The Office of Price Administration was a Federal agency created under the Office for Emergency Management within the U.S. Federal government. It was established by Executive Order number 8875 back on August 28th of 1941. The purposes of this OPA were initially to help keep a reign on the prices of rents and essential goods following the beginning of the American involvement in the Second World War.
It was then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt who dusted off the thirty year old Advisory Commission to World War I Council on National Defense beginning on May 29th of 1940. His goal was to involve both the divisions of Price Stabilization and Consumer Protection. These he merged together into the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, known by its acronym OPACS under the auspices of the Office for Emergency Management utilizing Executive Order number 8734 on April 11th of 1941. As a result of this move, he transferred civil supply functions over to the Office of Production Management.
President Roosevelt’s Office of Price Administration was intended to nip any wartime inflation in the bud before it appeared. His organization decreed a general maximum price rule which made any prices being charged as of March 1942 the maximum ceiling prices for the vast majority of commodities. At the same time, the OPA similarly imposed ceilings on all residential rents which consumers were forced to pay. Such regulations became modified and expanded as necessary under various administrators of the OPA, most especially Leon Henderson from 1941-1942, Prentiss H. Brown in 1943, and Chester B. Bowles from 1943-1946. By the time they had finished these tasks, nearly 90 percent of all retail food prices had been frozen through the end of the Second World War.
Despite these humanitarian aims and endeavors though, the prices kept creeping up steadily. The Office of Price Administration then initiated yet more attempts to force price and rent controls compliance on businesses and landlords. By the end of the war, the OPA was able to say with some satisfaction that it had mostly succeeded in maintaining generally stable prices throughout the second half of the war years for Americans.
The Office of Price Administration had a second function during the war. This was to carefully ration hard to find consumer goods during the time of war. Rationing commenced with cars, tires, gasoline, sugar, coffee, fuel oil, meats, and even processed foods. By the conclusion of the war, the rationing gradually became abandoned. Price controls became abolished little by little. Ultimately the government disbanded the entire agency by 1947.
The majority of the Office of Price Administration functions then transferred over into the newly created OTC Office of Temporary Controls under Executive Order number 9809 on December 12th of 1946. The Financial Reporting Division became a part of the Federal Trade Commission at this point.
Eventually the OPA became entirely abolished as of May 29th of 1947. The March 14th of 1947 dated General Liquidation Order issued by the OPA Administrator was responsible for this closing up action. More important function of the ex-agency continued to be performed, albeit under the auspices of succeeding agencies.
Sugar and refined sugar products were still distributed under the Department of Agriculture’s Sugar Rationing Administration thanks to the Sugar Control Extension Act of March 31st 1947. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation picked up the food subsidies from the war beginning on May 4th of 1947. The Office of the Housing Expediter assumed the rent controls policy beginning on May 4th of 1947. Any violations of price became litigated by the Department of Justice as of June 1st of 1947. Price controls on rice were assumed by the general Department of Agriculture as of May 4th of 1947 per Executive Order number 9841. Any other remaining OPA functions were assumed by the Department of Commerce’s Division of Liquidation as of June 1st of 1947.
A number of important and famous individuals worked for the Office of Price Administration during the war. Among these were future President Richard Nixon, legal scholar William Prosser, and economist John Kenneth Galbraith.