The World War II C-Ration

Ancestor of the Modern MRE

Developed for during World War II, the C-Ration was eaten by millions of soldiers and marines when fresh food was unavailable. As an early form of hot food on the go, the C-ration paved the way for the modern MRE and HeaterMeals self-heating meals. We’ve come a long way since 1938, but the concept of delivering hot food quickly is still important today.


In 1938, the Field Ration, Type C was developed by the Quartermaster Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory in Chicago. The goal was to create a ration that tasted better, was more nutritious and kept better than previous rations.

The C-Ration was first field tested in 1940, and was used by land forces throughout World War II and the Korean War. In 1958, the C-Ration was replaced by the “Meal, Combat, Individual”, or MCI Ration. However, the MCI Ration was so similar, that troops continued to call the new rations “C-Rations,” or “Charlie Rats” for short. These MCI rations were used until 1978, when they were replaced with the MRE or Meal Ready-to-Eat ration, which is still used today.


C-Rations were packaged in 12 ounce cans, and included 3 different types of meals: Breakfast, dinner (i.e. lunch), and supper. Troops would be supplied 6 cans per day, with two cans for each meal. There was an M Unit can for the main entree, and a B Unit can for bread and dessert, as well as an accessory pack wrapped in brown butcher paper.

Here’s a look at what was inside:

  • Package of Biscuits
  • Package of Graham Crackers
  • Package of Sugar Tablets
  • Meat Can of Ham (Breakfast), Chicken (Dinner), Turkey (Supper)
  • Fruit Bar (Breakfast), Caramels (Dinner), Chocolate Bar (Supper)
  • Powdered Coffee (Breakfast), Bouillon (Dinner), Lemon (Supper)
  • Piece Chewing Gum
  • 4-Pack Cigarettes
  • Package of Toilet Tissue
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Matches
  • A P-38 can opener

Modern Legacy

The C-Ration came a long way from the hardtack biscuits and beef jerky of earlier rations, and we’ve come a long way too. HeaterMeals self-heating meals carry on the legacy of delivering hot food to those that need it most. Lucky for you, we’ve modernized the menu, made it easier to open and heat, and packed each meal full of the nutritious, tasty ingredients to keep you full. Sorry though, you’ll have to provide your own cigarettes and toilet paper!

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