Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II
Factories Gear Up


Factories Gear Up


            By January 1942 non-defense production was rapidly dropping, reduced by the inability to obtain essential materials needed for defense.  Peacetime products such as electric refrigerators, automobile parts, cash registers, and tires were either curtailed drastically or suspended entirely.  Many firms began changing over to defense work as their business gradually choked off because of lack of materials. 

            The use of Dayton war products engineered and built by Dayton war plants and labor touched nearly every Allied-fighting front at one time or another.  Among these products were serum refrigerators made by the Airtemp division of Chrysler Corp. and precision gauges by Sheffield Corporation which was used to check interchangeable parts. Frigidaire division of General Motors built the Hamilton variable-pitch propeller, as well as the Hamilton propellers used on the B-29. Allied armies rolled along on wheels and tires made at the Dayton Rubber Company, which did considerable work with synthetic rubber.  B-24 Liberator bombers flew using Chandler-Evan carburetors built at NCR.  Bomber gears used in the B-26 Martin Marauders were manufactured by Delco.  Frigidaire produced a .50 caliber machine gun, which was used by side gunners of the Flying Fortresses.  Inland Division of General Motors built the M-30 carbine, a five-pound rifle considered the nation’s best ordnance effort of the war.  By the end of the war, Inland had produced over two and a half million carbines.  Inland also produced a one-pound pistol called the “Little Monster”, which had been designed to be airdropped to resistance fighters in Europe. 

            During the war primary defense contractors in Dayton found it difficult to provide the space and labor to complete the tasks assigned to them.  Where it once was the policy to contract out to smaller businesses the items that it was difficult for the factories to make, the large defense factories found that it was to their benefit to let out their easier work as well.  Subcontractors not accustomed to work on highly specialized jobs could readily handle such work.  This allowed the larger plants to free up men and machinery for work that they alone could handle.  This was of immense help to the smaller contractors, who had at first been left out in the cold as material for production dwindled, the priority being given to the larger defense factories.  By 1943, there were some 61 principal war production industries in Dayton, employing approximately 115,000 people.

            On January 1, 1942 Wright and Patterson Field began a $15 million expansion program.  Wright Field doubled its size of acreage by adding 750 acres through purchase of surrounding farmland.  Under construction at the big army experimental center were three new runways, a huge test hanger, a 20-foot wind tunnel, new warehouses and a new propeller laboratory.  Patterson Field greatly expanded its barracks facilities, completed a 580-foot long airplane repair dock, and built rows of new warehouses and an equipment repair building. A $2.5million headquarters building was raised for the newly formed Air Service Command which was in charge of maintaining and servicing air corps equipment. 

            Wright, Patterson and McCook Field were an important part of the war effort.  It was at these locations that overseas materiel needing repair work were handled and the development of new aircraft design and flight-testing was done.   By mid-1943 there were approximately 45,000 men and women employed at the three airfields.

             On January 16, 1942 the War Production Board was established by an executive order.  Headed by Donald M. Nelson, the WPB was in charge of the entire war production program.  As men went to war, an effort was made to persuade Americans to take their place in the factories. Factory agents went door to door to recruit workers into the war production effort. In April 1942 it was estimated that industry in the Dayton area needed at least 56,000 more workers as war production hit new strides.  It was hoped that at least 36,000 workers could be recruited from either non-essential jobs or from  women not employed at the time.    

            A shortage of men and women to fill jobs led to the enactment of a “buddy” shift.  The first business in Dayton to adopt the new buddy shift was the Inland Manufacturing division of GM.  Inland hired a number of high school boys in February 1943.  After school was over, the boys would go to work at Inland until 7 p.m., at which time men and women who had full time jobs during the day would take over and work until 10 p.m.  Univis Lens began the same idea in May 1943, when sixteen men, all of whom held daytime jobs, started working four-hour shifts each night beginning at 5 p.m. 

             By 1943, a minimum 48-hour workweek was being enforced as much as possible. Many of the factory workers were working six days a week and not getting off work until 5 p.m.  Since most of the downtown stores closed by 5:45 p.m. and were closed on Sundays, this meant that as many as 98,000 workers had little or no time to shop.

            To help this situation, retailers began staying open until 8:30 on Monday nights.  This was expanded to also include Wednesdays in 1943.   Dayton was believed to be the first city in the nation to have all of its downtown stores stay open two nights a week. 

            On January 15, 1943 several Dayton banks began evening hours on Friday nights.   This change came into effect as banks began hearing stories of how badly evening hours were needed.  One man complained about having to carry around $800 because he couldn’t get to a bank during the day.  Another stated that, although he had three paychecks, he worked during the day and couldn’t deposit them, leaving the man without any money to live on.  Soon Monday nights were also included.  This plan stayed in effect at most of the banks throughout the war.

             By April 1942, steps were already underway to try and provide homes for war production workers coming into the Dayton area.  O. B. Reemlin, chairman of the Dayton Council for Defense’s housing committee cautioned that too many new permanent homes were undesirable because a large part of the labor employed during the war effort would be “spot labor” that would probably move on after the war finished.  By February 1942, the Dayton Fair Rent Committee had been formed.  As housing shortages arose, rent for homes and apartments went up.  Although at first the council attempted to obtain voluntary adjustments of rent between disgruntled renters and landlords, it was soon apparent that the federal government was needed to look at the situation in order to establish rent maximums during the duration of the war.

            In December 1942, the Dayton Council for Defense’s war housing committee held a meeting to explain the need for registration of thousands of rooms and apartments with the housing center to accommodate women, couples and small families.  The Central YWCA announced that they had expanded their emergency housing to fifty-eight sleeping units due to a loan of thirty-six cots by the Boy Scouts.

            The National Housing Agency (NHA) in Washington, D.C. approved the construction of 1,500 publicly financed family units and 125 dormitory units in Dayton on March 13, 1943.  The project was part of a $6,000,000 program designed to build 2,500 units in the city.  The first house to be converted into separate apartments was the residence at 1912 Brown Street.  Originally containing six rooms, within 30 days the house was converted into three units, two of which had three rooms and a bath, and the third having four rooms and a bath, allowing nine people in all to live there.  Under the program, the government leased the house for seven years or for two years after the war ended whichever came first. 

            To help ease the problems, several housing developments were built during the war, including: Parkside Homes on Keowee Street, with 604 family units and 100 trailers, Edgewood Court on Edgewood Avenue with 138 family units, Summit Court on Summit and Riverview with 139 family units, DeSoto Bass Court on Germantown Street with 310 family units, Overlook on East Third and Smithville Road with 750 family units, and Greenmont on Waterviliet Avenue with 500 family units.

            There were also thirty-four trailer camps, including Forest Park, Ideal at Main and Shoup, and Riverside Trailer near Wright Field on Route 4 just past Harshman Road.  Together, the camps held 1,026 trailers.



Sidebar text:


Contributions to the War Effort Produced in Dayton Factories


            GM and its various divisions: Revolver, incendiary bomb casings, .50 caliber bullet cores, Hispano-Suiza gun parts, the 3-blade propeller for the B-17 bomber, the giant 4-blade propeller for the B-29 Super Bomber, the 57 mm. recoilless rifle, tank tracks, aircraft steering control wheels, shoulder rests and gunsights for the Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, truck steering wheels, clutches for army trucks.

            Reynolds and Reynolds: Confidential booklets, parts lists and instruction sheets for various government defense departments. 

            Leland Motors: Electric motors to operate retractable landing gears for airplanes. 

            McCauley Steel Propeller Company: Standard equipment on primary training planes for the U. S. Army Corps.

            Univis Lens Company: Precision optical elements.

            Buckeye Tools: Rotary tools.  The first manufacturer of rotary tools to be granted an A-1-A rating by the Army and Navy munitions board. 

            NCR: Collars for the VT or Proximity Fuze, computing gun sights, carburetors for Liberator planes and B-29s,  bomb sights,  carbine gun parts, mechanical time fuzes, bomb nose fuzes, a rocket motor,  magazine for Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun,  37mm. shells.

            DELCO: Hydraulic devices for Grumman fighter aircraft, special shock absorbers for Army trucks, tanks, and tank destroyers,  37mm shells, 20mm and  40 mm projectiles for Bofors guns,  Selsyn motors (used in connection with the Oerlikon automatic ack-ack guns), motors for aircraft windshield wipers, bomb fuses,  tank tread parts, the  Allison liquid -cooled motors used in  Bell Airacobras, Curtiss P-40s and Lockheed P-38 Interceptors.



When the work week was extended to 48 hours, workers were faced with closed shops and banks. This led to  absenteeism and labor turnover. Companies began offering personal services to their employees to help keep them on the job.   NCR employees, for instance, could pay their light, gas and telephone bills at the local Credit Union office.  Gas and tire ration requirements were handled by the company.  Auto and drivers’ licenses could be obtained, as could the transfer of automobile titles.  A company library was begun. The employees could also ask for help in filling out income tax forms and have their legal papers notarized.


Posters that promoted safety in the work place were no laughing matter.  During the war 292,000 American soldiers died, with another 671,000 wounded.  On the home front, nearly 300,000 workers were killed, more than 1 million disabled and 3 million injured. 


            During the war Ohio factory workers helped produce $29 billion worth of war supplies.  More than 400 Ohio companies would eventually receive recognition for their efforts with the awarding of the Army-Navy “E” award.  The “E” award was first begun by the Navy in 1906 to honor excellence in gunnery.  When World War II began, however, the Army and Navy began giving the award to companies that were deemed to have gone beyond the call of duty. 

Only four percent of the nation's industries were so honored.  On January 2, 1942 NCR was awarded the Navy “E” pennant award, one of the first of many Dayton Dayton factories to get the coveted honor.  Frigidaire and NCR were awarded the "E" five times -- the all-time record.


Due to the rise in production, there was soon a shortage of housing for workers.  As more people began coming to Dayton to take over the jobs that were becoming available, the local apartments began to fill.  A committee called the Dayton War Housing Committee was formed.  To help solve the problem a number of mobile trailers were brought in.  The committee stressed that the use of the temporary trailers would be removed immediately after the war was over.


An addition was added to the DeSoto-Bass apartments during the war.  Note the open recreation center and community center buiulding.  The living conditions here were much better compared to the workers who had to sometimes share a small bedroom with three others.


Parkside Homes on Keowee Street was one of several housing developments that were built during the war.  It was considered a nice place to live since the McCook Theater, a bowling alley and several other businesses were close at hand.


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