Online Exhibits

Setting the Table (1941-2018)

Bringing changes to the kitchen table

This exhibition was developed by Durham Museum intern and UNL graduate, Haiden Nelson.

World War II rationing brought changes to the Omaha kitchen, including some activities that we do recreationally today.

Do you and your neighbors tend a vegetable garden? Does anyone in your family can fruit or follow “Meatless Mondays?” These self-sustaining life style trends of today were choices of necessity during World War II.

Rationing ensured that there was enough food and supplies available during the war; new solutions were needed in the kitchen. The government encouraged citizens to plant their own vegetable gardens to ensure food security. People canned fruits, jams, and preserves to maintain food supplies year round.

Today, urban gardens are found in many city neighborhoods. Canning, pickling, and making jams or preserves, have made a comeback. Just as they did during World War II, these activities promote community involvement and awareness of our resources.


Rationing, a program implemented from 1942-1947, maintained food and supplies for military personnel overseas and citizens at home.

The Office of Price Administration (OPA) directed the ration program. By managing prices, the OPA prevented inflation from causing a second Great Depression. Controlling prices of everyday goods, ensured that everyone had what they needed. The government stated “Price ceilings have been established for your protection,” on the backside of ration books.

American citizens registered to receive booklets of paper coupons called “ration stamps.” The ration stamp cost of food changed depending on the scarcity of resources. The amount of stamps needed for food products was published in the newspaper and displayed in grocery stores.

Cooking and Baking

When rationing was implemented in 1942 people expanded on Depression Era food thrift skills. Common ingredients like meat and sugar were scarce, they came up with ways to be creative with their food.

“Meat-less Mondays,” not consuming meat, even one day a week, saved meat resources for fighting troops.

Sugar was imported from tropical countries like the Philippines. During the war, Japan prevented these exports from going to the US. To prevent a sugar crash, the Office of Price Administration instated a ration program so everyone could have their share of the existing sugar.

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The Government encouraged growing vegetables at home and in community gardens during World War II. Reducing produce consumption on the civilian side meant more produce for the military. It also meant that the military saved money, for investment back into the war effort.

Commonly known as “Victory Gardens,” people planted fruits and vegetables wherever they had open space. Businesses and community organizations held contests to get the public excited about their gardens.

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Canning was an effective way for families to save food. People relied on canned goods as a source of food when all the crops were harvested and the ration stamps were spent.

Canning is a method of preserving food. It uses high heat and either sugar or salt to kill bacteria. Home canners use glass jars with heat activated seals to keep the food air-tight until it is time to eat.

Canning has modernized since 1945. Today canners adjust their techniques for glass stove tops, large freezers, and other modern appliances.

In the 1940s canners would take the lids out of pots of simmering water right before sticking them on their jars. In 2014, Jarden (Ball canning jar company) stated that room temperature lids adhere to their canning jars.

Many recipes from the 1940s are not considered safe by modern food safety standards. Some recipes for canned tomatoes do not account for the difference in acidity between our grandparents tomatoes and modern ones. Often, extra acid needs to be added to these recipes.

The important goal is to kill Clostridium botulinum spores before sealing it away.

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