How NOT to Be Buried Alive

07 Mar 1908, Sat The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) Newspapers.com


“Are you sure that your relative is actually dead, when the coffin is fastened, never to be opened”? –Louisville Daily Courier, 1868

What options did a person have over a century ago if they wanted to avoid being buried alive? A look through historical newspapers from both sides of the Atlantic gives us some answers!

Safety Coffins

One option for preventing “premature burial” (also called “premature interment”) was the safety coffin. Though designs differed, safety coffins typically included a signaling device that let people above ground know the person in the casket was still alive.

Numerous illustrations and articles about safety coffins appeared in newspapers of the time. One featured in the papers was designed by Russian count Michel de Karnice-Karnicki. According to the Stockton, California, Daily Record in 1901,

[The] apparatus consists of a tube four inches in diameter, a box, and a few appliances for signaling. The tube is placed over an aperture in the coffin, and the other end of it appears above the surface of the ground, where it is surmounted by the box. Through the tube passes a rod, on the end of which, inside the coffin, is a ball. The slightest movement of the body in the coffin is communicated to the rod, which in turn releases springs. The door of the hermetically sealed box flies open, the bell rings, and the signal ball rises above the grave to a height of six feet.

Karnice-Karnicki's safety coffin designKarnice-Karnicki’s safety coffin design 26 Apr 1901, Fri Stockton Daily Evening Record (Stockton, California) Newspapers.com


Other types of safety coffins were featured in newspapers as well, such as:

One safety coffin got quite a bit of newspaper attention in 1868 when its inventor, Franz Vester, gave a public demonstration in New Jersey about how it worked. In addition to the typical alarm system, newspapers noted that Vester’s coffin also included a “receptacle for refreshments.”

Beyond Coffins

But not everyone who feared premature burial wanted (or could afford) a safety coffin, so other methods focused on ensuring that a person was truly dead before burial.

One option frequently discussed in newspapers was to build “waiting mortuaries,” which were reportedly used in Germany. The ideal waiting mortuary was a closely monitored, comfortable institution where bodies could be kept until they showed signs of decomposition—or signs of life.

Description of waiting mortuariesDescription of waiting mortuaries 23 Oct 1896, Fri Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) Newspapers.com


Newspapers also documented other suggestions for verifying death, including:

Some people’s fear of being buried alive even led them to request specific procedures prior to burial, such as asking that their head be amputated, their heart pierced with a needle, or their jugular vein cut.

Turning Anxiety into Action

Just how often people were actually buried alive during the Victorian era is unknown. Even at the time, its prevalence was hotly debated in the European and American medical communities—and in the press.

20 Dec 1899, Wed Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) Newspapers.com
13 Dec 1897, Mon Freeland Tribune (Freeland, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.com


Whether premature burials were common or not, the popularity of the topic reflects a real anxiety among some segments of the population at the time—an anxiety that certainly wasn’t diminished by the numerous “true” newspaper accounts of people being buried alive.

But in some cases, this concern led to action. Perhaps most noticeable were the associations that lobbied for regulation of death certificates and other aspects of the death verification process—hoping to prevent the “unspeakable cruelty” of premature burial.

Find more newspaper stories about premature burial on Newspapers.com™. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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The New England Vampire Panic

In the late 1800s, a sense of panic invaded New England. An alarming number of people were dying of consumption, and residents became convinced that vampire-like creatures were the cause. They believed the vampires were gradually sucking the blood out of innocent victims. To combat the threat, locals sometimes exhumed the bodies of loved ones and ritually burned their organs. They believed this would stop the vampires and prevent the spread of the disease. One of the most famous vampire stories involved Rhode Island resident Mercy Brown.

The Boston Globe 1.27.1896

Consumption (now known as tuberculosis) is spread through bacteria and was one of the leading causes of death at the time. Those infected gradually became sicker and often spread the illness to other family members. Consumption hit the Brown family of Exeter, Rhode Island, especially hard. George Brown was a respected farmer, who along with his wife Mary Eliza, raised seven children. Mary Eliza contracted consumption and died in 1883. The following year, daughter Mary Olive, a 20-year-old dressmaker, also died. In January 1892, daughter Mercy, 19, died, and son Edwin, 24, was sick.

Superstitious neighbors approached George and convinced him that he should exhume the bodies of his wife and daughters. It was, they suggested, the only way to save Edwin. The superstition held that vampires slowly drained the blood from the living and put it into the hearts of the dead. Thus, a buried body with blood in the heart evidenced that vampires were at work. The only way to stop the vampires was to find corpses with blood still in their organs, remove the organs, and ritually burn them.

Boston Evening Transcript 1.18.1896

Hesitant but desperate to save his son, George agreed to the plan. On March 17, 1892, several men from the community went to work digging up the remains of the Browns. Mary Eliza had been dead nine years, and her remains were in an advanced state of decomposition. Mary Olive’s body had also decomposed. But when they disinterred Mercy, they found blood in her heart. She had died two months earlier, and the freezing temperatures had preserved her body.

They removed Mercy’s heart and liver and ritualistically burned them on a stone. The ashes were mixed with a tonic and given to Edwin to drink. The ritual proved ineffective, and Edwin died two months later. By 1899, George lost six of his seven children. Over the next few years, the belief in vampires waned. It took another 40 years until scientists carried out the first clinical trials for the treatment of tuberculosis.

If you would like to learn more about the New England Vampire Panic, search Newspapers.com™ today!

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150th Anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire

On the evening of October 8, 1871, Catherine O’Leary stepped outside her house in Southwest Chicago. She fed the horses and led them to the barn before retiring for the night. Catherine and her husband Patrick were already in bed when a neighbor noticed flames coming from their barn. He alerted the O’Learys’, but dry and windy conditions allowed the fire to grow out of control. Within ten minutes, two blocks were ablaze. The fire came to be known as the Great Chicago Fire, and by October 10th, it consumed some five square miles. More than 17,000 buildings burned to the ground, and 300 people died. Although folklore states that the fire began when Catherine’s cow kicked over an oil lamp, no one really knows how it started. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the fire.

Chicago Tribune October 11, 1871

Chicago was incorporated in the 1830s and grew to become the world’s largest grain port by the 1850s. The city was built predominantly of wood and was prone to fires. It had been unusually hot and dry in Chicago that fall, and the area was experiencing a drought. When the fire started at the O’Leary farm, tinderbox conditions quickly led to a firestorm that overwhelmed the city. Firefighters attempted to douse the massive flames, but the city’s waterworks burned and cut off water to the hydrants.

As the fire spread, it jumped the south branch of the Chicago River and destroyed much of central Chicago before jumping the river again and consuming the Near North Side. Windswept sparks landed on roofs and sheds, starting new fires. The fire burned for about another 24 hours, essentially unchecked.

Emma Schultze was 8 years old at the time. She recalled that her family woke at 2:00 a.m. to friends pounding on the door, telling them the city was ablaze. Although they lived on the outskirts of town, the Schultze family saw flames headed in their direction. Emma’s father dug a hole in the front yard and dumped in the family linen, silver, dishes, bedding, and even furniture. Emma’s mother quickly dressed her in layer after layer of petticoats and dresses. Finally, with their arms laden with household items, the family set out on foot towards the home of a friend. Several days later, they returned to find the smoldering foundation of their home. As they explored the ruins, hot ashes burned the soles of their shoes off. The Schultze family joined more than 100,000 people left homeless in the wake of the fire.

The Chicago Tribune, unable to publish papers on October 9th or 10th, described the scene in the October 11th edition. “This city has been swept by a conflagration which has no parallel in the annals of history.” By the night of the 9th, the fire began to burn itself out. A light rainstorm that night helped douse the final hot spots.

Chicago Tribune October 11, 1871

Reconstruction began almost immediately, and relief poured in from around the country and abroad. Railroads offered free passage to those who wanted to leave. Improved building techniques and updated fire standards helped Chicagoans rebuild and emerge as a modern city. Just two decades later, Congress named Chicago the host city for the 1893 World’s Fair.

If you would like to learn more about the Great Chicago Fire, search Newspapers.com™ today or visit our Great Chicago Fire Topic Page to see curated clippings related to the fire.

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The Rational Dress Society and Victorian Dress Reform

In 1881, a group of high society women gathered in London to form a new organization. They named their group the Rational Dress Society, intending to reform Victorian women’s dress. The group came up with criteria for the perfect dress. It included:  

  1. Freedom of Movement
  2. Absence of pressure over any part of the body
  3. No more weight than is necessary for warmth, and both weight and warmth evenly distributed.
  4. Grace and beauty combined with comfort and convenience
  5. Not departing too conspicuously from the ordinary dress of the time

Their ideas were revolutionary and controversial. Typical Victorian dress styles incorporated heavy fabrics, tight corsets, bustles, hoop skirts, and extravagant ornamentation. The women argued that dress reform would allow them to participate in activities like cycling. Bicycles had become a symbol of freedom for many women who found the sport liberating and emancipating.  

Lady Harberton

A founding member of the society was Viscountess Florence Wallace Pomeroy, also known as Lady Harberton. Lady Harberton, the daughter of wealthy landowners, married James S. Pomeroy. He later became the 6th Viscount Harberton. In 1880, Lady Harberton took up the cause of dress reform. She loved to cycle, but heavy, long skirts prevented her from enjoying the activity. She championed the reformed dress, which consisted of baggy pantaloons worn underneath a knee-length skirt. She also invented the divided skirt, which initially evoked jeers on both sides of the pond. Some feared that trifling with a traditional women’s dress was a step down a path to loosening moral values.

In 1883, the Rational Dress Society sponsored an exhibition held in London. The exhibit included shorter dresses, divided skirts, “costumes for climbing for lady mountaineers, and a costume for walking.” One man reported to The Times that the women in his family discarded their corsets and found new freedom in dancing, walking, tricycling, lawn tennis, and other open-air exercises. They vowed never to return to corsets and heavy skirts. Attitudes for many women (and men) were undergoing a seismic shift. The “woman of the future” wanted freedom in her clothing – and freedom within other aspects of her life.  

The struggle for rational dress came to a head after an incident in 1898. Lady Harberton went cycling in Surrey. She stopped for lunch at the Hautboy Hotel but was turned away for improper dress. Lady Harberton sued the hotel but lost the case because the hotel had offered alternative seating in the bar. Nevertheless, the case brought attention to rational dress and a victory for women who advocated for it. Lady Harberton spent decades promoting clothing that would make life easier for women. Later in her life, she also became an advocate for the women’s suffrage movement. Lady Harberton died in 1911. The Guardian eulogized her as an “enthusiastic and undaunted advocate” for dress reform.

If you would like to learn more about Lady Harberton, or the Rational Dress Society, search Newspapers.com™ today!

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“More Horrors Yet to Come”: How Newspapers Covered the Belle Gunness Murders

Belle Gunness & childrenBelle Gunness & children 03 Dec 1908, Thu The Salina Daily Union (Salina, Kansas) Newspapers.com


It started with a tragedy. In the early morning of April 28, 1908, a farmhouse near La Porte, Indiana, burned to the ground with a woman and three children inside.

Then it got unimaginably worse. As local authorities investigated the fire, another body was discovered—this one buried in a hog pen on the property. Further digging would unearth numerous other corpses and body parts in the days that followed.

The farmhouse had belonged to Belle Gunness, at the time simply believed to be a widowed Norwegian immigrant but now infamous for being one of the most prolific female serial killers in the United States.

Though estimates vary widely, Belle Gunness is believed to have killed at least a dozen people (and possibly upwards of 40) between 1884 and 1908.

Belle Gunness in the Headlines

When her crimes were finally discovered in 1908 after the Indiana farmhouse fire, the gruesome murders understandably made newspaper headlines nationwide for weeks.

What would it have been like to read about those shocking events as they unfolded each day? We turned to the Indiana papers on Newspapers.com™ to experience how people of the era would have learned about Gunness’s appalling crimes.

A Farmhouse Burns

The first of the news stories appeared in Indiana papers on April 28, 1908. They reported that a house fire in the pre-dawn hours was believed to have killed Belle Gunness and three children.

28 Apr 1908, Tue The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com


By the next day, the papers identified Ray Lamphere as a suspect in the deaths. Lamphere had worked for Gunness as a farmhand, but the two had recently had a falling out. Gunness repeatedly reported Lamphere to the authorities in the weeks leading up to the disaster, and shortly before the fire she visited her attorney to draw up a will—purportedly because she feared for her life.

29 Apr 1908, Wed The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com


More Corpses Appear

Then, a week later, on May 5, newspapers began breaking the news that multiple dismembered corpses had been unearthed on the Gunness property.

The discovery had come almost by chance. A man named Asle Helgelien had arrived in La Porte looking for his brother, who was known to have visited Belle Gunness. A search for clues about the missing brother on the burned Gunness property led to an examination of unusual depressions in the ground in a hog pen. Men started digging—and discovered one body after another.

05 May 1908, Tue Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana) Newspapers.com


Newspaper coverage of the gruesome discoveries exploded the following day, May 6. Practically overnight, papers shifted from portraying Belle Gunness as a victim to identifying her as a killer who had lured countless well-to-do bachelors to their deaths using newspaper marriage ads.

06 May 1908, Wed The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) Newspapers.com


The body count only grew as the week progressed. “More horrors yet to come,” predicted one Indiana paper. And it was right. The corpse of Gunness’s teenage foster daughter, Jennie, was found among the buried bodies, as was Helgelien’s brother, and a number of unidentified victims.

The total number of murders ascribed to Gunness varies, though it’s suspected to be at least a dozen. After the bodies buried on the farm were found, people also began to suspect that Gunness was responsible for the deaths of her two husbands, who had both died under suspicious circumstances.

08 May 1908, Fri The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com


The Mystery Deepens

The investigation was complicated by conflicting evidence about whether Gunness had actually been killed or if she had faked her own death and escaped. Lending credence to the theory that Gunness had survived was her supposed corpse, which was mysteriously missing the head. Additionally, some who saw the body felt it was too small to be Gunness.

06 May 1908, Wed The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com


Other news coverage, however, reported that the body had indeed been Gunness, based on dental work and jewelry found at the scene.

12 May 1908, Tue The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Newspapers.com


With so much about the Gunness case unresolved, newspaper coverage eventually slowed. The story did return to the papers later that year, however, when Ray Lamphere was convicted in November of setting fire to the house, though not of murder.

01 Dec 1908, Tue The Hamilton County Ledger (Noblesville, Indiana) Newspapers.com


Even today, we don’t know much more than they did in 1908 about the Gunness murders. The total number of victims, the extent of Lamphere’s involvement, whether Gunness died or escaped, and much more is still a mystery. The question posed by one newspaper in 1908 still stumps us more than 110 years later: “Is she dead or a murder fiend?”

Find more news coverage of Belle Gunness on Newspapers.com™. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11

September 11, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of four coordinated terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group, against the United States. The attacks began at 8:46 a.m. EST on September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed a hijacked commercial jet into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A second hijacked jet crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. A third hijacked plane hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., and a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field at 10:03 a.m., after passengers and crew aboard attempted to retake the aircraft from terrorists. In less than two hours, 2,977 innocent people lost their lives, and our country changed forever. Many remember where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard the news of 9/11. Newspapers around the world worked feverishly in the hours and days following the attacks. Reporters gathered facts and reported the news. Soon the human toll emerged as heartbreaking stories came to light. We’ve combed through our archives to bring you a sample of 9/11 headlines from across the country and around the world.

Los Angeles Times – September 11, 2001
New York Daily News – September 12, 2001
The Independent: London – September 12, 2001
The Sydney Morning Herald: Sydney, Australia – September 12, 2001
Calgary Herald: Calgary, Canada – September 12, 2001
Evening Standard: London – September 12, 2001

Where were you on the morning of 9/11? See more headlines from this tragic chapter in American history on Newspapers.com™.

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New Papers from Washington and Michigan!

We have recently added new papers from Tacoma, Washington, and Michigan to our archives. With these new titles, we’ve added over 7 million images in July and will add another 8 million in August. We’re on track to add 40 million new pages by the end of the year! Our archives keep growing and we’re working hard to bring added value to your Newspapers.com subscription.

Washington: In 1873, the Tacoma area was chosen to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Tacoma was incorporated in 1875, and in 1880 the weekly Tacoma Ledger was founded. The News Tribune traces its roots back to that paper, which became The Tacoma Daily Ledger. The Daily Ledger merged with The News and the Tacoma Tribune to form the Tacoma News Tribune and Ledger in 1918. The paper adopted the name Tacoma News Tribune in 1979, and our archives for The News Tribunedate back to 1889.

The News Tribune 11.08.1940

In July 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened to traffic. Engineers realized the bridge swayed in windy conditions, earning it the nickname “Galloping Gertie.” Just four months after the bridge opened, it collapsed spectacularly on November 7, 1940. The bridge began to sway in 40-mile-per-hour winds, then oscillated and twisted until finally breaking apart. Before its collapse, college student Winfield Brown paid a dime for the thrill of walking across the bridge in high wind. When the bridge began to rock, Brown described the terror. “I was certain I wasn’t going to make it…sometimes the bridge tipped right on its side, and I could look straight down at the water, 190 feet below.” Brown said when the motion became too intense to stand, he crawled. He saw the bridge cracking up as pieces of concrete whistled past his head. He finally made it off the bridge just before the collapse. His only injuries were bruises and abrasions.

Michigan: Our new Michigan papers include The Pigeon Progress and The Progress-Advance from Pigeon; The Huron County News from Harbor Beach; The Huron Tribune from Bad Axe; The Elkton Advance from Elkton; The Saginaw Daily News from Saginaw; and The Huron County News from Port Austin.

The Huron County News 04.02.1862

These papers date back to 1862 and include news from the Civil War. Nearly one-quarter of Michigan men served in the Union forces during the war. Following the war, Michigan’s economy prospered. State officials invested heavily in public education and dedicated more money to education than any other state in the nation.

If you have ancestors from Michigan, be sure to check out columns like this “Locals” column in The Pigeon Progress. Residents were encouraged to call the paper to report on any visitors. If your ancestors are German immigrants, they may be part of a group of about a thousand families that settled in the Saginaw Valley. The immigrants moved from Germany to Russia, and later to Michigan. They found the Saginaw Valley’s climate conducive to growing sugar beets, a crop they had cultivated successfully in Russia. Search the Michigan papers to find wedding announcements and obituaries for your ancestors.

To learn more about the history of Washington and Michigan, explore our collection of new papers today on Newspapers.com™.

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Using Passenger Lists and Newspapers to Research Immigrant Ancestors

Passenger lists are important records for tracing immigrant ancestors. Before air travel became more common in the 1950s, ships were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. Passenger lists usually included passenger name, place of origin, birth date, departure date, arrival date, and the ship name. Using this information, a search through Newspapers.com may shed light on your ancestor’s immigration journey with new details not found in a passenger list. Here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself when researching ancestors that immigrated aboard a ship.

  • Why Did Your Ancestor Immigrate?

A search of newspapers might provide insight into the events that led to your ancestor’s decision to immigrate. For example, a search of Irish papers in the 1840s reveals countless articles about the Irish Potato Famine. The famine led to more than a million deaths between 1845-1849 and prompted many emigrants to leave Ireland.

  • What Was Your Ancestor’s Voyage Like?

Newspapers can yield details of your ancestor’s journey. For example, on August 24, 1848, the Ocean Monarch departed Liverpool, England, bound for Boston. A fire broke out on board, and after attempts to extinguish it failed, passengers began jumping into the sea. Several ships came to the rescue but not before 180 perished. The following month, Boston papers reported as survivors from the Monarch began arriving in Boston aboard a different ship. Search newspapers for the name of your ancestor’s ship, then search the departure and arrival dates. You might uncover a story about their journey.

  • Can Newspapers Reveal the Story Behind Those Who Were Born at Sea?

Thousands of mothers gave birth to babies during their immigration voyage. Babies born at sea are often listed at the bottom of the ship’s manifest or on the final page. This Boston Globe article from 1895 reported that a baby born at sea aboard a ship flying the American flag was entitled to automatic citizenship. In 1900, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiled nine city residents, all born at sea, and shared their individual immigration stories. If you have an ancestor born at sea, you might find details of their experience in the newspaper.

  • What Was Happening at their Port of Arrival?

If you had an ancestor that arrived in New York City in August 1906, you might learn that the city was experiencing a terrific heatwave. The New-York Tribune reported a temperature of 106 degrees and described the impact the heat was having on immigrants. At Ellis Island, immigrants from Russia arrived in heavy clothing, coats trimmed with fur, and cumbersome boots and shoes. Some collapsed from the heat, and the paper published a list of heatwave fatalities. Meanwhile, anchored in the bay, nearly 5,000 passengers waited in sweltering ship holds for Ellis Island to open after a Sunday closure. The paper described the “haggard faces of the immigrants and the almost physical collapse of many women and children” as they finally disembarked the hot holds of the ships. Search the news at your ancestor’s port of arrival to learn more about their experiences after arriving in America.

New-York Tribune 8.07.1906
  • Did Newspapers Publish Ship Schedules?

Yes! Newspapers can be used as a cross-check for immigrant departures and arrivals. Shipping companies endeavored to maintain a timetable, but sometimes unforeseeable circumstances led to delays. Newspapers reported on delays and when ships finally arrived at their destination.

Steamer Coptic Passenger List
  • What If you Can’t Find a Passenger List for Your Ancestor?

Sometimes you may be unable to find ship records for an immigrant ancestor, perhaps because the records no longer exist or were destroyed. One example is the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which flooded the island and destroyed the building that housed immigration records. If you can’t find a passenger list, you can search newspapers. Sometimes papers published the names of arriving passengers. You might also find immigration details in obituaries or other published stories. On a few occasions (and for various reasons), immigrants arrived as a stowaway or traveled under an assumed name. Newspapers may provide the clue necessary to unlock that immigration mystery.  

To learn more about your ancestor’s immigration experience, explore Newspapers.com™ today!

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Coupons & Canned Corn: What a WWII Shopping List Reveals about Rationing

Shopping for meat during rationingShopping for meat during rationing 16 Apr 1943, Fri Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) Newspapers.com


World War II permeated the lives of Americans on the home front, and wartime food rationing meant the global conflict reached even into routine errands like grocery shopping. When we discovered a WWII-era shopping list in the pages of a 1940s newspaper, we became curious how food rationing shaped Americans’ day-to-day lives during the war years. So we searched Newspapers.com™ to learn more!

But first, some background on rationing in the U.S. during World War II.

Food Rationing 101

Food rationing began in May 1942, with sugar as the first item. Next came coffee, starting in November 1942. Then March 1943 saw a major increase in the number of food products that were rationed, including processed foods, meat, cheese, fats, and more.

Each rationed food item required a certain number of “points” to purchase it, with low-availability and high-demand items requiring more points. Points came in the form of coupons (also called stamps) from government-issued ration books and had to be used within a specified timeframe.

Newspaper preview of War Ration Book No. 2Newspaper preview of War Ration Book No. 2 03 Jan 1943, Sun Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) Newspapers.com


When buying a rationed item, shoppers had to present their grocer with the correct coupons—in addition to paying the monetary cost of the item. But having enough points didn’t guarantee shoppers would be able to purchase an item, since local and national shortages limited availability of certain foods and could mean higher prices.

Grocery shopping during rationing was further complicated by the ever-evolving nature of the rationing system, with foods being added or removed and point values changing from one month to the next.

Let’s Go Shopping!

During World War II, the Detroit Free Press published grocery shopping lists to supplement its daily column of wartime dinner ideas. We’re going to explore the weekend shopping list from April 23, 1943—a challenging time for shoppers, since it was not long after stricter rationing restrictions had begun.

Let’s see what the list can tell us about life under rationing!

The top of this shopping list shows the total points needed to buy the rationed items included on it, since every American had a limited number of points allotted to them per rationing period.

At the time this list was published, Americans had recently begun using War Ration Book No. 2. Blue coupons from the book were required to buy processed foods, and red coupons were needed for meat, cheese, fats, and oils. In addition to being color coded, the coupons had their point value written on them, as well as a letter of the alphabet that indicated when the stamp could be used.

Meat rationing began in the spring of 1943, and different types and cuts of meat cost different numbers of points, based on availability. “Variety” meats, such as kidney and other organs, usually required fewer points than did other types of meat. When this shopping list was published, Detroit was experiencing a shortage of beef, pork, and lamb. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t rationed. Much of the produce included on this list could be found in “moderate supply” in April 1943. Radishes, however, were in “light supply” at the time. Other common food items that weren’t rationed included poultry, eggs, fresh milk, and gelatin.

Most processed foods were rationed starting in early March 1943, including canned, bottled, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Just before this shopping list was printed, however, the point values of frozen fruits and vegetables were lowered, and those new point values are reflected on the list. Americans were encouraged to grow “Victory Gardens” and then can their own produce so processed foods could be freed up for military use.

Sugar was rationed during the war, but it required a separate coupon not based on points. Due to sugar rationing, substitute sweeteners such as honey, molasses, corn syrup, and maple syrup were popular.

No points were needed to purchase black-eyed peas or prunes (and other dried fruit) in late April 1943, since both had recently been released from rationing.

Butter, lard, margarine, shortening, and cooking oils were added to the list of rationed items at the end of March 1943. Since butter required the most points, Americans were encouraged to cook with alternatives such meat drippings—even in their baked goods.

Beyond the Shopping List

The shopping list is fascinating enough, but when we looked through the surrounding newspaper pages, a few other items caught our eye—each revealing something different about what life was like under rationing.

Newspapers were key to helping Americans of the WWII era understand food rationing, but the usefulness of this wartime content didn’t end when the war did. It’s still valuable today in helping us learn how our family members lived during the war years!

Learn more about WWII rationing by searching Newspapers.com. And follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more historical content like this!

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The Berlin Wall Goes Up: August 12, 1961

Sixty years ago this month, two tired, gray-haired women stood waving their handkerchiefs. Tears spilled down their cheeks as they strained to see a baby, lifted high in the air by its parents. They were the child’s grandmothers, separated from their family by a newly built wall. Just days earlier, on August 12, 1961, officials strung barbed wire through the heart of Berlin. The wire was then replaced with rows of concrete blocks, now nearly five feet tall and growing by the day. The Berlin Wall, built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), would separate East Berlin from West Berlin. It remained standing for the next 28 years until the Cold War thawed and protestors tore it down in 1989.

The Logan Daily News – August 18, 1961

As WWII came to an end in 1945, leaders from the Soviet Union, the UK, and the United States gathered at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany. They decided to divide Germany into four zones. The Soviet Union occupied the eastern part, while the United States, Great Britain, and France combined their zones and occupied the western part of the country. As the capital city, Berlin would also be divided into similar sectors, even though it was located entirely in the Soviet part of the country.

In 1948, the Russians tried to starve the Allies out of Berlin by creating a blockade to prevent food and supplies from reaching the city. Rather than retreating, the Americans responded with the Berlin Airlift, which supplied food to the residents of Berlin. The Soviets called off the blockade the following year. Between 1949-1961, an estimated 2.5 million people left East Germany for the west. The steady stream included younger skilled workers and educated professionals. The exodus threatened the economic viability of East Germany, so to stem the tide, government officials decided to seal the border.

Stevens Point Journal – August 19, 1961

On August 12, 1961, East Berlin started building a wall. Residents living on Harzer Strasse (the road that delineated East from West Berlin) found themselves in a unique situation. Their front doors were in East Berlin, and their back doors opened to West Berlin. Shocked residents watched as workers arrived to nail their back door shut and then further sealed the exit by building brick walls inside the door frame. After rolling out barbed wire to create a temporary barrier, construction began immediately on a more permanent structure. Over time, the concrete block wall was further fortified with barbed wire on top, watchtowers, and electrified fences. Border guards were under orders to shoot anyone attempting to flee. Over the next several decades, there were many attempts to escape. Refugees tunneled under the wall, climbed over it, or even flew to West Germany in homemade hot-air balloons. About 5,000 were successful and made it to West Berlin. Another 5,000 were captured, and nearly 200 died trying to escape.

The Guardian – August 24, 1961

In October 1989, the chief of the Communist Party in East Germany was forced from power. He had rejected the growing chorus of calls to reunite East and West Germany saying, “Socialism and capitalism can no more be united than fire and water.” Just weeks after his departure, East Germany announced that they would relax restrictions, allowing citizens to apply for a visa to travel to West Berlin. Ecstatic crowds gathered at the wall to celebrate the news. Border guards, unsure what to do, opened the gates. A flood of people poured through while others climbed the wall or began to chip away at it with sledgehammers and tools. The Berlin Wall came down, both physically and figuratively. On October 3, 1990, East Germany and West Germany officially reunited.

If you would like to learn more about the Berlin Wall, search Newspapers.com™ today. You can also find more curated clippings on our Berlin Wall topic page.

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