The World War II Military and Home Fronts | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

The World War II Home Front

The Benefits and Costs of War

EnlargeHenry Schmidt, an employee of the Plastics Division of the Consolidated Paper Company, during World War II.

War Worker, 1944

Henry Schmidt, an employee of the Plastics Division of the Consolidated Paper Company, during World War II. View the original source document: WHI 53204

Unlike World War I, there was no strong opposition to US entry into World War II. Senator Robert La Follette, Jr. and Governor Phil La Follette opposed American entry into the war. But both eventually conceded that the threat of fascism and the growing strength of the Nazis justified U.S. participation.

Growth of Industry

Wisconsin citizens became dependent on orders from the military of industrial and agricultural products. Manitowoc, Sturgeon Bay and Superior built submarines and ships. The Badger Ordinance Company became one of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the world. Farmers had slowed production during the Great Depression. But after America entered the war, they increased their output of dairy products, vegetables, eggs and meat for the military and the civilian population. State businesses filled $4.6 billion in orders during the war.

As men left their factory and farm jobs to fight in the war, women replaced them. Before the war, Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company had employed only 144 women — about 3% of the total workforce. By December 1941 the number had grown to 750.

Women in the Military

EnlargeWomen's Army Corps (WAC) Design No. 1, "I'd Rather Be with Them." The poster features a young woman in military uniform with a pack on her shoulders and a helmet on her head.

Join the Wac, 1944

Women's Army Corps (WAC) Design No. 1, "I'd Rather Be with Them." The poster features a young woman in military uniform with a pack on her shoulders and a helmet on her head. View the original source document: WHI 66790

Approximately 9,000 Wisconsin women also served in the military. Most were involved in healthcare, but many also served as parachute riggers, cryptographers, weather observers and ferry pilots. Each branch of the military had specific units for women. Women served as WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — in the Navy, SPARS — Semper Paratus (Always Ready) — in the Coast Guard, WACS — Women's Army Corps — in the Army and in a special reserve force in the Marine Corps. Female pilots, or WASPs — Women Airforce Service Pilots — brought new aircraft from the factory to airfields. Ellen Ainsworth was the only woman from Wisconsin killed in action during the war.

Until the war ended in August of 1945, wartime shortages of food, gasoline and other essential goods were a part of daily life. But World War II also expanded Wisconsin's industrial and agricultural resources, increased production and employment and raised the standard of living and the state's economic security.

Learn More

[Sources: The History of Wisconsin vol 5 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin); Kasparek, Jon, Bobbie Malone and Erica Schock. Wisconsin History Highlights: Delving into the Past (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2004); D.C. Everest Area Schools. World War II: More Stories from Our Veterans (Weston, Wis.: D.C. Everest Area Schools, 2004); "Through the World Wars" online exhibit from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum]

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