WAR PRODUCTION BOARD
During World War II, the War Production Board (WPB) was granted supreme authority to direct procurement of materials and industrial production programs. Established by Executive Order 9024 on January 16, 1942, the WPB replaced the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board as well as the Office of Production Management. The national WPB constituted the chair (Donald M. Nelson, 1942 44; Julius A. Krug, 1944 45) appointed by the president, the secretaries of war, navy, and agriculture, the federal loan administrator, lieutenant general in charge of war department production, administrator of the office of price administration, chair of the board of economic warfare, and special assistant to the president who supervised the defense aid program. The board created advisory, policy-making, and progress-reporting divisions.
The WPB managed twelve regional offices. Region eight with headquarters in Dallas, Texas, included Oklahoma. The WPB also operated one hundred twenty field offices throughout the nation, including Oklahoma City district office managed by C. F. Aurand. In May 1943 Aurand announced that the state war production board and its smaller war plants division would become two separate agencies. The state WPB continued to maintain records on the state's war production facilities and their production capacity, while the Smaller War Plants Corporation helped small Oklahoma businesses (companies with fewer than five hundred employees) obtain war contracts and loans.
During World War II Oklahoma war facilities manufactured aircraft, weapons, ammunition, explosives, chemicals, aviation gasoline, and petroleum products. Oklahoma factories also produced ship parts such as masts and valves. Harter Marblecrete Stone Company of Oklahoma City had a government contract in excess of $100,000 to produce M-85 concrete practice bombs used by the U.S. Army Air Forces. William O. Coleman, Smaller War Plants Corporation district manager, stated that Harter had been granted the largest contract to an individual firm in the United States. Wartime needs created a market for canned chicken, thereby helping Oklahoma's poultry industry as well as employing canning factory workers. In April 1945 a Tulsa ordnance plant gained a $2.4 million federal contract to manufacture ninety-millimeter shells.
The national WPB's primary task was converting civilian industry to war production. The board assigned priorities and allocated scarce materials such as steel, aluminum, and rubber, prohibited nonessential industrial activities such as producing nylons and refrigerators, controlled wages and prices, and mobilized the people through propaganda such as "give your scrap metal and help Oklahoma boys save our way of life." In September 1942 Oklahoma newspapers publicized a statewide campaign for scrap metal collection to run from September 28 to October 17. N. D. Welty, publisher of the Bartlesville Examiner and Enterprise, was selected to direct the drive. The scrap metal collected in each county was sold to authorized junk dealers, and the proceeds went to a worthy cause designated by each county scrap metal committee. Children participated in the drive by bringing scrap metal to collection points at schools. Two weeks into the campaign Oklahoma ranked seventeenth in the nation with collections averaging seventeen pounds per person for a total of 19,139 tons. When the drive closed on October 17, Oklahoma ranked twenty-seventh with an average of seventy pounds collected per person, compared to a national average of almost eighty-two pounds per person.
The WPB and the nation's factories effected a great turnaround to war production. The construction of military aircraft that totaled six thousand in 1940 jumped to eighty-five thousand in 1943. Factories that had manufactured silk ribbons produced parachutes, automobile factories built tanks, typewriter companies converted to machine guns, undergarment manufacturers sewed mosquito netting, and a roller coaster manufacturer converted to the production of bomber repair platforms. Factories were expanded and new ones built. In Oklahoma new construction occurred in Beckett, Choteau, McAlester, Pryor, Ponca City, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City. The Douglas Aircraft Company built a bomber plant in Tulsa and a facility in Midwest City. The plants went into production in 1942 and 1943, respectively. The U.S. Naval Ammunition Depot in McAlester, constructed in 1942, employed more than eight thousand in 1945. The WPB ensured that each factory received materials it needed to operate, in order to produce the most war goods in the shortest time.
From 1942 to 1945 the WPB directed the production of $185 billion worth of armament and supplies. In July 1945 the WPB reported that $222 million had been allocated to Oklahoma war facilities. At war's end, most production restrictions quickly lifted, and the WPB was abolished on November 3, 1945, with its remaining functions transferred to the Civilian Production Administration.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donald M. Nelson, Arsenal of Democracy: The Story of American War Production (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1946). U.S. Civilian Production Administration, Industrial Mobilization for War: History of the War Production Board and Predecessor Agencies, 1940-1945 , Vol. 1, Program and Administration (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1947). U.S. War Production Board, Wartime Production Achievements and Reconversion Outlook: Report of the Chairman, War Production Board, October 9, 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1945).
Tally D. Fugate
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