Dimouts Yield New Regulations and Enforcement

A Field Day for Bureaucrats

Road side sign reads "Begin Dim Out Length 6 miles" "Dim out headlights"
Dimout regulations were in effect along many coastal roads during the war to reduce light used by enemy aircraft to identify targets. (Photo no. 1895, Highway Dept. Records, OSA) Enlarge image
Blackouts caused Oregonians some hardships but dimouts introduced a whole new level of bureaucratic regulation. While some dimout regulations were in effect before Aug. 20, 1942, they paled in comparison to the new edicts from the Western Defense Command. Public Proclamation No. 10 and No. 12, which followed soon after, clamped new restrictions on everyday life in homes and businesses across western Oregon but especially those in view of the ocean.

Restricted Lighting Becomes the Norm

The proclamations set up a "zone of restricted lighting" that required lights to be extinguished or controlled at all times from sunset to sunrise. Outdoor illuminated signs, ornamental lighting, and floodlighting, including advertising signs, billboards, display lighting, theater marquees and lights of "every description" were to be turned off. Outdoor recreational lighting was greatly limited. Moreover, all interior lights that projected rays above the horizontal (skyward) were to be extinguished. Practically, this meant changing habits and retrofitting lights and blinds for many Oregonians. Shades or blinds had to be pulled down to at least the level of the bottom of an interior light. Many people painted door and transom glass black to conform with regulations. Porch lights had to be painted or shielded to emit light only downward and toward the house. Other restrictions applied to traffic signs and signals, navigation and railroad lights, industrial areas and other facilities.

Many coastal areas fell under much stricter regulations based on whether they were "visible from the sea." Officials defined the term broadly to mean "visible at any time from the waters of the Pacific Ocean." These regulations required that windows of businesses, industrial buildings, and households either be blacked out or have their opaque window shades or drapes pulled down every night so that no light was visible from the sea. Regulations also prohibited all other lighting visible from the sea including fires, bonfires, parked cars, flashlights, and lanterns. Furthermore, in a measure that caused particular aggravation, lighting on cars and trucks was severely limited during dimout hours.Footnote 1

New Adaptations Develop

Photo of car on road following Oregon coast line.
The coastal highway in Curry County hugged the rugged shoreline for about 60 miles, causing dimout enforcement problems for police. The area to the south of Port Orford is shown above. (Photo no. 370, Highway Dept. Records, OSA) Enlarge image
As is always the case with regulations, adaptations and work arounds quickly developed, in many cases only adding to the confusion. For example, various solutions sprang up to cope with the new restrictions on headlights visible to the sea. The regulations called for not more than two headlights with no more than "250 beam candlepower" of light each. Some people just started driving with only their parking lights on. Others bought one of many "restrainer" electrical devices designed to reduce power to the headlights.

Not long after the first regulations were issued, Lincoln County authorities were "experiencing considerable difficulty with the enforcement of Proclamation #10 in regard to the Dim-Out. A good many motorists are covering their headlights with a wide variety of cloth. It is my opinion, after considerable investigation on the matter, that most of the cloth covered headlights do not conform with the regulations of Proclamation #10. Some of the late model cars with strong seal-beam lights will penetrate these coverings to the extent of from 1,000 to 2,000 beam candle power."

In response the State Defense Council issued a bulletin titled "Cloth Covering Now Taboo for Automobile Headlamps Used in Dim Out Zone." The bulletin confessed the council's role in the confusion: "As a temporary expedient to avoid unnecessary inconvenience to persons driving coastal highways on brief pleasure or business trips, the Oregon State Defense Council on August 5, 1942, approved the use of one thickness of muslim or other suitable cloth of a grade comparable to flour sack material for dimming automobile headlamps in light restricted zones, where they would be visible from the sea." Claiming that enough time had passed for motorists to install light restrainers, the council put an end to the use of cloth coverings for compliance with the regulations. Letter from Jerry Whitlock to Jerrold Owen Footnote 2

Enforcement and Interpretation Problems

Curry County officials had their hands full trying to enforce dimout regulations related to headlights. The remote southwestern Oregon county had about 60 miles of road that, tracking close to the coastline, fell under the strict "visible from the sea" regulations. With few law enforcement officers and only one incorporated town, many drivers discovered that they could ignore dimout rules.

One Curry County defense council official complained: "The result is that tourests [sic] going through quickly find they can leave their lights on without anybody stopping them except at the three villages in the County. So they apologize for having their lights on and drive to the edge of the villages and turn them on again and go on down the highway." The official called for a state police patrolman to be assigned to the area to put an end to the problem: "I am sure that after a few arrests there would be no more trouble! With the Government and State hireing [sic] so many men at fat salarys [sic] to put on a Hollywood war it seems queer that they cant [sic] put one man on such work...."Footnote 3 According to one federal official, the lack of patrols in Curry County was exacerbated by politics: "At the present time there is a hot political fight on for the office of sheriff, a four-man race. The sheriff is very busy campaigning and little help can be expected from him until after the November election."Footnote 4

6 people huddle around a camp fire on the beach. They sit on logs and hold sticks with hotdogs on the end into the fire.
Evenings around a fire on the beach were put to an end by dimout regulations. (Photo no. 538, Highway Dept. Records, OSA) Enlarge image
Authorities struggled along with the public to interpret regulations. In fact, the State Defense Council set up a State Lighting Committee to work with county and area lighting consultants to interpret dimout rules and how they applied to each source of light. It became one of the most active defense council committees. To illustrate the confusion, one federal civilian defense official reported on the situation in Seaside not long after the regulations took effect: "While a number of lighted windows are visible from the sea, the fault lies more with the wording of the regulation than with the willingness of the citizens to obey. It is difficult to judge from the wording of the regulations just how much shading seaward windows need. What appears to be sufficient to one observer may not satisfy another. As a result a number of householders have been given conflicting orders and opinions by civilian police, civilian defense and army personnel." The official hoped that a "definite rule" would be established that would address the variance of texture of shades and drapes that was causing problems. He wrote that maybe it was time to simply require that the windows be blacked out with paint instead of relying on shades even though the change would "cause considerable inconvenience and hardship."Footnote 5

Inspections Uncover Violations

Officials conducted inspections of businesses and industrial facilities looking for violations of the dimout rules. For example, November 1942 inspections in Portland resulted in a long report of infractions. A large area of downtown Portland "contained many interior lights that emit direct rays above the horizontal out-of-doors, also several outdoor unshielded lights that emit direct rays above the horizontal." Traffic signals drew criticism for being "improperly shielded." Industrial and defense areas yielded several pages of violations just for the Portland area. Inspectors found 16 itemized problems at the massive Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation yards, most related to unshielded lights and floodlights. Willamette Iron and Steel Company drew 16 violations for similar reasons. The Kaiser Shipyards on Swan Island had "many violations" but the chief electrician assured inspectors that "construction of shields for floodlights will start soon."Footnote 6

Many Oregonians began to consider the dimout regulations to be nothing more than a nuisance and cooperated only under the threat of a fine. Others simply failed to comply, which led to dimout violation citations. While inspectors spent considerable time at large businesses and industries, they didn't spare small businesses and homes from checks. Thus, it was reported that the skating rink in West Salem was in violation as was the nearby Puritan Grocery. In Beaverton the Skyway Tavern drew attention for unshaded lights while the "Oregon City Police stated to the inspector that on Saturday nights the dimout regulations are completely disregarded in the business district." The Rexall Drug Store in Woodburn was flaunting regulations by allowing "3 foot candles on sidewalk from window lights" when it was clear that regulations allowed only 1 foot candle. Meanwhile, the Cherry Fried Chicken Restaurant on Highway 22 in Independence had a well lighted "juke box too near [the] window" while the house of Mr. Bartose two miles south of Aumsville was "entirely too brightly illuminated."Footnote 7

New Regulations Ease Restrictions

Federal officials issued Public Proclamation No. 19 in October 1943. The new regulation set up three geographic zones that loosened the dimout restrictions for most of western Oregon away from view of the sea. But it still generated its share of bureaucracy, including official explanations of lighting regulations that showed shifting priorities away from strict civilian protection measures and toward coping with growing social problems. For instance, officials wrote that "in order to reduce juvenile delinquency, provide evening recreation for war workers, and improve the health and welfare of people generally - all of which is necessary for our maximum war effort - lighting for recreation and sports is now permitted in locations more than three miles from the sea, up to a maximum of thirty foot candles" The explanation further delineated the subtle differences in lighting needs for different sports.

Within weeks authorities issued Public Proclamation No. 20 that suspended earlier dimout restrictions. The government cited "improved defensive measures now in effect" as the reason for the suspension. Unfortunately for earlier violators of the dimout regulations, prosecution of any prior infractions would proceed. Moreover, regulations related to blackouts remained in full force.Footnote 9

Related Documents

"Here's How to Dim Out Home and Store Lights" Diagram, Portland and Multnomah County Civilian Defense Council , circa Sept. 1942. Folder 20, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
Dimout Regulation Questions and Answers, Oregon State Defense Council, circa Sept. 1942. Folder 20, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
"Report on Stores Staying Open at Night," Oregon State Defense Council, Oct. 19, 1942. Folder 23, Box 10, Defense Council Records, OSA.
"Public Proclamation No. 10," Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Aug. 5, 1942. Folder 23, Box 32, Defense Council Records, OSA.
"Public Proclamation No. 12," Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Oct. 10, 1942. Folder 23, Box 32, Defense Council Records, OSA.
"Public Proclamation No. 19," Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Oct. 10, 1943. Folder 23, Box 32, Defense Council Records, OSA.
Dimout Violation Case File, Oregon State Defense Council, March 9-May 8, 1943. Folder 11, Box 22, Defense Council Records, OSA.


  1. "Public Proclamation No. 12," Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Oct. 10, 1943. Folder 23, Box 32, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  2. Letter from Jerry Whitlock to Jerrold Owen, Sept. 10, 1942. Folder 2, Box 19, Defense Council Records, OSA; Oregon State Defense Council Bulletin, Sept. 15, 1942. Folder 2, Box 19, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  3. Letter from S.O. Newhouse to Jerrold Owen, Sept. 25, 1942. Folder 6, Box 17, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  4. Memorandum from Captain William Rogers to Stanley Donogh, Oct. 8, 1942. Folder 21, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Memorandum from Earl Cleworth to Provost Marshal, Fort Lewis, Washington, Dec. 31, 1942. Folder 21, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  7. Memorandum from Lt. Colonel Willis Vincent to Stanley Donogh, Nov. 16, 1942. Folder 21, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  8. "Regional Regulations No. 7," Office of Civilian Defense, Ninth Civilian Defense Region. Oct. 10, 1943. Folder 20, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  9. "Public Proclamation No. 20," Headquarters Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Oct. 28, 1943. Folder 5, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  10. Letter from S.O. Newhouse to James Olson, Aug. 14, 1942. Folder 6, Box 17, Defense Council Records, OSA; Letter from James Olson to S.O. Newhouse, Aug. 18, 1942. Folder 6, Box 17, Defense Council Records, OSA.