Office of Price Administration (OPA)


One of several federal agencies created during World War II to meet the exigencies of war production and to regulate the wartime economy.

Congress charged the Office of Price Administration (OPA) with the prevention of inflation. Near full employment achieved by war mobilization and the resulting extra earnings increased Americans’ purchasing power, and the scarcity of goods available for civilian consumption added to this inflationary pressure. The federal government tried to offset the potentially baneful effects of the war-induced economic boom by several means. Alongside the indirect strategy of increased taxation, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted a set of policies to control wages and prices directly. In January 1942, Roosevelt signed the Emergency Price Control Act (later superseded by the Price Control Act of October 1942) and established the OPA by executive order. Leon Henderson, an economist and Securities Exchange commissioner since 1939, became the OPA’s inaugural administrator. Prentiss Brown (1943) and Chester Bowles (1944 to 1946) succeeded him in the position. In April 1942, the OPA issued the General Maximum Price Regulation policy (commonly known as “General Max”), which made prices charged as of March 1942 the ceiling prices for most commodities and consumer goods. Residential rents also came under the OPA’s jurisdiction. At the peak of the OPA’s price control program, the government froze approximately 90 percent of retail prices. The OPA also retained the power to ration scarce goods to civilian consumers. Items rationed by the OPA included tires, automobiles, sugar, gasoline, fuel oil, coffee, meats, and processed foods. The OPA received credit for the relative stability of consumer prices in the United States during the war years. With the end of World War II, rationing ended and price controls gradually disappeared. The OPA itself dissolved in 1947. Although most of the OPA-enforced controls ended after the war, the concept of greater government regulation of the economy survived into peacetime.

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