This Week In Illinois History: Victory Speed! (October 1, 1942)
On October 1, 1942, Illinois reduced its speed limit to 35 miles per hour to conserve rubber during World War II. The United States Office of Defense Transportation had recommended the move because cars that drove slower preserved tire tread considerably longer. The new 35 mile-per-hour limit became known as “Victory Speed.”
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered the World War II. War rationing wasn’t far behind. One of the country’s most vulnerable resources was rubber, which was used in the manufacture of everything from gas masks to tanks and aircrafts. At the time, the United States imported 90% of its rubber, which is why the Japanese moved immediately to disrupt those supply routes.
Three-quarters of U.S. rubber went to automobile tires, so on January 5, 1942, tires became the nation’s first rationed item. Civilians could keep five tires per car. New tires were reserved for emergency vehicles, critical shipping and public transportation, which was heavily promoted to conserve rubber and gas. Informational materials were distributed to teach people how to extend the life of their tires.
Even though there was no gasoline shortage, gasoline rationing was introduced as a way to curb excessive driving, which, in turn, preserved tires. Finally, the victory speed was introduced to conserve tire tread.
The Office of Defense Transportation left it up to individual states to decide if they would enforce the new speed limit. Illinois immediately began enforcing the limit with warnings and fines. Governor Dwight Green urged Illinois motorists to follow the new speed limit, noting that, “slower driving should be a minor sacrifice for patriots.”
Victory speed ended on August 18, 1945, and tire rationing ceased at year’s end.
Tire and gasoline rationing inspired Carson Robison’s 1942 version of the folk song, “The Old Gray Mare.” In his version, the old horse becomes useful again by pulling cars that got a flat tire or ran out of gas.