The outbreak of World War II dramatically changed Connecticut businesses. Long a vibrant part of New England industry, local firms switched from making clocks and wool coats to mass producing artillery cartridges and Army pea-coats. Selections from the Connecticut business collections held by the University of Connecticut’s Archives and Special Collections paint a detailed portrait of this remarkable moment in history through the lives of the people who lived it.
During World War II, the federal government assumed an expansive role in managing the national economy. To help mobilize for war, Washington pushed local industry to retool their factories for military production. Connecticut businesses complied, though some more readily than others. Regardless of disposition, they were all soon operating under wartime conditions: rushing to convert machinery, meet difficult production schedules, secure scarce materials, and plan for uncertain times ahead.
The U.S. entrance into World War II altered the landscape of American labor. Men and women gave up their civilian jobs in large numbers to serve in the armed forces, leaving Connecticut businesses scrambling to find replacements. Amid mounting production schedules and material shortages, local industry had to adjust to a new labor regime. Women and immigrants took on expanded roles in the workplace, while employers accepted increased unionization and fought against absenteeism and workplace injury.
Connecticut businesses not only helped the government wage World War II, they also helped sell the war to the American people. Local firms crafted slogans, advertisements, and editorials aimed at boosting worker morale and chiding those who failed to support the war. They also tried to stoke patriotic fervor beyond the workplace, promoting bond drives and victory gardens as well as organizing civil defense drills and wartime recreation.
Connecticut businesses won a range of awards and honors during World War II. Achieving national recognition often occasioned lavish celebrations, while visits from government officials produced more quiet affairs. Whether large or small, these honors served a number of purposes during the war. They helped ease the tension between federal agencies and private businesses under new regulations, they spurred workers to meet the high demands of wartime production, and they supported the government’s overall attempt to boost morale.
This online exhibit was created and written by Shaine Scarminach, and the website was designed and assembled by A. Gabrielle Westcott. Both are UConn History PhD students who work as student assistants in Archives & Special Collections.