- "No Attempt at Concealment":Ray Sprigle and Pittsburgh's Black Market Meat Scandal
rationing, World War II, meat / meat consumption, black market, homefront, Pittsburgh, Office of Price Administration
Can I raise strong children without meat and butter[?]. . . . How much of this give, give, give, and do without do you think the American people will stand?—No Name to Ray Sprigle, May 12, 1945
Americans on the home front during World War II faced far less deprivation than their counterparts in war-torn Europe and Asia, but the conflict still forced people to accept sacrifices that some never fully backed. Nothing elicited louder complaints than meat rationing. "Americans! Share the Meat" demanded the War Production Board by 1942, asking adults to limit their intake to two-and-a-half pounds per week while reminding people that "liver, sweetbreads, kidneys, brains and other variety meats" could be enjoyed without restriction.1 By 1943 a campaign was underway to change American eating habits, but the idea never caught on.2
In southwestern Pennsylvania, while local corporations offered classes on meat alternatives and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored recipe contests that awarded war bonds to such "meat-extending" ideas as Mrs. James Wofford's liver and potato patties, the region also witnessed the rise of an extensive black market in meat.3 Throughout the Steel Valley, the illicit trade flourished openly. Local newspapers called for the demise of the "meatleggers" by 1943.4 The most dramatic action occurred in 1945, [End Page 405] when Post-Gazette reporter Ray Sprigle went undercover, posing as a buyer to see how much illegal meat he could procure.5 During three weeks in March and April 1945, Sprigle hauled in more than a ton of black market meat. His serialized exposé was published in the Post-Gazette and at least twenty-two other newspapers.6 Before the series had ended, the Senate convened a hearing to investigate, and officials at the Office of Price Administration (OPA), the federal agency charged with overseeing ration and price controls, scrambled to provide answers.7
Today, papers and photographs related to Pittsburgh's black market meat scandal are part of the Ray Sprigle Papers at the Senator John Heinz [End Page 406] History Center.8 Photographs taken of Sprigle in his undercover attire and surrounded by black market meat illustrate the reporter's dramatic flair.9 Letters Sprigle received in response to the story offer a more nuanced glimpse into local attitudes about the black market. Support for the investigation mixed with frustration over the realities of putting food on the table in 1945. One writer encouraged: "I would like to see you get it on those Big Shots. . . . I am no griper Ray, but why let them get away with it."10 A soldier wrote by V-mail: "I hope you can get across the idea to the people of Pittsburgh that every pound of 'black-market' meat they purchase lessens the chance for my wife and sons to get their share thru [sic] legitimate channels."11 The president of the Stouffer Corporation telegraphed his congratulations.12 Some sensed opportunity: the Toner Institute, a home for needy boys, praised Sprigle and then added, "In the event that you will eventually dispose of the meats which you have accumulated . . . keep our institution in mind."13
Shadyside Hospital dietitian Irene Wilson wrote to refute a point Sprigle made about the ease with which hospitals could get ration points. She noted that their points were available only for patients and asked, "What about all the nurses and employees that the hospitals are feeding?" She continued, "Many times we call . . . and receive the following reply 'no beef, no lamb, no veal, no sausage, no weiners [sic], no hams and no chickens.' By the process of much telephoning and accumulation from all [End Page 407] companies we manage to . . . feed our large family."14 A more disgruntled resident told Sprigle to observe the Diamond Market, where cases appeared loaded with meat, none of which was available except to "old customers." The writer asked: "Just who is an old customer, and why can a woman by waving a $20.00 dollar bill in front...