where did Iron Rations come from?

Old school D&D players resonate to the term “Iron Rations”, but where the heck did it come from? Is it even a thing?

1983 Basic equipment list.

1983 Basic equipment list.

From Wikipedia:

“Iron Ration”

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the “iron ration”, first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the “Reserve Ration” but its findings went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

Apparently iron rations were based on World War I-era rations, something Gygax and his historical-war buffs friends would have been familiar with. I’d always assumed that the D&D iron ration was like a badass trail mix, or maybe a granola bar. The actual World War I iron ration sounds solidly less delicious than that. The chocolate bar sounds OK though.

I do remember reading a few adventure books from the World War I era where action-hero types ate chocolate in order to power up. Nutritionists must have recently discovered its energy-boosting properties. One instance I remember is in the Richard Hannay books (spy adventures by John Buchan, including The 39 Steps, later made into a Hitchcock movie). Richard Hannay is ALWAYS talking about chocolate; it is part of his standard adventuring kit, very much the way iron rations would be for a D&D character.

I just did a quick search on Google Books: in the four Richard Hannay novels, chocolate is mentioned 18 times. Usually it’s part of travelling food: “I have some food in my rucksack – biscuits and ham and chocolate”, “sitting on a rock munching chocolate and biscuts”, but it’s also used as a poor man’s stimulant: “I rubbed his arms and legs and made him swallow some chocolate.”

I wonder if this means that chocolate is canonically in the D&D universe now, the way it is in the Star Wars universe?

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One Response to “where did Iron Rations come from?”

  1. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    “Iron Rations” in Gary’s mind were things like dried jerky, hardtack, and hard cheese. Medieval writers describe cheeses that were so dry and hard that they had to be broken up with a hammer and soaked in water to be eaten, but they’d keep virtually forever.

    By the way, I know because I asked.

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