US Army photo: One day's A-ration

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History of the Navy Ration

Reprinted from the 1971 Commissaryman 3&2 rate training manual

The first Navy ration law is found in a act of Congress passed in 1794, which provided for a daily fixed allowance of food items for each day of the week. A typical day’s ration was one pound of hard bread, one and one-half pounds of salt beef and one-half pint of rice. Included with this ration was a half-pint of distilled spirits or one-quart of beer.

In 1842 the fixed allowance for each day of the week, as provided for in the 1794 ration law, was discarded in favor of a more flexible allowance of specified items and permitted substitution.

In 1842, the spirits ration was discontinued. This action was compensated for by a five-cents-a-day raise. Fresh meat and dried vegetables and fruit were added to the ration, which by this time already included coffee, tea and sugar. By 1902, management of the general messes had been assigned to the supply officers of the navy and it was the year that the first Navy cookbook was published.

The molasses was of the old-fashioned black strap kind, thick and heavy. The hardtack was really HARD. The coffee was weak enough to prevent the crew from getting nervous. (The bottom of the pot was always to be seen when it was full.) The port and salt horse was packed in large barrels that would have to be open to leeward because of the smell. It generally was put in small cargo nets and towed overboard to get the tock salt and smell out of it. (Sharks never disturbed it.)

On bean and soup days, enough was generally made to have enough for soaking hardtack to make scrouce. When in port, the crew generally fared pretty well, as they could get fresh food and vegetables but never cake and rarely butter. Meals generally consisted of stews, soups, meats and potatoes. Fruit had to be bought from bumboats by the crew, as it was rarely served in the mess.

The ration was approximately $9 a month per man. The sea ration was all they had on a trip from Newport, R.I., to Queenstown, Ireland, 16 days, and 42 days from Funchal, Marderia to Newport; fresh vegetables and meats could not be carried beyond two or three days.

In 1933, the present Navy ration law became effective. It increased the allowance of vegetables, milk and fruit while decreasing the allowance of meat. This ration law has remained unchanged to the present time except for the addition of vegetables and fruit juices and enrichment of flour with vitamin B1, niacin, iron and enriched yeast.

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