Winston Churchill Deals With a Question of Rationing and the Growth of Agriculture, as the Country Recovers from World War II

He encourages the inventor of Swiss-process butter making, saying the invention has potential to boost production, but rationing rules stand in the way at present

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Churchill himself would end butter rationing in his second term as prime minister, but not until 1954

War rationing in the United Kingdom began on January 8, 1940, as a means of ensuring the fair distribution of food and commodities when they were scarce. On that date, bacon, butter and sugar were...

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Winston Churchill Deals With a Question of Rationing and the Growth of Agriculture, as the Country Recovers from World War II

He encourages the inventor of Swiss-process butter making, saying the invention has potential to boost production, but rationing rules stand in the way at present

Churchill himself would end butter rationing in his second term as prime minister, but not until 1954

War rationing in the United Kingdom began on January 8, 1940, as a means of ensuring the fair distribution of food and commodities when they were scarce. On that date, bacon, butter and sugar were rationed. By 1942 many other foodstuffs, including meat, milk, cheese, eggs and cooking fat were also ‘on the ration’. Every week an adult was entitled to one egg, two pats of butter, a quarter pound of ham or bacon, and 1/8 pound of cheese. These were stringent amounts indeed. Ration books were given to everyone in Britain, who then registered in a shop of their choice. When something was purchased the shopkeeper marked the purchase off in the customer’s book. All knew that rationing was needed to defeat a principal strategy of the Germans – to attack shipping bound for Britain, restricting British industry and potentially starving the nation into submission. But rationing was the greatest complaint on the British Home Front during the war.

The war ended in 1945, but not rationing or austerity. In some aspects rationing actually became stricter, as many British men still mobilized in the armed forces, recovery from the war was painstakingly slow, there was an austere economic climate, and resources were not available to expand food production. In 1946 bread was added to rationing, causing much anger. Inventive people sought ways to increase production of rationed goods and ease the burden of rationing. Rationing in Britain would not be ended until 1958. By way of comparison, rationing was mostly ended in the United States in August 1945. The British people knew this, and there was a growing public anger at rationing, scarcity, and austerity.

In 1944, Dr. James Senn invented a method of making butter by creating a device that used CO2 (carbon dioxide), and he received a patent for it in his native Switzerland. The patent states, “This arrangement facilitates the manufacture of carbon dioxide butter and it avoids the well known disadvantages of the usual butter making methods. It further permits reduction of the duration of the whole process,…” It became known as Dr. James Senn’s C02 Swiss Process. In 1946 he sent a sample of his product to Winston Churchill, who was now the leader of the opposition, his prime ministership having ended the year before. Churchill had a well-known interest in raising cows, so doubtless Senn’s gift had the aspect of both a personal present and a product promotion.

Churchill responded encouraging Senn, and giving him hope for the use of his invention after rationing ended, but saying that rationing would not permit its use at present. Typed letter signed, on his personal letterhead, London, October 21, 1946, to Dr. Senn. “I write to thank you for your letter of September 27, and to let you know that I am very much interested in your CO2 butter machine, and in the various papers which you have sent me about it. At present in England no-one is allowed to make butter for sale, but only for personal use. All that I have heard, however, about your machine makes me believe that it would play a growing part in agricultural economy in proportion as normal conditions are restored.” Butter rationing did not end until 1954, during Churchill’s second term as prime minister.

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