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California During World War II

Home Front: California During World War II
California in 1940 was generally regarded as a pleasant place, popular with tourists and retirees.  The state did not seem particularly urban or industrial.  When most people thought of California's products they thought of oranges and movies.  Then World War II brought tremendous change to the Golden State. California became a ship and aircraft manufacturing hub.  Urban populations soared as workers and their families arrived to staff the new and expanded factories.  Military facilities bristled from one end of the state to the other.  Servicemen and women by the tens of thousands trained and prepared at California bases for duty overseas.  With the coming of peace in 1945, Californians looked forward to a return to normalcy.  But the state emerged from the conflict as an economic and social powerhouse, and nothing would be quite the same again.    
America Enters Global Conflict
Californians faced the decade of the 1940s both hopeful and uneasy. On the one hand, the Golden State had not suffered as drastically as other states during the Great Depression, and the economy had begun to improve.  However, war had been raging in Europe since September 1939, and America was steadily inching closer to involvement.  Relations with Japan, strained over that country's ongoing invasion of China, deteriorated rapidly.  Then, on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. received the message "AIR RAID, PEARL HARBOR, THIS IS NO DRILL."  Japan had attacked an American naval base in Hawaii.  The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Just a few days later, on December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S., and President Franklin Roosevelt subsequently signed a declaration of war against Germany.  America had entered World War II.       

As Californians learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, rumors spread rapidly, fueling near-panic conditions throughout the state. There were more questions than answers. Where was the Japanese fleet? Would the West Coast be next?

Government and military leaders tried to calm public anxiety as the state geared up for a war no one expected to be quick or easy. For instance, when California Attorney General Earl Warren received word on the afternoon of December 7, 1941 of the Pearl Harbor attack, he quickly wrote this telegram to the state's law enforcement agencies outlining immediate steps to be taken, including guarding against sabotage and preventing "public hysteria and racial disturbances."

Fear of enemy saboteurs gripped Californians throughout the war, but was particularly intense during the early months of America's involvement. With its long, often sparsely populated coastline, the Golden State seemed especially vulnerable to enemy activities. Governor Culbert Olson issued this proclamation in July 1942, urging Californians to be watchful of potential enemy landings along beaches.

Later that year, Californians voted Olson out of office. In an election that played out against a background of war in Europe and the Pacific, Olson was unable to convince voters of his wartime leadership capabilities. Instead, voters elected Earl Warren, formerly the state's Attorney General, to lead the Golden State during global conflict. Warren drove home the need for a decisive and coordinated defense plan for the state, offering a frightened public the campaign slogan of "Leadership, NOT Politics."

In response to rising global tensions, the U.S. implemented a nationwide peacetime military conscription system in 1940 via the Selective Training and Service Act, requiring men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six to register with local draft boards. After the declaration of war in 1941, the provisions of the Act were expanded. All men between the ages of eighteen and forty-four were liable for military service. In addition, the act required the registration of all men between eighteen and sixty-five years of age.

In this photograph, fifty-one-year-old Earl Warren (then California's Attorney General) takes the oath of registration in Oakland, California. Of the millions of Americans who registered for potential military service via the Selective Service Act, over ten million actually entered military service during World War II.

Relocation by Race
On February 19, 1942, just two months after the Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, allowing the U.S. War Department to remove persons it considered potentially dangerous from military areas.  Although the order applied to all people descended from enemy nations, it was primarily aimed at those of Japanese ancestry.  The order opened the way for the internment of thousands of people of Japanese descent, as well as German and Italian ancestry.  This incarceration remains one of the most controversial events of World War II.  While many justified the internment on the basis of military necessity, some saw it as the culmination of decades of racism and discrimination against the Japanese.  They pointed out the hypocrisy of a nation fighting a war to free oppressed peoples abroad imprisoning its own citizens. 

In March 1942, Lieutenant General John DeWitt issued a public proclamation creating Military Areas 1 and 2. Military Area 1 included much of western and southern California, as well as the western portions of Oregon and Washington, and the southern half of Arizona. The proclamation declared that some "classes of persons" would eventually be excluded from Military Area 1.

Over the spring and summer of 1942, the federal government subsequently issued over a hundred Civilian Exclusion Orders like the one shown here, ordering persons of Japanese ancestry living in Pacific Coastal regions to "Assembly Centers," preparatory to incarceration in more permanent "Relocation Centers."

Over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, citizens and aliens alike, young and old, men and women, were ultimately uprooted and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war.

The internees, who could only bring those belongings which they could carry themselves, were first funneled through Assembly Centers, like that shown in this 1942 photograph. From the Assembly Centers, internees were then transferred by bus or train to one of ten "Relocation Centers," two of which were located in California: one in Tule Lake (Modoc County), and another at Manzanar (Inyo County). The federal War Relocation Authority managed the Centers, which were surrounded by barbed wire and watched by armed guards.

Despite internment, many American-born Japanese (or Nisei) from California volunteered for the armed services. Their units were among the most highly decorated during the war. Nisei served in all branches of the armed services, although most enlisted with the U.S. Army. This promotional pamphlet, issued by the U.S War Relocation Authority in collaboration with the War Department, begins with a statement by President Roosevelt, reading in part:

Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry.

Every loyal American citizen should be given the opportunity to serve this country wherever his skills will make the greatest contribution -- whether it be in the ranks of our armed forces, war production, agriculture, Government service, or other work essential to the war effort.

Life within the internment centers was often difficult. Four or five families were often crowded into ramshackle structures of wood and tar-paper, divided up into small "apartments" only 360-400 square feet in size. These apartments did not have any cooking facilities or even plumbing. Instead, internees had to stand in long lines to eat, do laundry, or use the latrines. Privacy was almost non-existent.

Despite the hardships, the internees struggled to improve the conditions within the camps and worked hard to maintain morale. Newsletters such as the one shown here were circulated to establish a sense of community. Sports teams and other forms of recreation were established.

In December 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that while U.S. citizens could be excluded from certain areas for military reasons, they could not be detained in incarceration camps. Executive Order 9066 was subsequently suspended, and the internees were allowed to leave the camps. However, the psychological stress and economic losses which they suffered could not be quantified. Several decades later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing $20,000 to each surviving internee as partial redress for the grave injustice done to them.

War and the Civilian
Like many Americans, California's civilians wondered what they could do to assist the war effort.  Those who were unable to serve in the armed forces turned their attention to supporting the troops, learning what to do in case of invasion or sabotage, growing food, salvaging scrap metal, and innumerable other activities. Entrepreneurs found ways to market war-related products, and the word "Victory" could be seen on everything from store window displays to ice cream bar wrappers.      

Even before America entered World War II, events in Europe and Asia had shown Californians that in war, civilians could find themselves on the front lines. They sought to prepare by attending civil defense schools, like the Chemical Warfare School in Maryland. These schools taught skills such as fighting incendiary bombs, use of gas masks and other protective gear, first aid, and decontamination procedures after a chemical attack.

Scrap drives helped conserve materials vital to the war effort. A salvage handbook issued by the federal War Production Board in 1943 declared that collection of needed scraps "is every civilian's greatest opportunity to help win the war."

Citizens gathered tires and other rubber items, tin cans, automobile parts, steel tools, and other metal items. Women's silk and nylon hose provided fabric for powder bags and parachutes. Household fat and grease drives provided materials to make nitroglycerin. Even old rope and waste paper was collected, for a wide variety of uses from insulating paper for electrical wiring to manufacture of flour sacks. In this 1942 photograph, then-Attorney General Earl Warren assists with a scrap metal drive.

Many civilians participated in the so-called "Victory Garden" effort. Homeowners with sufficient property planted vegetable gardens, while apartment dwellers either planted window boxes or collaborated with other tenants to create roof-top gardens. Schools planted gardens and used the produce for school lunches.

Canned vegetables were rationed, so fresh peas, carrots, tomatoes, beets, and lettuce were welcome additions to the wartime dinner table. Additionally, trains and freight trucks were generally tied up with transporting soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and other war equipment rather than food items. Victory Gardens helped prevent food shortages in outlying communities with limited access to transport.

More than twenty million Victory Gardens were planted across the U.S. during the war. According to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Victory Gardens accounted for forty percent of all vegetables grown in the U.S. during 1944, the same year that the California State Employees Association sponsored the Victory Garden contest described on this flier. Victory Gardens produced over one million tons of vegetables over the course of the war.

Food rations often resulted in creative means to stretch minimal supplies. For instance, the product shown here was designed to supplement coffee supplies with a substitute made of chick peas (garbanzo beans), barley, and figs.

Coffee rationing in the U.S. began in 1942. Rationing did not necessarily mean that a product was scarce. Instead, rationing was often implemented as a way to ensure equitable distribution of limited resources, or to make certain that sufficient resources were first distributed to the troops overseas.

Both military and civilian officials feared forest fires for many reasons. Fire not only threatened the lives and property of the populace, but also destroyed valuable timber desperately needed for war production. In addition, fires near coastlines could potentially be used as beacons for saboteurs, or provide a smoke screen for invasion activities offshore.

State and federal officials embarked on a campaign to educate people about the causes of forest fires and how to prevent them. In this 1942 photograph, Walt Disney is seen presenting M.B. Pratt, State Forester of California, with an anti-fire poster designed by Disney Studios.

Californians feared not only forest fires, but also blazes that could be caused by invading forces or saboteurs with incendiary bombs and other devices. Some entrepreneurial individuals developed products to smother or douse such fires. The trademarks shown here were all registered in California in 1942, early in the war when such fears were at their height.

The war permeated every aspect of life in California. Red, white, and blue buntings, ribbons, and banners were not only used for decorations at home, but also in advertising products. Advertisers also often used the word "Victory" to entice potential customers into sampling their wares, appealing to the patriotic spirit of each individual.

Wartime Production
Because of its excellent harbors, even climate, and proximity to the Pacific theater of the war, California became a center for defense manufacturing.  Existing shipyards, factories, and aircraft plants expanded, and new facilities appeared almost overnight. Workers from all parts of the country flocked to the state, bringing their families and creating what a San Francisco Chronicle writer called a "Second Gold Rush."    

Today, we still practice one of the measures implemented nation-wide by the federal government to assist in the war effort: Daylight Savings Time. The U.S. first used the concept of Daylight Savings Time during World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Standard Time Act of 1918. Intended to support wartime production by lengthening the daylight hours during which factories ran, the Act was repealed at the conclusion of that war, in 1919. After the repeal, most states, including California, went back to standard time.

World War II saw Daylight Savings Time adopted once again. President Franklin Roosevelt implemented "War Time" after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It started in February 1942 and was to end in September 1945. Under "War Time," the country's time zones were renamed to "Pacific War Time," "Mountain War Time," "Central War Time," and "Eastern War Time." Many states protested having to adhere to a federally-regulated time, calling for the end of the practice nearly as soon as it was implemented.

Californians had sent enough letters opposing "War Time" to Governor Earl Warren by December 1943 that he in turn sent a telegram to President Roosevelt asking whether California could revert to standard time. In this return telegraph, President Roosevelt instructed Warren to keep California on "War Time" in order to conserve fuel and other resources.

"War Time" ended in September 1945. Many Californians, however, apparently recognized advantages in the altered time clock, because in 1949, the state's voters adopted Daylight Savings Time (which we still follow) by a vote of 1,406,257 for to 1,167,846 against (54.6% to 45.5%).

For more information about the history of Daylight Savings Time in California, please see "Daylight Savings Time: A Time Whose Time Has Come?" in California Originals, the quarterly newsletter of the California State Archives.

California's shipbuilding industry was one of the first to feel the impact of global conflict. Even before America entered the war, German submarines hunting in "wolf packs" had taken a severe toll on Allied shipping and oil transports, sinking hundreds of ships and millions of tons of supplies to the bottom of the world's oceans. The depredations of the German U-boats threatened to break the critical supply line between the U.S. and her European allies.

Demand for additional transport ships as well as the goods that filled them breathed new life into California's shipyards. Once the U.S. entered the conflict, the need for ships to move both personnel and freight skyrocketed even higher. Employment in the shipyards rose from 4,000 to over 260,000, and mass production methods such as pre-fabrication and pre-assembly were applied to what had traditionally been custom, individualized construction.

In the card shown here, Marinship, one of the shipbuilding yards that sprung up during the war, invites California Governor Earl Warren to the launching of a new ship, the S.S. Sebec, in Sausalito.

California's shipyards centered in three localities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The yards in the San Francisco Bay area were the most extensive, building 1,400 vessels during the course of the war, an average of one per day.

California's shipyards and coastal regions were also used for repair and maintenance of many of the U.S. Navy's Pacific warships, such as the U.S.S. California. Shown here passing under the newly-constructed Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, the California was docked at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. Two bombs struck and eventually sunk her, killing ninety-eight of her crew and wounding sixty-one more. The California was subsequently refloated, with repairs done first at Pearl Harbor and then at Puget Sound Navy Yard. She then underwent "shakedown" at San Pedro, California -- the process by which a ship's performance is tested before being put into active service.

After shakedown off the coast of San Pedro, the U.S.S. California sailed from San Francisco to participate in the invasion of the Mariana Islands, occupied by Japanese forces. From there, the California assisted in operations at Guam and Tinian, and then supported amphibious campaigns in the Phillipines.

In January 1945, the California was struck by a Japanese kamikaze pilot. Forty-four of her crew were killed, and 161 injured. Following repairs, again at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, the California returned to action off the coast of Okinawa in June. She subsequently supported U.S. Army occupation forces in Wakanoura Wan, Honshu, Japan until October 1945. The California was decommissioned in 1947, after receiving seven battle stars for her World War II service.

California's nascent aircraft industry also expanded drastically during World War II. Employing only 20,000 people in 1939, by 1944 over 280,000 people worked to build planes and aircraft parts in factories around the state. As with shipbuilding, aircraft construction techniques were revolutionized by the introduction of mass production methods, allowing for the production of more planes in less time.

The rapid expansion of these heavy industries resulted in an employment shortage that ultimately changed the face of California's workforce. Many of the nation's men had joined the armed forces and were not, therefore, available to work in the factories, shipyards, and aircraft hangars. Instead, many such jobs came to be filled by women.

These photographs show classes at an aviation sheetmetal school, where men and women alike learned how to repair such items as motors (bottom left), floats for water planes (top left), and wing coverings (bottom right).

Women entered the defense work force in unprecedented numbers during World War II, forever altering the social and economic fabric of the Golden State and the nation. They filled positions that had traditionally been dominated by men, working in production lines, rail yards, and factories of heavy industry as well as finding employment as chemists, engineers, lawyers, and doctors. As necessity knocked down gender barriers, innumerable opportunities arose for America's mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers.

Inspired by now-iconic images of Rosie the Riveter, women flocked to California's industries by the thousands. As this informational sheet shows, the number of women wage earners employed in manufacturing jobs in the Golden State rose from 45,600 in January 1941, to 182,800 in just two years, an increase of more than three hundred percent.

With so many women answering their nation's call to assist with the war effort, California was forced to address issues created by the changing face of the work force, such as that of child care. Many factories and shipyards ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Mothers of small children had to find some way to take care of their toddlers while they were working.

The federal government attempted to address such issues via the Lanham Act, a 1940 law authorizing the use of federal grants to construct public works facilities. During World War II, the Act was used to provide funds for the construction of child-care facilities in areas heavily impacted by war production. The Lanham Act supported over 3,000 child care centers across the nation, serving 600,000 children. Much of this funding was used in California, due to the wartime industrial centers that developed in the Golden State.

Virtually every aspect of California's economy was impacted by the advent of World War II, including its agricultural production. California's farms and canneries fed hundreds of thousands of new workers, soldiers, and their families flooding into the state, as well as Allied troops and civilians overseas. However, agriculture soon faced one of the major problems impacting heavy industry: lack of a workforce for harvesting and processing.

In addition to loss of potential workers to the war itself (as soldiers) and heavy wartime industries such as shipbuilding, California agriculture was also impacted by the removal of people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. According to one estimate, nearly forty percent of all the vegetables grown in California originated on farms owned and operated by Japanese people.

Farmers and cannery owners searched desperately for harvesters and production line workers. This pamphlet, issued in 1945, urged "men, women, boys and girls over 16" to "do a real war job" by working in Sacramento County canneries.

The Horrible Cost of War
World War II ended in 1945.  On May 8th of that year, Germany agreed to an unconditional surrender after suffering a series of defeats across Europe.  The Japanese Empire surrendered four months later, on September 2, after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Global conflict was over, but it had taken a huge toll on the world.        

On October 10, 1947, the first ship carrying the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed during the conflict arrived on the Golden State's shores. That day, the U.S. Army Transport Honda Knot sailed into San Francisco Bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, accompanied by a destroyer escort. The Honda Knot carried over three thousand deceased American service men and women back to their homeland.

A solemn crowd over five thousand strong gathered on San Francisco's Marina Green to pay tribute to these deceased service men and women. At the beginning of the services, a naval launch presented a seven-foot wreath from President Harry Truman, made up of leaves of trees from around the U.S. The wreath can be seen hanging on the side of the Honda Knot in the bottom photograph. A one-minute moment of silence, observed throughout San Francisco and signaled by church bells, was followed by a memorial service honoring the dead.

Over sixty million people died around the globe as a result of World War II, approximately three percent of the world's population. The United States lost over 416,000 people to the conflict. Over 233,000 American dead were eventually returned to their native soil; 93,000 are buried overseas; and almost 80,000 were sadly never recovered. Today, retrieval and burial of American World War II dead still continues, as bodies of U.S. soldiers are discovered in remote jungles or European cemeteries. These men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, for our country and for freedom. May they rest in peace.

Postwar Golden State
As early as 1942, after the shock of the Pearl Harbor attack had worn off and Japanese advances in the Pacific had been blunted, Californians began planning for the return of peace.  Issues facing the state included the return of incarcerated Japanese Americans, adequate housing and other facilitates for hundreds of thousands of new Californians, and education and jobs for veterans.  

One of the biggest concerns facing California after World War II ended involved how to reintegrate veterans into civilian life. Hundreds of thousands of Californians had entered the armed services during the war, their lives, families, and jobs disrupted for the duration of the conflict. Now, with war's end, these servicemen and women needed assistance in a wide variety of matters, from education and employment, to health care and housing.

Governor Earl Warren appointed the California Veteran's Commission on October 30, 1944, to assist veterans with re-entry to civilian life. The Veteran's Committee acted as a coordinating agency, working with federal entities, state agencies, local governments, and community organizations such as American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans. The Commission's primary aim was to make sure that veterans were well-educated about the various aid and benefits to which they were entitled.

Many post-war programs, including some which benefited returning veterans, were funded through the issuance of State Veteran's Bonds. The bond shown here, issued via the Veteran's Bond Act of 1943, provided for a fund to assist veterans with the purchase of homes or farms.

The end of World War II did not just see the return of veterans to California's shores. It also meant the return of the thousands of incarcerated people of Japanese ancestry, as well as internees of German and Italian descent. Many viewed the displaced internees with antagonism, particularly Japanese civilians. Many others, however, deplored the anti-foreigner sentiments that often arose in the post-war years, recognizing the contributions made by all Americans to the war effort. Both state and federal governments created agencies to assist with the resettlement of these displaced civilians.

The American Federation of Labor passed this resolution, outlined in a U.S. War Relocation Authority Press Release, at their national convention in New Orleans in 1945. The resolution condemns "unwarranted persecution and discrimination against American citizens of Japanese ancestry."

In this statement to the Congressional Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, California Governor Earl Warren outlines many other issues facing the Golden State at the end of war in 1945. Huge population increases headlined the list of problems. California was home to 6.95 million people in 1940. Five years later, in 1945, the Golden State had a population of 9.344 million, an increase of more than two million people.

This incredible growth in population, and an accompanying increase in economic strength, set the stage for California to become one of the most populous and prosperous states in the Union. The Golden State faced the second half of the twentieth century with optimism and confidence as an economic and cultural powerhouse, her new-found wealth a product of one of the most devastating conflicts the globe has ever endured.

Credits: Exhibit

All images from records of the California State Archives.

Curation of physical exhibit by Blaine Lamb (2005)

Digital adaptation by Jessica Herrick (2017)

Imaging by Jessica Herrick

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
www.sos.ca.gov/archives
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Email: ArchivesWeb@sos.ca.gov
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

Credits: All media
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