Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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July 1942


Illinois industry produced approximately $27,000,000,000 in equipment and materials, including food, for the American and Allied fighting men of World War II. This figure amounted to one twelfth of the nation's total war production. While Caterpillar, International Harvester, J. I. Case, Deere and Company, and Allis-Chalmers switched from farm implement and other heavy equipment manufacture to the production of tanks, army trucks, armored personnel carriers, and combat fitted bulldozers, tens of thousands of small businesses retooled their equipment in order to turn out war related goods on smaller scales. A Shelbyville bobby pin factory stamped various parts for parachute flares. In Zion lace curtain factories weaved mosquito netting.

The War Production Board (WPB) assumed overall management of the nation's industrial mobilization beginning in January 1942. It allocated resources, set priorities, and established a labyrinth of paper work which had to be meticulously completed before business could procure government contracts or secure materials. Although the WPB was centralized in Washington, it operated regional offices and for a time asked state councils of defense to assist it in promoting war mobilization, especially among small businesses.

Belleville, Illinois alone in 1942 contained twenty-two separate stove factories. Steel and iron were in limited supply and their use in civilian stove manufacturing was not made a WPB priority. Consequently alternative construction materials were sought.

Illinois, after North Carolina and New York, was the third largest furniture maker in the United States in 1942. With the war's onset some factories converted to the production of wooden airplanes for the army. Others adapted to furniture specified for military installations and war industry housing. Still others ceased to operate.

Points to Consider

What would compel a business to convert its normal operations to the production of war related goods if the war was viewed as having a relatively short duration?

Why were stove industries unable to get the materials they normally required?

Which kind of sound detection device was the Wicks Organ Company of Highland manufacturing?

Who determined which civilian goods were essential?

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