets (or turnips?) emerge in a Minnesota Victory Garden, and “water [is] strictly rationed here in the Gila Desert”. In Illinois a plaque identifies “Curmudgeon Hall birthplace of Harold L. Ickes”; Ickes, of course, was Secretary of the Interior during the War and coordinated the country’s energy supply, including the rationing of gas and oil.
Yet many of the vignettes have little or nothing to do with rationing—for instance, a sign marking the “scene of the battle of the zoot suits” in California; “Arkies” migrating to California; a beefy Nevadan lounging in a chair saying “Keep up the home front, folks”; and in Texas an armed man sitting in front of two women, one remarking “Pappy don’t even know what he’s a-layin’ fer—a German, a Revenooer, er a Japanee.” Despite McCandlish’s “goofy” guarantee, I wonder if the map has a sharper message hidden behind the send-up of rationing, namely the self-absorption of Americans on the home front and their obliviousness to the fighting and dying going on overseas.
A native of West Virginia, McCandlish (1887 – 1946) trained as an artist before being drafted and serving in France during the First World War. After the war he bounced around some, married in 1919 and eventually settled in Stonington, Connecticut, where he established The Character Toy Guild. The venture seems not to have succeeded, and some time in the 1920s he and his family moved on to Michigan. During the 1920s and 30s he worked as an illustrator, cartoonist and writer for the Washington Post and Detroit Free Press. His later years saw yet further moves, to Geneva, New York; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and North Brookfield, Massachusetts, during which time he held a variety of jobs, from aircraft manufacturing to promotion director for a radio station. He died suddenly in North Brookfield at the age of 59.
In map-collecting circles McCandlish is best known for his 1926 Bootlegger’s Map of the United States, like the Ration Map “Deranged [i.e., “arranged”] by Edward McCandlish.” As one might expect from the title, the Bootlegger’s Map was an equal-opportunity jap at Prohibition, gently poking fun at both the few who enforced it and the many who evaded it. Putting the two maps side-by-side, I get the sense that underneath all the fun McCandlish had a serious interest in the ongoing tension between civic responsibility and self-interest.
In 1943 or 1944 the Hagstrom Company seems to have purchased the rights to McCandlish’s two maps. In 1944 it issued new editions of both, in the same graphic style but with major changes. In both cases the most obvious of these was the introduction of the fictitious mapmaker “Bill Whiffletree”, a logorrheic hillbilly or hobo whose musings were introduced in panels of text at the bottom of each map. Also that year the New Haven Chamber of Commerce published his Un-Convention-Al Map of New Haven.
Both the 1943 first and the 1944 second (“Whiffletree”) editions of the Ration Map are very rare, with OCLC recording only two institutional holdings of the former and three of the latter. Further, I have found no record of another example of the first edition having appeared on the market in the past 30 years and know of only two examples of the second.
OCLC #1104854172 (Library of Congress and Dartmouth only, as of July 2021). Rumsey #13136 (the 1944 Hagstrom “Whiffletree” variant). Not in Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection. Biographical information on Edward McCandlish from Roderick Barron, “Edward Gerstell McCandlish’s “Bootlegger’s Map of the United States””, on line at Barron Maps Blog.