Skip Navigation

ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


Illinois at War, 1941-1945

A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives


Introduction  |  Objectives  |  Use of Documents  |  Historical Background  |  Selected Bibliography  |  Documents 1–50

Introduction

The use of local events to enhance the study of American history in the classroom has received considerable attention for the past several years. Teachers have recognized that their students often are not excited by traditional instruction in American history. Chief criticisms have been that textbook treatments consist of dry narratives of impersonal facts which have little relevance to students' immediate lives. And this has been the case despite the fact that one of the principal purposes of the discipline of history is to provide its students with a sense of continuity and perspective. The fifty document images provided in this study packet are intended to provide direct glimpses of life in Illinois over the years 1941-1945. Each offers a picture of a particular circumstance at a particular time. And each picture asks provoking questions. All of the events described by these documents occurred in Illinois and should be of interest to those who now live there.

Back to Top

Objectives

The primary objective of this teaching package is to introduce students to local history in a meaningful manner and thereby increase interest in history in general. Taken together, the fifty document images offer a kaleidoscopic picture of Illinois during the WWII years. Individual documents describe very real historical occurrences, but each leaves unanswered questions which can be pursued by studying related documents in the packet, Illinois history in particular, and American history in general.

Subordinate objectives include teaching students how to read historical documents and exposing them to historical reasoning. Besides understanding the texts of documents, students should learn how to identify significant information. Such information will enable them to make specific statements about particular circumstances at particular times. By themselves such events may have little significance. By studying additional sources broader images can be produced and generalized statements can be made to explain isolated events. This process is designed to give meaning to historical interpretation and to broaden textbook narratives of consensus history.

State and local history offers an excellent opportunity to make the study of history in general more meaningful. A focus on a specific locality with which students associate will heighten their interest. It also offers them a sense of how their communities have evolved over time and thus gives historical perspective. But students of state and local history soon realize that the history of a locality cannot be treated as a separate entity because regional, national, and world events were of constant influence. It is hoped that this packet will not only supplement the study of American history but also invigorate it. As well as providing information, primary source documents afford the opportunity to experience history on an emotive level because those documents were produced by the actual participants in history and describe events as those persons actually saw them at the time.

Back to Top

Use of Documents

The fifty documents in this packet were selected from three record groups held by the Illinois State Archives. Record Group 518, Illinois War Council, includes fifteen separate record series which bulk at a little over one hundred cubic feet of materials and which cover the activities of the council in all of its aspects. Record Group 101 represents the Office of the Governor. Record Series 101.032 is Governor Dwight H. Green's Correspondence. Green was the World War II era governor and his incoming and outgoing files bulk at thirty-two cubic feet. The World War II Service Recognition Board, Record Group 504, was a temporary state agency charged with awarding WWII veterans or their survivors bonus payments as authorized by the General Assembly. Record Series 504.004, World War II Bonus Applications From Beneficiaries of Deceased Veterans, 1947-1953, encompasses 290 cubic feet of records. In applying for the bonus due a beneficiary of a deceased veteran, that beneficiary was required to furnish a notarized copy of the death notification as provided by the soldier's or sailor's branch of the armed forces. Documents 1, 38, and 42 come from these files. In these instances personal identifying information was masked in order to protect privacy privileges.

Because all of these documents concern Illinois during World War II they relate to one another at various levels. And because all of these documents are interrelated a student or combinations of students can produce syntheses. However, each document also stands alone as a statement of a particular circumstance in time. Research with additional sources, such as those found in the Select Bibliography portion of this manual, often will help clarify a document and place it in perspective. In fact, most of the documents were intentionally selected because they create questions which cannot be answered from their internal content alone.

Any Illinois educational institution can obtain a complimentary hard copy edition of the Illinois at War, 1941-1945 teaching package by requesting the same on letterhead stationery. Please send requests: Illinois State Archives, Publications Unit, Margaret Cross Norton Building, Capitol Complex, Springfield, IL 62756.

Back to Top

Historical Background

The German and the Austro-Hungarian empires engaged their European neighbors in war beginning in July 1914. The United States did not intervene militarily on the Allied side until early April 1917. American reluctance to participate actively in World War One was due mainly to a pervasive isolationist sentiment which made its people wary of entanglements with nations an ocean away from its own borders. When a series of provocations finally forced America's hand in the spring of 1917, Woodrow Wilson assured his constituents that the world "must be made safe for democracy." By this time the United States was the most advanced industrialized nation on the planet and its production of nearly $42,000,000,000 worth of the material means of war as well as its contribution of some 2,000,000 fresh combat troops determined Allied victory. When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, U.S. losses numbered 126,000 dead and 334,000 wounded. Trench warfare had been a bloody and dirty business and much of the idealism of making the world a better place in which to live had been lost when the reality of the carnage of the fighting became evident. Americans again turned their backs on international responsibilities and despite Wilson's insistence, the Senate refused to ratify the Versailles Treaty with its provision for American participation in the League of Nations.

Despite its good intentions it is doubtful that a fully operational League could have prevented the Second World War. Although it had the authority of moral suasion, it lacked a military arm to block aggression. Europe between the two world wars was a changed place. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up into smaller and weaker nations. The Czar in Russia had been overthrown, executed, and replaced by a Communist regime. Economic desperation, the fear of communist anarchy, and appeals for efficient and effective authority, nationalism, and ethnic and racial hatred gave rise to Mussolini's fascist Italy and Hitler's Nazi Germany. Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal instituted rightist authoritarian regimes which put down mostly communist-led resistance movements. France busily was depleting Germany of what few economic resources remained through reparations. At the same time she was heavily fortifying her eastern frontier along the Maginot line. Britain's industrial pre-eminence had been eclipsed by the U.S. The island nation continued to maintain an extensive empire to supply its industries but the war had sapped its strength and when fresh hostilities erupted it found itself unable to protect its far-flung colonies.

Japan was the dominant indigenous power in the Far East. It had been the first nation in Asia to adopt western technology and as early as the mid-1870s it had been acquiring its own island colonies in the Far East in order to base its expanding sea power and to supply its manufacturing operations. It had won respect on the international stage when it had defeated the Czar's forces in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and had taken control over Korea. As an island nation it too needed an empire of colonies if it were to expand. Japan was developing its own special form of fascism. Dissenters were assassinated or otherwise disposed of as militarists elevated their country's economic expansionism to a theological creed.

As Americans turned insular following the Great War many were gripped by the fear of a Bolshevik threat at home. At the war's end prices soared and in response unions freely called strikes to demand higher wages to keep pace with inflation. Widespread unrest among the proletariat hinted of foreign ideologies spreading among this class. The Wilson administration under the leadership of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on the evening of January 2, 1920 launched raids on Communist party headquarters across the country. Over 4,000 individuals were arrested and placed in jail cells and holding centers in thirty-three major cities in twenty-three states. Eventually 556 resident aliens so arrested were proved to be Communist party members and for that affiliation alone they were deported. Despite these fears at its peak in 1935 in the depths of the depression the American Communist party enrolled only 100,000 members.

The U.S. stock market, long strung out by credit speculation, crashed suddenly on October 29, 1929. The crash was symptomatic of the economy in general and in rapid succession large numbers of banks failed and businesses went under. As a consequence unemployment grew exponentially and by 1932 it stood at 12,000,000. The European nations, victors and losers alike, had not yet recovered from the ravages of WWI when the American collapse came. America's misfortune only served to aggravate these countries' already ailing fiscal structures. Private credit from the United States evaporated and imports from the states as well as exports to them slowed to a trickle. The Great Depression spread worldwide with Europe suffering its effects even more intently than did the U.S.

Franklin Roosevelt's central concern when he first entered office in 1933 was economic recovery. After being sworn in he closed all of the banks for four days and then reopened them on sounder footings. In a special session of Congress he proceeded to ram through an array of legislation that both regulated and propped up the private sector. In the years to come when programs were found to be unworkable or unconstitutional the president and his "brain trust" went back and found alternative approaches. The sheer quantity of action generated by Roosevelt's first two terms along with his personal rapport with the American people was enough to instill hope for individuals and families and confidence in the nation's future. By 1939 events occurring outside the United States were requiring a new focus.

Japan had invaded Manchuria back in 1931 and by 1937 it had consolidated its gains in the north of China and was advancing to the south. The U.S. refused to recognize these Japanese conquests but was unwilling to engage in open confrontation. In Europe the situation was even more grave. Hitler had denounced German disarmament as required by the Versailles Treaty on March 16, 1935 and at the same time had inaugurated conscription. A year later he stationed troops in the demilitarized Rhineland. Austria was taken over by a Nazi government in March of 1938 and virtually annexed by Germany. Great Britain and France capitulated to Hitler's demands on September 30 when they signed the Munich Pact which ceded to Germany the German-speaking Sudeten Province in Czechoslovakia. By mid-March 1939 German troops occupied Prague. The world was stunned on August 23 when Hitler and Stalin agreed to a nonaggression pact. Each was aware that the other pragmatically was buying time. Hitler's aim was to conquer western Europe before turning on the eastern colossus. Stalin needed a decent interval in which to build up his army and its officer corps which had been decimated by a major purge in 1937. In short order Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and on September 28 Germany and the Soviet Union negotiated a new treaty by which they divided Polish territory between themselves. Two days after Poland's invasion Great Britain and France declared war on Germany in accordance with their mutual assistance treaty with the Polish government. Thus the Second World War began. German armies swept into Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940 and the blitzkrieg was released on Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the north of France on May 10. By the end of May the Allied armies had collapsed along the western front and thousands of British and French troops frantically were being evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk in the north of France. The German Luftwaffe began the Battle of Britain on July 10.

At home Americans listened to Edward R. Murrow's live radio broadcasts from rooftops in London as German bombs rained down around him. Roosevelt was reelected to an unprecedented third term on November 5, 1940. He had campaigned with an emphasis on a strong defense but avoided committing combat forces to the European conflict. During a fireside chat broadcasted on December 9 the president coined the phrase, "arsenal of democracy," in describing his vision of the U.S. role in WWII. Americans clearly sided with the Allies against the Nazi aggressors and were willing to supply Great Britain, the only significant resistance remaining in Europe. But they did not consider their interests to be sufficiently threatened that they personally had to become mixed up in a full-scale land war. By March of 1941 Britain was nearly bankrupt and unable to pay for the massive infusion of supplies that the U.S. was shipping to it. In response Roosevelt devised and Congress approved a system of "lend-lease." Britain was allowed to buy on credit with an agreement to pay with goods and services after a successful conclusion of the war. As American defense industries geared up for full production the chronic problem of unemployment was dissolving and the nation's economy was experiencing recovery. United States war ships were convoying merchant vessels bound to and from Great Britain as far as west longitude 26° as of April 10, 1941. And by mutual agreement with its government U.S. Marines occupied Iceland on July 7 to better secure the northern shipping route.

Having failed to bomb Britain into submission and lacking any effective amphibious invasion transport, Hitler turned his forces east and attacked the Soviet Union on June 22. Two days later Roosevelt promised that the United States would provide the USSR with lend-lease aid. Roosevelt and Churchill met in early August aboard American and British war ships off the coast of Newfoundland. There they hammered out the Atlantic Charter which set forth world goals. The immediate upshot of this agreement was a formal statement that the war was not being waged by the Allies to protect or expand colonial possessions but rather to end aggression, to provide free peoples everywhere the right to self-determination, and to allow all nations access to the world's raw materials.

Japan had entered into a Tripartite Security Treaty with Germany and Italy on September 27, 1940. Japan was afforded supremacy in East Asia and Germany and Italy were provided like recognition in Europe. In the event that any of the three were attacked by a power not then engaged in hostilities in China or Europe each would aid the other through military, political, and economic cooperation. The day before this treaty was signed the United States had announced an embargo on the shipment of scrap metal to all nations except Great Britain. Japan was stung by this loss as it had been actively melting down American scrap and from it manufacturing war machines. Further on July 25, 1941 the American government froze all Japanese assets in the United States in response to Japan's occupation of French Indochina the day before. This action effectively cut off all trade between the U.S. and Japan. Special envoys from Japan attempted to negotiate a softening of America's position but the U.S. State Department refused to budge unless Japan agreed to withdraw from China and the Far East. Roosevelt personally communicated to Emperor Hirohito on December 6 his desire to avoid war. Although the emperor would have compromised gladly he was but a figurehead by this time. The militarists in charge were determined to exert imperial control over their portion of the world. The European nations with colonial possessions in the Far East were in no position to protect their interests. Their colonies were ripe for the picking and the Chinese mainland as well was open to conquest. The United States was the only major impediment to Japan's designs in the region. By delivering a surprise knockout blow to America's Pacific Fleet it stood a good chance of making its conquests in short order without much resistance. It could then fortify them against future attack and exploit them for the greatest economic gain. If Germany were successful on its own continent then Japan would be secure in the Far East. But if the Allies were able to stage a successful comeback in Europe the amount of exertion and time required to achieve this would enable Japan to become so well entrenched in its new colonies that the Japanese Imperial Empire would have little to fear from the West. This logic caused Japan to launch its attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.

Late in 1941 America's high level political and military leaders were expecting further Japanese aggression in the Far East. Economic sanctions had failed to cause the Japanese government to withdraw from the Chinese mainland and open conflict between the U.S. and Japan appeared inevitable. The questions remaining were by which means, where, and when the Japanese military would strike. The American public, though apprehensive, was not as clear as to the likelihood of Japanese action. When it came without warning on Sunday morning, December 7, at U.S. bases in the Hawaiian Islands in the form of a massive carrier based aerial assault on the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Americans were outraged. There was no doubt that Congress would declare war after Roosevelt addressed a joint session and described the "date which will live in infamy." Shortly after this initial assault, separate Japanese forces struck out at other American and Allied possessions in the Far East. The U.S. also was at war with Germany and Italy as of December 11 as a result of existing interlocking treaties. The "arsenal of democracy" now was committed to providing the overwhelming numbers of soldiers and sailors as well as the materiel required to defeat the combined Axis powers.

War mobilization had been taking place in the U.S. since Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. By degrees America stepped up its opposition to the Axis aggressors by reducing drastically or cutting off entirely its shipments of war materiel and other resources to them. At the same time the U.S. was sending vast quantities of desperately needed supplies to the Allies on liberal credit terms. The Congress reinstituted the military draft on September 16, 1940. And Roosevelt created by executive order the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) on May 20, 1941 and appointed New York City's Mayor Fiorello La Guardia that agency's director. There had been some halfhearted efforts to organize for civil protection earlier but the public's perception of world events had not provided the urgency necessary to allow for thorough grass roots efforts. La Guardia proceeded to energize state and local defense initiatives. By November 1941 all state governments and 5,934 cities and towns had some form of defense organizations.

The Illinois State Council of Defense was authorized by the General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Governor Dwight H. Green on April 17, 1941. Federal authorities declared the Chicago Metropolitan Area a special defense region on August 7 and named Democratic Mayor Edward J. Kelly its head. The state and Chicago councils, while at odds politically, were able to subdue natural animosities and work together for the common goals of defense preparedness and civilian participation in war related activities. When the actual fighting came on December 7 most communities at least psychologically were prepared to accept the war and to get on with what was required to win it.

During the first phase of America's participation the Allies were on the defensive in response to rapid Axis gains in Europe and Asia. The U.S. home front reflected that mentality. Civilian defense emphasized protection against air raids and sabotage. Millions of volunteers were trained in enemy aircraft detection, blackout procedures, chemical weapon defense, first aid, and a host of other emergency operations. Volunteer militias made up mostly of WWI veterans guarded defense industrial plants and strategic transportation and communication connections. In Illinois 640 separate county, municipal, and township level councils of defense met regularly to practice for the day when German bomber planes were expected to appear overhead and drop their lethal cargoes on the cities and hamlets below. The State Council conducted institutes and provided field visitors, literature, and instructional motion pictures. The American Legion supplied a mobile gas training unit to teach local communities how poisonous gases smelled and how to protect themselves from their harmful affects. The state's insurance companies made their inspectors available to assess fire hazards in local industries. Downstate civilian protection workers numbered 151,786. At its peak the Chicago area had 245,800 such volunteers, many of whom received instruction over the air from local radio stations. The Illinois State Militia guarded bridges crossing the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, coal mines in southern Illinois, and war plants across the state. Although the enemy bombers never appeared the protection branch did boost morale. Its most practical applications came in 1943 and 1944 when the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and their tributaries flooded and inundated large farmland areas and displaced thousands of Illinois residents. The State Council and its local organizational units were quick to respond with sandbagging efforts and relief for those made homeless.

The tide of the war had turned in favor of the Allies by early February 1943. The Germans had surrendered at Stalingrad and the U.S. Marines had recaptured Guadalcanal. The Axis powers were forced to assume the defense as the Allies took to the offense. The Illinois State Council of Defense renamed itself the Illinois War Council on July 1 to better reflect the mood at home and the reality abroad. Day by day increasingly it was becoming difficult to convince civilians that they were in any real danger of being attacked from the skies. Aircraft observers stationed on watchtowers in cities and towns across Illinois were ridiculed from below. Finally in March of 1944 the War Council's Civilian Protection Branch was placed on stand-by status. Early in 1943 the council had shifted its resources to the Civilian War Service Branch. This group of volunteers worked with other service organizations such as the American Red Cross and the USO as well as federal, state, and local government agencies to promote citizen participation in efforts designed to help win the war at home. Some of these activities included victory gardens, all matter of scrap drives, war bond sales, entertaining soldiers and sailors on leave, rationing food and an array of consumer goods, car pooling, recruiting men and women for the armed services, and promoting morale, citizenship, and racial tolerance. The Women's Divisions of the defense councils were active in advancing good nutrition and health, juvenile delinquency prevention, and child care. Chicago was one of only a few major cities in the United States which conducted an effective block system whereby each block elected a captain and other officers to implement civilian protection and civilian war service programs. Smaller communities in Illinois organized at the county, municipal, and township levels. Kenney (population 483), a town located in DeWitt County in central Illinois, was the first community in the nation to achieve one hundred percent participation in the V-Home campaign. This distinction came in November 1942 and won Kenney national attention. The V-Home was a honor bestowed on those households which adhered to civil protection guidelines, conserved on the use of vital goods, salvaged essential resources, declined to spread rumors or promote racial intolerance, and bought war bonds. Chicagoland and downstate Illinois had their share of black marketeers, hoarders, draft dodgers, and other shirkers but by and large the civilian population did its best to contribute positively to America's war effort by way of the home front.

Between 1940 and 1946, 45,000,000 American men registered for the draft under the Selective Service Act. Over 11,000,000 eventually were inducted into one of the armed services. By the end of 1945 Illinois had registered 1,954,674 men between the ages of 18 and 38 at 361 separate local draft boards. Of these 629,516 were called to serve. An additional 328,338 enlisted of their own accord bringing the total number of men entering the services to 957,854. The number of Illinois women joining the military was 13,587. Counting those who already were in the military and those whose National Guard units were activated, Illinois supplied the U.S. armed forces with nearly one million of its citizens during the course of WWII. From December 7, 1941 through September 2, 1945, 17,521 Illinois servicemen and women were killed in combat or later died of wounds or injuries sustained in battle. This conservative figure does not reflect deaths caused by disease and noncombat related mishaps. Thousands more were wounded and variously maimed and disabled. Clearly this human sacrifice was Illinois's single most significant contribution to the American war effort. For most civilians their separation from loved ones in the armed forces was their greatest hardship over the war years.

While Illinois citizens followed the war's progress abroad closely through newspapers, magazines, and the radio, they did their part at home by getting by with fewer goods, collecting scrap, and buying bonds. As important as these much publicized activities were, the state's production of weapons and agricultural products as well as other supporting materiel was essential to Allied victory. A national policy of prioritizing the supply of scarce resources to those industries which produced those goods most needed to wage war realigned the economic structure. Manufacturers of nonessential civilian goods were required to cease production and retool in order to make war related products or go out of business entirely. Manufacturers of organs switched to making radar apparatuses. Earth moving and farm equipment makers adjusted assembly lines to produce tanks, troop trucks, and armored personnel carriers. Large numbers of women entered the work place as the male work force enlisted or were drafted into the armed services. The traditional work week continued to be six days and for most war plants three continuous shifts were common practice.

The Pullman Standard Car Company in Chicago produced landing craft, patrol boats, tanks, artillery cannon, and mortars. Ordnance plants in Alton, Crab Orchard, Dixon, Forest Park, Illiopolis, Kankakee, and Rock Island manufactured enormous quantities of shells, bombs, and torpedoes. The Argonne Research Center just outside of Chicago, the Crane Company within Chicago, and the Garfield Plant in Decatur all performed highly specialized and top secret research and development work on the atomic bomb project. The Monsanto Company in Monsanto, Illinois produced pure chemicals for industrial use. The Hiram Walker and the American Distilling companies in Peoria switched to the manufacture of industrial alcohol which was used to make smokeless gun powder and synthetic rubber. Chicago was the leading producer of radios, radar, and other electronic devices. Manufacturers included Western Electric, Zenith, Motorola, Hallicrafters, Wells-Gardner, Majestic, Utah, Belmont, Webster, and Admiral. Meissner in Mt. Carmel and Sangamo in Springfield also were leaders in this field. Time fuses were made by the Elgin Watch Company in Elgin and Westclox in La Salle. Illinois led the nation in the production of work gloves with plants in Champaign, Chicago, Effingham, Kewanee, and Peoria. Jacksonville assembled uniforms. Armbruster in Springfield stopped making awnings and instead produced tents for the army. A Zion factory sewed mosquito netting. Boots and shoes were made by companies in Belleville, Hartford, Litchfield, Murphysboro, Pittsfield, Quincy, and Rock Island. Allis-Chalmers in Springfield assembled armored personnel carriers. J.I. Case in Rockford made the wings for Martin Marauders. And International Harvester plants across Illinois produced army trucks, tanks, gun carriages, artillery shells, and torpedoes. Chicago in the north and Granite City in the south were steel manufacturing centers. Quincy Barge Builders and the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company made landing craft which were guided down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and from there to the various war theaters. Military maps were prepared by mostly female workers in Quincy. Corn oil, sugar, and starch were extracted at plants in Argo, Decatur, Granite City, and Pekin. Swift and Company operated a major cottonseed oil factory at Cairo. Kraft Cheese at Freeport had shipped over sixty-four million pounds of this dairy product to the armed services by the middle of 1944. American servicemen were fond of candy and plants in Bloomington, Centralia, Chicago, Danville, Moline, Peoria, Robinson, and Zion were major suppliers. Vegetables were packed in tin cans in Chicago, Hoopeston, and Rochelle. Chicago's industrial output was second in the nation only to Detroit. Besides those products mentioned previously, it was the site of huge pharmaceutical plants, a Douglas aircraft factory which made the C-54 Skymaster transport plane, and General Motors and Chrysler plants which produced enormous quantities of aircraft engines. It also was the home of scores of smaller businesses among which was the Victor Adding Machine Company which assembled the highly secret and precise Norden bombsights.

Napoleon had written that armies marched on their stomachs and this statement held true for WWII. The Allies looked to their American partner for food as well as guns. Besides feeding the Allied coalition the American farmer made the United States GI the best fed soldier and sailor in history. And at home the civilian population enjoyed a nutritious diet which surpassed prewar standards. With twenty-eight percent less labor Illinois farmers produced thirty-eight percent more food during the war than they had in previous years. Illinois led the nation in soybean production; was second in corn, hogs, and cheese; fourth in the value of livestock and chickens; fifth in milk; and sixth in eggs. The depression years had been marred by excess production and an over abundant labor supply. Even before America's entry into the war circumstances had changed dramatically. Farm hands in increasing numbers either were lured to lucrative defense industry jobs or drafted into the armed forces. The lend-lease program ended very real fears of agricultural surpluses. Demands for food became insatiable and labor sources scarce. After the U.S. became an active war participant in late 1941 the farm situation became even more urgent. The farmer and his wife put in longer hours each day and often did field work on Sundays. Their children worked according to their abilities. Retired and semiretired grandparents resumed more strenuous labor. Japanese-American evacuees, Mexican migrants, German and Italian prisoners of war, and urban women and school children were called on to help out during the most intensive work seasons. Fortunately when war came Illinois agriculture had achieved some significant gains. The Department of Agriculture at the University of Illinois through statewide Extension Service agents educated farmers in soil conservation and enrichment, improved livestock breeding, and hybrid seed planting. And by 1940 most farms had been mechanized. The Illinois farmer was able to overcome shortages of fertilizers, pesticides, new equipment, spare parts, and fuel to successfully meet or exceed all of the wartime production goals established by federal authorities. A financial incentive was helpful in this regard. The Economic Stabilization Act of 1942 provided government price supports for vital agricultural products at ninety percent of parity. While farm life was often hard during this period it often too was quite profitable.

Franklin Roosevelt died of a sudden massive stroke on April 12, 1945 and Harry Truman was sworn in to succeed him. The Germans surrendered to the Allies at General Eisenhower's headquarters at Rheims, France on May 7. And after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, the Japanese government agreed to unconditional surrender on August 14, thus concluding World War Two hostilities. A formal surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2. After the initial euphoria of victory Americans at home wanted their loved ones abroad returned with all speed. The nation's political leaders would accede to this demand with some trepidation. A massive demobilization would result in the infusion of millions of unemployed veterans into the domestic economy and this could have resulted in chaos. Certain federal measures had to be taken to smooth the transition from war to peace. Added to this dilemma was the fact that the Soviet Union's designs on the European continent and the Far East were unclear. The United States was the undisputed dominant power to emerge from the war but its future role in world affairs had not been well defined. After its participation in World War One the U.S. had turned inward and largely ignored international events. As 1945 ended a devastated Europe along with the rest of the world anxiously waited to see how the American superpower, the only nation in possession of the nuclear bomb, would behave.

Back to Top

Selected Bibliography

Among the dozens of secondary sources consulted several were found to be particularly useful. Richard R. Lingeman's Don't You Know There's A War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1970) provides an excellent overview of the domestic scene nationally. Doris Weatherford's American Women And World War II (New York: Facts on File, 1990) focuses on the role of the American woman in the military, in the industrial work place, and in her more traditional functions as a wife, mother, consumer, and community volunteer. Mary Watters's two volume Illinois In The Second World War is the state's official history of its participation. Volume one Operation Home Front (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1951) provides detailed description of civilian defense and war services activities along with close examination of the Illinois soldier at home and abroad. Volume two The Production Front (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1952) describes in great depth Illinois industry, transportation, labor, agriculture, politics, and governmental regulation. Perry R. Duis's and Scott La France's We've Got A Job To Do: Chicagoans And World War II (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1992) is a volume which served as a companion to an exhibition, Chicago Goes to War, 1941-1954, which the Chicago Historical Society displayed from May 23, 1992 through August 15, 1993. This handsomely illustrated monograph highlights events in the state's principal city. Frank Parker's The Illinois War Council, 1941-1945: Organization, Procedure And Recommendations, Final Report Of The Executive Director (Illinois War Council, 1945) gives a summation of that agency's makeup and activities. Victor Kleber's Selective Service In Illinois, 1940-1947 (Springfield: Illinois Selective Service System, 1949) details the statewide draft system.

Back to Top