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Feature Article on W.W.II and the Home Front. Topic: WAR, INDUSTRY
Written by Rich Wallace in May, 2000

SIDNEY COMPANIES PLAYED ROLE IN WORLD WAR II

Note: This is the second in a series of two articles which explored the sacrifices and successes of those who fought the battle at home in Shelby County, Ohio, during World War II. It was published on May 30, 2000, in conjunction with the World War II exhibit on display (May 8 - August 1, 2000) at the Ross Historical Center.

War planners in Washington knew it was critical to focus the hearts and minds of all Americans on one goal: the winning of the war. To that end the government commissioned a series of posters that encouraged everyone to redouble their efforts in order to win the war. Shelby County, Ohio, residents need little of that encouragement to accomplish what was needed.

The first hurdle was to convert the production of local industries to war items. The Monarch Machine Tool Company was experienced with defense contracts as a result of its experience during World War I. It began receiving government orders for lathes even before the disaster at Pearl Harbor. The Sidney Daily News reported midway through the war that Monarch was producing "35% of the country's high grade lathes."

 

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A woman does her part by working at a Monarch Machine Company lathe during WW II.

Other Sidney companies converted from domestic products to war material as rapidly as possible. William Ross, the owner of Ross Products reported in August 1942 that the company had finished additions to its West Poplar Street and Oak Street plants. The company produced aluminum aircraft parts, as did the Stolle Corporation. The Sidney Machine Tool Company produced the 'Sidney' line of lathes. They were used in the aircraft and early jet propulsion industries.

The most common government contract was the "cost plus fixed fee" arrangement. It guaranteed the contractor a profit. Monarch also received substantial federal funds in order to finance several large additions to its Oak Street plant.

Sweeping government orders rationing certain raw materials had an immediate effect on local industry as well. Ten months before Pearl Harbor, the availability of aluminum was sharply curtailed by federal decree. Wagner Manufacturing Company, anticipating the order, had already developed a new pre-seasoned ironware line. Jerome Wagner reported that the introduction of the line at a Chicago show in January 1941 "scooped the field." Liberty Folder officials also rushed to find a substitute raw material for aluminum.

The rapid industrial expansion in Sidney, already a town with full employment in 1940 created the biggest challenge for local leaders: finding housing for the huge influx of workers. Local leadership and ingenuity again solved the problems.

Although hundreds were brought in from other areas in ten school busses purchased by the city, many workers searched for housing here. Mayor John Sexauer personally subsidized local contractor John Hussey, who built over 200 homes. Even the construction of these homes in Sidney between failed to meet the demand. Typical of the new housing subdivisions developed after 1942 was the one built in the area of Park, Maple, Grove, Wagner and Buckeye Streets. Over 100 houses were constructed of concrete block and gypsum board with federal funds for a total of $305,890. Many of the larger, older homes in town, now rented as multi-unit apartments, were first remodeled to provide additional housing during the war.

Childcare issues became critical with so many spouses either at war or working. Mrs. Eleanor Ross, described in the Saturday Evening Post article as a "valiant woman," made this and other local problems her personal mission to solve.

The most immediate impact on local residents came in the form of rationing and scrap drives. Rationing, consisting of quotas on the purchase of some items and the outright elimination of others, was supervised by a federal agency called the War Production Board, or WPB. Shortages of steel and aluminum resulted in the rationing of canned goods, refrigerators, washing machines, lawnmowers and other items. Ration coupon books for gasoline, sugar and many other products were common in Shelby County households throughout the war. The May 7, 1942, edition of the Daily News reported that 20,000 county residents registered for ration books in just three days.

Local residents who lived during the war will remember the scrap metal and rubber drives. Sidney and the rest of the county had separate quotas for each item. One drive, sponsored by the county agricultural implement dealers netted 228,000 pounds of iron scrap. County chairman Ray Burke oversaw a scrap rubber drive that collected over 109 tons, an amazing eight pounds of rubber per county resident. Housewives also saved grease from the kitchen that was used in the manufacture of explosives.

The WPB demonstrated how serious it was about its orders by using one local company as an example. All scrap dealers and junkyards were ordered to sell their inventory to the government every 60 days for use in the manufacture of war material. When one did not comply, his salvage yard was seized. It was the first seizure in Ohio. Two other dealers, Folkerth and Leonard Sollman received WPB awards for producing enough scrap in two months to make 44 of the 2,000 pound bombs used to bomb Tokyo.

The Sidney Daily News experienced a 40% cutback in the newsprint it could purchase and responded by reducing the size of the newspaper type and eliminating sub-headlines in the paper.

Shortages even impacted American fashions. The WPB ordered the elimination of vests, patch pockets and cuffs in order to save 40 million pounds of wool per year.

One wonders how Americans would chafe today under the restrictions imposed on wartime Shelby County residents. President Roosevelt decreed that the top annual salary anyone was permitted to earn was $25,000. He also froze all salaries over $5,000 per year and set price ceilings on food and rent. Other federal agencies also restricted the purchase of meat to 79% of the pre-war level, with a personal limit of about two pounds per person per week.

Shelby County Sheriff Truman Pitts announced in August 1942 that he would aggressively enforce the new maximum 40-mile per hour speed limit. It was put in place to help conserve rubber, a precious national resource.

Although of course geographically isolated from the European and Pacific war theaters, no one living here during the war felt safe from foreign attack because of the presence of such critical defense contractors as Monarch, Copeland, Stolle and Sidney Tool. The Shelby County Civil Defense Council was formed to address security concerns and assist separate councils set up in the townships and villages. A. N. Hemmert headed the local civil defense efforts.

Air raids drill were conducted, and over 800 local volunteers, known as "home front soldiers" accepted assignments as auxiliary policemen, fire watchers, ambulance drivers and air raid wardens. Countywide blackouts were staged on a regular basis to prepare for enemy air attacks.

The years of sacrifice and preparation on the home front paid off. Although there was little celebration when victory over Germany was declared on May 7, 1945, such was no the case when President Truman accepted the Japanese surrender on August 12. The local reaction was immediate and ecstatic. Glenn Daniel, in an August 12, 1995, Sidney Daily News article recounted the spontaneous outpouring of emotion. A special committee was formed to plan a parade and work out the details for a ceremony for dedicating the Roll of Honor on the court square.

Daniel quoted a Daily News article of the time: "With utter disregard for gasoline rationing which is soon to become passé, motorists rounded the public square time after time, the horn button down." The author of the 1945 article concluded: "In a way the din of victory day was symbolic- there was a note of 'well done' as the hoarse factory whistles joined in the victory chorus." Every church held services of thanksgiving.

The parade organized on short notice lasted almost an hour and ended at the courthouse. The Roll of Honor, containing the names of more than 2,000 men and women who served during the war, was dedicated on the northwest corner of the court square. It was taken down five years later when weather had begun to fade and deteriorate its facade.

What has not faded is the memory of those that lived here and remember what sacrifices it took on the home front to win the war. It is a record of accomplishment that few towns can match.

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This picture of Fort Loramie native Esther (Eilerman) Perin was featured in Monarch's national sales literature.   Sidney schools held a series of classes to teach women how to operate machine tools and develop others skills needed in the factories during WW II. 

 

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