Weird History
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The Most Bizarre Shortages In History

March 30, 2020 32.1k views14 items

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, it shouldn’t come as news to anyone that markets will occasionally run short of something, and not just the staples like food, water, and toilet paper - sometimes it’s a lot stranger than that. The 21st century has already witnessed a kimchi shortage, a hazelnut shortage, and the brief disappearance of all Twinkies, and that’s just a sampling of the many items humanity has temporarily run out of in the wake of recent mitigating circumstances.

These shortages can come in many forms and be incited by wildly different events. The world is simply running out of certain products, like helium for party balloons, which has led to an ongoing dwindling of availability that will probably never be reversed. Other shortages, however - like a memorable incident in which Russia ran out of vodka for an entire day - are a lot sillier, though not without their own degree of seriousness.

  • Bad Weather That Limited Grazing Time In 2011 Led To A Butter Shortage In Norway

    Norwegians received a nasty gift for the 2011 holiday season - a shortage of butter, one of their most beloved national products. The dearth of the delicious spread came after an inordinately wet summer that affected all of Scandinavia, resulting in lower-quality animal feed and thus lower milk productivity among the region’s cattle.

    While the butter shortage affected other Scandinavian countries, like Sweden, it was felt most strongly in Norway, where one government-controlled co-op, Tine, produces 90% of the nation’s supply. The end result was an entire holiday season in which butter showed up sporadically on store shelves and was quickly snatched up by eager consumers, leaving everyone else with unbuttered Christmas buns. 

  • In 1973, A Joke By Johnny Carson Resulted In A Toilet Paper Shortage
    Photo: Divadrerhuf / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    In 1973, A Joke By Johnny Carson Resulted In A Toilet Paper Shortage

    Even when the approximate origins of a supply shortage are known, narrowing the event down to a singular cause is typically an exercise in oversimplification. That is not the case, however, with the 1973 toilet paper shortage in the United States - which was the result of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and its opening monologue by host Johnny Carson:

    You know, we’ve got all sorts of shortages these days. But have you heard the latest? I’m not kidding. I saw it in the papers. There’s an acute shortage of toilet paper!

    The country was already experiencing a commercial toilet paper shortage, but Carson’s team of writers took some liberties to craft a few fairly innocent jokes about a general shortage - leading panicked consumers to take him at his word. When TP started flying off the shelves and stores ran out of stock, it only reinforced the narrative that the country was in the midst of a genuine shortage.

    Some stores began rationing, which further heightened tension, until Carson himself took to the airwaves to apologize, saying, “I don’t want to be remembered as the man who created a false toilet paper scare. I just picked up the item from the paper and enlarged it somewhat... there is no shortage.”

  • In 2012, After Hostess Brands Went Bankrupt, People Hoarded Twinkies

    When Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of Twinkies and other cherished American treats, announced bankruptcy and closure in 2012, consumers made a mad rush to their local supermarkets to get their hands on the cream-filled pastries before they were gone for good - no doubt motivated in part by the mythology of Twinkies’ unlimited shelf life

    Most stores quickly sold out, and customers eagerly bragged to the media about their hoarding of Hostess goodies, but the entire golden-brown rush proved to be an overreaction. Hostess and all of its brand holdings, including Twinkies, were purchased out of bankruptcy by the private equity firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co. in 2013, and the snacks were back on store shelves by the summer.

  • During WWII In Britain, No One Had Bananas Because Ships To Import Them Were Used By The Military

    Everyone had to tighten their belts due to rationing in WWII. Because the ships that would typically transport fruit from the warmer climes of the world to Europe and North America had all been co-opted into the military effort, yes, there were no bananas.

    Though they were already one of the most popular fruits in the world, bananas almost completely disappeared from store shelves throughout the entire conflict; the only supply came from soldiers who managed to sneak a few with them when they returned home. Children born shortly before or during the conflict didn’t end up seeing their first banana until 1946 or later.