On this day in history : 26th May 1950 – Petrol rationing finally comes to an end in Britain after its introduction at the beginning of World War 2…. Motorists tear their ration books into confetti on the forecourts….

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Motorists’ petrol coupons 1949-50 – Image credit: Paul Townsend via Flickr

When war broke out in September 1939 petrol was the first commodity to be rationed…. Coupons could be collected from the Post Office on the 15th of September – but couldn’t be used until the 16th, when rationing came into force…. Two coupons were issued, 1 per month and the vehicle’s registration book had to be produced – as the coupons were issued according to the rating stated in the book…. Each coupon represented a unit and was only valid for the stated period – meaning they could not be rolled-over or hoarded – it was a case of use them or lose them….

By 1942 petrol for private use had been withdrawn altogether….it was only available for work that was deemed essential – and a special permit was needed…. Red dye was added to the fuel for those approved users in an effort to combat the black market….

On the 1st of June 1948 petrol was able to be bought again – but it was rationed once more…. By the end of the 1940s it had become a controversial matter as to whether rationing was still needed and featured heavily as a hot topic of debate in the 1950 general election campaign…. The Conservatives argued that it was no longer necessary to ration whereas the Labour Government insisted Britain could not afford supplies from the United States….

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A garage attendant waits for customers at a garage somewhere in London on Sept. 24, 1939, after petrol rationing was enforced. Image credit – Billy Black via Flickr

Labour lost their majority….and it became all too obvious the public were no longer willing to tolerate rationing…. Minister of Fuel and Power, Philip Noel-Barker, announced to Parliament that a deal had been done with two American oil companies…. The Standard Oil Company, New Jersey and the California Texas Oil Company had agreed to supply oil, accept payment in Sterling and re-invest the money in British goods, such as equipment, oil tankers and services….

When the news broke on the 26th of May 1950 that rationing was to be lifted long queues formed at the garage forecourts – some petrol stations ran dry…. Motorists ripped up their ration books in jubilation whilst they waited….

Petrol rationing was reintroduced again in 1957 for a five month period during the Suez Crisis, when Egypt and Syria blocked supplies from getting through….

There was one bright side to petrol rationing though – cars being a rarity on the roads meant kids got to play safely in the streets….

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