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

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February 16, 1942


Industrial manufacture of various metals surged early in 1942 as businesses retooled to convert from peacetime to wartime production. Large numbers of smelters relied on ample supplies of scrap metal from which to extract their finished goods. If smelter production was to keep pace with the "all-out" war output the nation had committed itself to, a steady supply of scrap metal was required.

Local defense councils aided by various civic and church groups formed parades and went house to house collecting scrap metal in cities and towns across the country. Huge piles were gathered and sold to scrap metal dealers who in turn sold the material to industry. Scrap drive proceeds often went to support the work of local arms of such organizations as the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations.

Rural areas sometimes were not as eager to participate in such drives. Many farmers considered scrap metal dealers on par with used car salesmen. The farmer's old tractor was more significant than his urban brother's discarded toaster. An old hay baler might not be serviceable but perhaps in a pinch it could be made to work. Its old parts might someday be of use. A new model certainly would be hard to come by for the foreseeable future.

In the instance of this document the request for scrap is being made by the chairman of the United States Department of Agriculture War Board for Kankakee County. By federal authority this local board rationed farm equipment, presented farmers' requests for labor and materials, and reported storage and transportation bottlenecks to higher departmental authorities. A request for scrap metal from this board might have made a farmer more willing to have his old plowshare turned into a weapon to help win the war.

Points to Consider

Which kinds of scrap metal would farmers have had as opposed to city dwellers?

What does "our 'all-out' effort" refer to?

Why were scrap paper, rubber, burlap, and rags being solicited?

Why is the formula given for the production of battleships when aircraft carriers were far more important in America's victory in the Pacific?

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