Material Controls in Transition
The priorities system in its developed form was an attempt to control the flow of scarce materials by starting at the top of the productive process, namely, at the endproduct level. Preference ratings assigned to end products, when extended vertically down to producers of basic materials, were expected to direct the flow of these materials. But no sooner had the priorities system been adopted and placed in extensive operation than collateral control measures were introduced which eventually came into serious conflict with priorities. These measures, instead of beginning at the endproduct level, involved the application of direct controls at the source of supply.
It was the policy of NDAC, continued by OPM, to forbid the extension of military preference ratings to basic industrial and commercial materials until the central control agency could adopt measures designed to minimize dislocations of the civilian economy. In accordance with this policy, the addition of an important basic material to the Critical List was typically delayed until it could be accompanied by the issuance of an M order (material order) which placed the material under "industrywide-control." The implications of such control were concisely stated by the OPM shortly after placing aluminum under industry-wide control:
Putting aluminum on the critical list meant that the Army and Navy Munitions Board and agents of the services could issue preference ratings against it. But, since the metal was also put under industry-wide control, this meant that the allocations made by the Priorities Division [OPM] would take precedence over individual certificates in case of conflict.1
Thus the introduction of allocations provided OPM with an effective tool enabling it to retain final control over the distribution of scarce materials.
The aluminum order (General Preference Order M-1, issued 21 March 1941) was the first of a long series of M orders, most of which were revised many times with the gradual tightening of controls until their ultimate relaxation at the end of the war. The M-1 order on aluminum supposedly "brought all aluminum deliveries under allocation."2 Actually this phrase--which was similar to those often used to describe the techniques of most of the early M orders--____________________