Buddy, Can You Spare a Typewriter?

In this time of plenty, it’s hard to remember that during World War II, rationing restricted Americans’s access to a long list of consumer goods, including automobiles, shoes, meat and butter and …typewriters. With writing machines urgently needed for the military, people needed authorization from the Typewriter Rationing Board of the Office of Price Administration even to rent one. Forget trying to buy a new one — production halted on Oct. 31, 1942.

It reached the point where, in November, 1942, an associate of Luther Gulick’s — Ethel Warner, Director of the Academy of Political Science at Columbia University– urgently appealed to him though his connections at the War Production Board to pull strings at the OPA so someone would sign her application for a precious typewriter. “I am just stuck without it,” she lamented.

Alas, Gulick returned it blank suggesting she use it to reapply “through regular channels.”

He concluded archly: “Have you tried begging, borrowing or stealing a used machine?”

Here’s the correspondence:







typewriter rental certificate