When Plowshares Built Swords: Scrap Drives During World War II

Scrap drives during the early 1940s emptied barns and fields across the country, for better or for worse.

| December 2015

  • Posters published by the U.S. government during World War II urged participation in scrap drives.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Reader Charles Strom (far left, second row) was 9 years old when his country school launched a scrap metal drive in 1942-’43. Children shown here are brandishing their finds. One even wears his find as a helmet.
    Photo courtesy Charles Strom
  • Two boys gather rubber for wartime salvage in 1942.
    Photo courtesy the Boston Public Library
  • Promotional efforts like these posters showed how scrap metal was put to work in the war effort.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Promotional efforts like these posters showed how scrap metal was put to work in the war effort.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • During World War II, gasoline was rationed. Using ration books like this one, motorists were limited to a weekly allowance of gasoline, although farmers and truckers could get all the fuel they needed.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • School boys in Lacona, Iowa, held a scrap metal drive in October 1942, using their wagons and a pony to haul the load. From left to right: Robert Haltom, Donald Stanley, Wilford Ripperger, Jimmie Van Zee, Roy Van Zee, Billy Hardman, Bobby Babcock, Chauncey Stanley, Orlo Baker, Herbert Lepley, Orval Curtis, Doyle Butler, Norman Babcock, Bob Leonard, James Moon and Topsy, James Moon’s 19-year-old Shetland pony. Not pictured: Paul Ray Shupe and Dwight Manser.
    Photo courtesy Harlan and Marion Williams
  • In this ad targeting Massey-Harris dealers, dealers are encouraged to do their part in promoting the National Scrap Harvest. The ad goes so far as to provide talking points dealers might use to counter critics.
    Image courtesy Dennis McGrew, Lawrence, Mich.
  • Posters published by the U.S. government during World War II urged participation in scrap drives.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Ration coupons were used to purchase commodities in short supply.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Ration tokens were introduced for retailers in 1944 as change for ration coupons.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Members of a Salem, Ore., salvage committee unloading scrap metal in 1942.
    Photo courtesy OSU Special Collections & Archives
  • A scale used to weigh scrap at the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
    Photo courtesy Library of Congress
  • The collection of scrap metal, rubber and other materials during World War II offered children the chance to contribute to the war effort.
    Photo courtesy archives.delaware.gov
  • Children helped gather items for scrap metal drives.
    Photo courtesy the Boston Public Library
  • Farmers were known as the “soldier without uniform.”
    Image courtesy the U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Posters published by the U.S. government during World War II urged participation in scrap drives.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • This poster gave advice on substitutions.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Victory Gardens were an important part of helping America win the war, boosting domestic household food supplies during a period when food was rationed.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • Victory Gardens were an important part of helping America win the war, boosting domestic household food supplies during a period when food was rationed.
    Image courtesy the U.S. government
  • An eager school boy gets his first experience in using War Ration Book Two. Because so many parents were working, children were taught how to use ration books to do the family marketing.
    Photo courtesy NARA

Scrap drives were a crucial part of the war effort during World War II. Collectors today understand the importance of that sacrifice – but those who didn’t live through the war years might be surprised by the enormity of it.

Collectible farm equipment predating 1940 can be as rare as hen’s teeth. But it isn’t just the passage of time that makes quality pieces hard to find. During World War II, organized scrap drives swept barnyards, tree lines and gullies clean of old iron. The war machine’s demand for metals of all type consumed sheer tonnage of old steam engines, tractors, engines and implements.

Remembering mistakes of the past

By the beginning of World War II, an estimated 1.5 million tons of scrap metal lay useless on U.S. farms – enough to build 139 battleships weighing 900 tons each; 750,000 tanks of 18-27 tons each; or countless airplanes, weapons and other war materiel. If that scrap could be gathered and recycled, it would have a major impact on the war effort.

But more than a few Americans still had a bad taste in their mouth over similar programs launched during World War I. Many remained troubled by the memory of propaganda techniques used by U.S. government officials during the First World War “as a means of increasing home-front morale,” writes James J. Kimble in Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II.



Nor did a nationwide aluminum drive in 1941 inspire confidence. That effort, Kimble says, “motivated millions of citizens to act urgently in gathering old pots and pans at central depots, only to see the aluminum heaps remain in place while the government dithered over their fate.” This latest war-driven scrap drive had to be conducted in a new and flawless way in order to achieve success.

Nebraskans chart a new course

In the summer of 1942, Henry Doorly, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, devised a three-week scrap salvage plan for the state of Nebraska, pooling newspaper resources with local government entities, service groups and other media outlets. Doorly’s plan legitimized the scrap drive and set an unheard-of goal: 100 pounds per Nebraskan. One pessimist grumbled that 3 pounds per person had already been collected, and that was about all there was in the state.

info
11/7/2017 10:35:13 AM

Nice and thorough article. I wish there weren't all the pop up ads in the articles. They are a nuisance. At the MIRACLE OF AMERICA MUSEUM, Polson, Montana, we display many of the scrap drive posters and recycling related memorabilia.




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