A look at an unorthodox element of World War II

Photo from the Warren Times-Mirror A public service announcement regarding fat salvage collection efforts during World War II.


How much of YOUR scrap went into that big scrap?

How much of the ammunition was made from YOUR waste fat?

That’s what readers of the Warren-Times Mirror found on the editorial page on July 14, 1943.

Welcome to the work of the American Fat Salvage Committee.

Photo from the Warren Times-Mirror This clip marks the first fat salvage reference I could find in the Times-Mirror, published in Dec. 1942.

Their mission was difficult – convince Americans that bacon grease could be just as valuable as scrap metal.

Before we get into local coverage of fat salvage efforts, a little background is necessary.

“In addition to marshalling physical resources for the war effort, the campaign had a fundamental impact on American attitudes,” according to the National World War II Museum.

“By convincing broad and diverse cross-sections of American citizens that their ‘doing without’ was patriotic and, indeed, essential for the outcome of the war, the ‘Salvage for Victory’ campaign represented one of the great propaganda victories for the United States government during World War II.”

Many were skeptical.

According to an article in The Atlantic, only about half donated excess cooking fats.

“Saturated fats were of little health concern at the time and cooking grease was hard to come by, especially once rations were imposed. But moreover, many distrusted government-dictated food programs which also threatened what became a defining feature of the American way of life: being well-fed.

“As the rationing of butter, lard, and meat was imposed beginning in 1943, fats became even more valuable. Women were also busier than ever, charged with holding down the home front and taking up many jobs previously occupied by men. Donating fats took time and sacrificed a basic cooking ingredient. Consequently, many women did not readily cooperate in the fat salvage program.”

But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a very concerted effort to push people to save fat.

Readers were met with a “DON’T STOP SAVING WASTE FAT” headline for an editorial in the Feb. 23, 1943 edition.

By that point in the war, savings had already started to slow.

“A special writer in Washington says it has been estimated that about one tablespoon of fat a day is the amount an average household can easily salvage – and 31 tablespoonfuls equal one pound,” the editors claimed. “And one pound in turn will fire four .37mm anti-aircraft shells. Or it will make a half pound of dynamite with which to blow up a bridge.”

They doubled down again in October.

“The least successful of all salvage campaigns has been that for waste fat from households,” the editorial asserted. “This fat is needed to make explosives. One pound of bacon and chicken drippings will make a pound and a half of gunpowder to fill shells used by Flying Fortress gunners to repel German and Japanese attack planes. One pound of drippings from a pork roast or the suet from beef will provide explosive to fire four 37-mm. Anti-aircraft shells.

“We could mention other uses for explosives in war. But why should we? Everybody knows how war depends upon explosives. It isn’t ignorance that makes waste fat salvage a failure. It isn’t lack of patriotism. What is it? Lethargy?

“Whatever it is, how about getting that fat to the butcher?”

“Grease the wheels of victory! Think of that every time you boil, fry, stew, grill or roast any food,” another editorial argued. “The need for fat is very acute. A spoonful thrown away means 5 lost bullets. So critical is the situation that even carcasses of dead animals are salvaged for their valuable fat content. Save all fats in any clean tin can. Turn them in regularly.”

A public service announcement published in the Times Observer walked people through how they were supposed to salvage fat: Save the fat (scraping and skimming pants and dishes) and weekly melt it down. Save it in a tin can and take it to a butcher.

“Get 2 red points and 4 (cents) for every pound. Start today!”

Red points stem from the food rationing system implemented during World War II.

“Under the food rationing system, everyone, including men, women, and children, was issued their own ration books,” according to the National Women’s History Museum. “Rationed foods were categorized as either needing red or blue points.

“Individuals wishing to purchase foods under the red points scheme, which included meat, fish and dairy, were issued with 64 points to use per month. For blue points goods, including canned and bottled foods, people were given 48 points per person for each month.”

An August 1943 article made the argument for fat salvage with county-specific data.

“One tablespoonful of waste household fats saved every day by each of Warren County’s 10,971 families

during the second year of the WPB (War Production Board) fat salvage campaign would provide enough glycerin to make 526,608 anti-aircraft shells, it was estimated today by the largest single collector of this vitally-needed war material.”

The quota for Pennsylvania was 1,428,500 pounds of fat each month.

The effort to try to link fat salvage as a direct element of the war effort comes through repeatedly in these accounts.

A small piece in Nov. 1943 made the claim that the “war in the American kitchen is going badly. To win it, said the American Fat Salvage Committee, housewives must save 230,000,000 pounds of used fats annually for the glycerin, oils and fatty acids needed to wage war.”

And the effort extended past the end of World War II.

From the Aug. 28, 1945 edition of the Times-Mirror: “V-J Day still leaves us alarmingly short of fats and oils. Because we will continue to be seriously short of these essential commodities for many months to come, it is just as important now as during the war to save every bit of used fat,” said a telegram from the secretary of agriculture.

“Now the use of kitchen fats are less spectacular but no less important. Fats and oils will be needed in large supply during the time of industrial reconversion and the change-over from war to a peacetime economy.”

It was acknowledged that imports of fats and oils would take time to restart once the war ended.

“The by-products of fats and oils make paints, synthetic rubber, soap, fabrics, linoleum, pharmaceuticals, varnishes, paper, lubricating oils and thousands of other everyday necessities,” the Times-Mirror reported.

“Housewives can hasten the return of housekeeping supplies that have been short during the war years, by keeping kitchen grease pouding into the fat salvage can and turning in every precious drop to meat dealers who are still authorized to pay out cash and red points for every pound.”


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