Primary Source Adventures
Home Front: the United States during World War II
This Primary Source Adventure (PSA) will examine the effect World War II had on the home front of the United States. Issues such as rationing, conservation, war production, and separation will be examined.
To explore WWII, excerpts are taken from first person accounts from Oral History interviews with Mervin Garver, a foundry worker, and Desmond R. and Rose G. Tyler, a stateside army officer and his wife. This PSA attempts to illustrate selected individuals' reactions to home front life during World War II through highlighting photographs, ration books, and various government publications. The oral histories allow the leaner an individual level perspective, as always, one should be aware that oral histories rely on a person's memory which can prove faulty or can be influenced by the passage of time. Thus, this PSA uses various pamphlets, ads, and instructions published by the government to further illustrate the total nature of World War II and the need for people to ration, conserve, and help maintain soldiers' morale.
Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures.
Home Front: the United States during World War II
by Vale Fitzpatrick
After the United States entered the conflict rationing was initiated, the government issued cook books on how to prepare meals in accordance with rationing, such as meatless meals. First person accounts are provided by selections from Oral History interviews with Mervin Garver, a foundry worker, and Desmond R. and Rose G. Tyler a stateside army officer and his wife. In examining how the United States entry into World War II affected the home front, specifically Texas, the leaner will better understand the total effort put forth by the United States and the sacrifices people accepted because of the war.
After June 1940 the United States moved cautiously in support of defense and sanctioning aid to the United Kingdom. Congress approved in July and September 1940 a series of “Two Ocean Navy” acts to double the tonnage of the Navy’s combatant fleet. In September 1940 Congressed passed the Selective Service and Training Act to expand the Army. The president activated the National Guard adding 300,000 guardsmen and 600,000 draftees to the Army by June 1941.1
After the United States enter the conflict wartime industries expanded throughout the nation. In Texas: steel mills in Houston and Daingerfield, the largest tin smelter in the world in Texas City, aircraft factories in Garland, Grand Prairie, and Fort Worth, extensive shipyards in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Houston, Galveston, and Corpus Christi, along with a wood pulp industry in East Texas, and munitions and synthetic rubber factories in different parts of the state. Manufacturing in Texas increased fourfold, from $453,105,423 in 1939 to $1,900,000,000 in 1944. During the war Texas Governor Coke R. Stevenson used the economic boom to raise his departmental budgets and eliminate the $42 million debt that had been accrued since the depression.
This explosion in industry increased demand for labor was at a premium throughout Texas. 500,000 Texans moved from rural areas to urban jobs along with thousands of people form other states. For the first time women and African Americans entered the work force in large numbers into jobs previously dominated by predominantly white males.
By the end of World War II 750,000 Texans served in the armed forces (1940 census). The majority served in Army or the Army Air Force but ¼ served in the Navy, Marines, or Air Force. 22,022 Texans were killed in action or died of wounds during the war.
It should be noted that the United States made a near total commitment to war, mobilizing all aspects of society to support its war effort. What this meant was the home front had to “do without” rationing was initiated, the workforce. “the armed forces of necessity must base their effectiveness on the country’s national resources and capabilities.” in the United States that meant on its “outstanding position in industry, including design and manufacture.”2
Rationing affected nearly all facets of American life, gasoline, critical to the war effort, was strictly rationed, the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph, and people were encouraged to use buses and trains. The state’s bus system reported 17 million passengers in 1941 and 88 million by 1943. American agriculture was tasked with feeding its own civilian population, its soldiers and those of its allies as well. People remedied shortages in food supplies by growing “Victory gardens.” Recycling and conservation became watchwords as the Boy Scouts conducted scrap metal drives and programs to collect fat, rubber, paper, and other materials. With demand for fuel during the war Texas economy became more dependant than every on oil and natural gas.
The Germany of 1933, July 14 the National Socialist regime which had come to power earlier that year passed a series of major laws were enacted. The Nazi party was declared the only legal political party in the country. People who angered the regime could be striped of their citizenship and property.3
A cultural cleansing policy was adopted there would be only artistic works and performances which conformed to state rules, just as the libraries were to hold only books and newspapers approved by the state and party censors. Those musical forms which were perceived as alien to the “Aryan” race—jazz, to mention only one example—would disappear form the radio and record shops, while most modern art could be seen only when included in an exhibition of “Degenerate Art” sent on tour to exemplify the alleged horrors of decadence.4
Advances in Women’s rights in Germany had been minimal before 1933 were seen as changes that needed to be reversed. Further the parental rights over the raising of children could be withdrawn if the parents were deemed politically unreliable. The production of children for the all powerfully state was what counted.5
1Allan R. Millett & Peter Maslowski. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. (NY: The Free Press, 1984), 395.
2Adrian R. Lewis. The American Culture of War: The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. (NY: Routledge, 2006), 44.
3Weinburg, Gerhard L. Germany, Hitler and World War II. (Cambridge University Press, 1995), 58.