Editorial: Cold comfort (11-20-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 20, 1943)

Editorial: Cold comfort

As we face the prospect of an undeniably chilly winter, there might be some cold comfort in the recollection that America shivered through and survived another coal-short wartime winter. That was the winter of 1917-18, and if you are old enough to remember it, you probably remember that we had not only Meatless and Wheatless Days, but Heatless Days as well.

There was no nationwide coal strike in World War I, and the industrial demand did not approach our present needs. But there was a railroad car shortage and a badly snarled transportation system in our one wartime winter, which, with severe cold in January and February 1918, made that winter for many a time of prolonged discomfort.

All plants and offices, except government offices and the most essential industries, shut down on Monday. Bars were also closed on Monday, even though there was no liquor shortage then. Streetcars loaded and discharged passengers at every second or third stop to save electricity. And though nobody had ever heard of the dimout, unnecessary outdoor lighting was prohibited on certain nights of the week. Some states imposed even more rigid controls.

A cold and angry mob in Philadelphia stormed coal trains as they arrived in the yards. In West Virginia, ministers left their pulpits to mine coal. A group of 200 Kentucky businessmen were volunteer miners in their spare hours; a band escorted them to the mine and women fed coffee and doughnuts to the night shift.

We had no radio, no OWI, and no government-made movies to spread information 26 years ago, but an extensive program of education for coal users was set up. There was a “Tag Your Shovel Day” when schoolchildren tied tags with printed coal-saving instructions on the family shovel. Thirteen million pamphlets on “Coal Saving at Home” were distributed. Many cities had “discussion stations” were householders could learn the care and economical feeding of furnaces. Factories were urged to wash their windows, let in the daylights, and turn off the lights.

Wartime America did what it could in that 1917-18 winter, and yet a lot of people were cold, a lot of people will be cold this winter, too, in spite of forewarning and more complete information on making your coal supply last longer. Distribution is in better order and the railroads, though overtaxed, are functioning admirably. But the demand is tremendous. And four work stoppages in recent months didn’t help a bit.

Everyone will have to take every fuel-saving precaution possible in the cold months ahead if we are to get through in tolerable comfort, for the situation is undeniably serious. After that there isn’t much to do except shiver and bear it, remembering that most people who went through the cold discomfort of 1917-18 have long since forgotten it.