Stories from PA History
The Arsenal of America: Pennsylvania During the Second World War
The Arsenal of America: Pennsylvania During the Second World War
Chapter 1: Mobilization and Opposition

Oil on canvas of Arthur H. James.
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Arthur H. James, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1939-1943.
When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, many Pennsylvanians were not particularly interested in what was happening abroad. The United States was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and most families were worried about money, food, and jobs. When Republican markerArthur James took office as governor in 1939, his major objective was to dismantle the "Little New Deal" laws passed by Pennsylvania Democrats in the late 1930s. James had promised to roll back taxes, balance the budget, and clean up graft and corruption. Close to two million Pennsylvanians, however, still remained on government assistance, and industrial production remained stagnant.

On the national front, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was keeping a wary eye on the deteriorating state of affairs worldwide. German and Italian aggression in Europe had already led to war. In Asia, Japan had been fighting in China for several years and was threatening to expand against American and European possessions throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Hundreds of guns stored and ready for shipment.
Some of the hundreds of guns stored at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard awaiting...

Worried about England's ability to resist Nazi Germany, Roosevelt in 1941 managed to get Congress to agree to a lend-lease agreement by which the United States loaned the outmanned British fifty old destroyers in return for the lease of bases in the western hemisphere. By then, German U-Boats were sinking American merchant ships carrying war materiel to England.

FDR also realized that the American armed forces, recently ranked only nineteenth in the world, needed a thorough modernization and enlargement in order to defend America and to be prepared should the nation go to war. As a result, Pennsylvania industries began to receive lucrative government contracts that allowed them to expand their physical plants and hire more workers.
Civil Defense Air Raid wardens, Mr. Woodward and Miss Miles atop Farmers and Mechanics Building at High and Market Street.
Civil Defense air raid wardens Mr. Woodward and Miss Miles atop Farmers and...
A State Council of Defense formed by the Pennsylvania legislature with the support of Governor James then went to work organizing the state's industrial and civilian personnel to prepare for war.

To build America's armed forces, Congress in September 1940, passed a law instituting the nation's first peacetime draft. In response, Governor James supervised organization of the county and state boards necessary to enroll the state's eligible men video into the draft process. In February 1941, the Commonwealth opened the New Cumberland Reception Center just outside of Harrisburg. By the end of the war, 844,909 of Pennsylvania's male population had been inducted into the armed forces via the draft, and more than 500,000 Pennsylvania of them had received their introduction to the military at that New Cumberland facility.

Photograph of New Cumberland Inductees departing a bus and entering into a barracks.
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Inductees arriving at the New Cumberland Army Reception Center, circa 1942.
In February 1941, the federal government inducted the state's National Guard units into national service and ordered them to report to their training camps for assignment. The main body of the state's guard, the marker28th Infantry Division with its more than 17,000 soldiers, assembled at markerIndiantown Gap Military Reservation, then went off to participate in training maneuvers elsewhere in the United States until the fall of 1943, when it was sent to England.

Not all Pennsylvanians, however, supported America's move towards war, or its participation in it. When William Penn founded Pennsylvania in the 1680s, he made his colony a refuge for Quakers from the British Isles and religious dissenters and nonconformists from the European mainland. William Penn and his fellow Quakers were pacifists, as were some of Pennsylvania's other early settlers, including the Mennonites, Moravians, Dunkards (Brethren), Amish, and Schwenkfelders. This pacifist tradition had continued into the twentieth century.
General Smedley D. Butler, U.S. Marines, retired, pictured as he addressed a crowd of 6,000 participants in an anti-war demonstration on Reyburn Plaza, Philadelphia.
Retired Marine general Smedley D. Butler addressing a crowd of 6,000 at an anti-war...
In 1917, Quakers in Philadelphia had organized the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to provide conscientious objectors with a constructive alternative to military service and to aid the civilian victims of the First World War.

In the mid-1930s, former Marine Lieutenant General Smedley Darlington Butler, a Quaker from Chester County, toured the nation video giving speeches for the American League Against War and Fascism scolding that marker "war is a racket" foisted by corporations upon the nation to make profits. In 1939, evangelist markerFrank Buchman, who had attended a Schwenkfelder school while growing up outside Allentown, won followers across the nation, including Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, as he called for a "moral re-armament" of the spirit as an alternative to war.

National map of Mennonite CPS camps
National map of Mennonite CPS camps, 1944.
In acknowledgement of the rights of the nation's religious pacifists, the Selective Service Act of 1940, permitted pacifists to engage in alternative service as conscientious objectors (COs). Because it was the historic home and population center of the Peace Churches, the Commonwealth had more COs than any other state. Indeed, one out of every seven registered COs in the country were Pennsylvanians.

To facilitate alternative service, the Commonwealth modified the strict federal draft laws to enable COs who registered for the draft and were inducted to perform non-combat service. Working with the pacifist churches, the federal government also allowed Pennsylvania COs to choose "work of national importance under civilian direction" rather than go to prison as directed by national law for draft resisters. Working under the aegis of the markerCivilian Public Service, COs from Pennsylvania and other states were put to work in military-style camps, on farms, and in hospitals and mental hospitals.

The Quaker-based markerAmerican Friends Service Committee also provided additional alternative service options for conscientious objectors, some of whom assisted refugees in Europe and North Africa. Unwilling to compromise their opposition to all war, some COs, including civil-rights activist markerBayard Rustin from West Chester, chose prison over alternative service. Applying the political lessons he learned during the war, Rustin would go on to become one of the most important strategists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

"The new super warship U. S. S. New Jersey is a sister ship of the Iowa launched at Brooklyn. She is shown as she left her ways at the Philadelphia Navy Yard."
Launching of the Battleship U. S. S. New Jersey, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard,...
Pennsylvania's geographical location made it an important center for the supply and shipment of men and materials for the war. Between May 1939 and May 1942, the Commonwealth more than doubled its shipment of freight. By then, more freight moved through Pittsburgh than any other rail center in the nation.

Army depots in the state stepped up their procurements and exploded in size. In one year, the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot, the central procurement agency for military uniforms, purchased enough cloth to wrap ten times around the equator. With new infusions of money from the federal government, the Philadelphia Navy Yard rushed to refit "mothballed" vessels of the inactive Sixteenth Fleet, and began construction of new destroyers and battleships, including the massive New Jersey, launched in December 1942.

Rows of Anti-aircraft guns are lined on both sides of a warehouse.
Rows of Anti-aircraft guns, Naval Ordnance Plant, Blaw-Knox Co., York, PA, April...
Pennsylvania's private sector also sprang into action. In 1940, industrial leaders in York, recognizing that most government contracts were too large for a single company to handle, put together a fifteen-point program to organize and maximize the productivity of regional workers, machinery, and material. The York plan soon became a national model for increasing the efficiency of industrial production.

The great steel mills in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem also sprung into operation for the war effort. In Dauphin County, the Hershey Chocolate Company produced D-ration bars for troops in the field. In Allentown, Mack Truck produced heavy trucks and half-tracks. In Philadelphia, J.G. Brill manufactured gun carriages, Henry Disston and Sons produced armor plate, and the Baldwin Locomotives Works made tanks. In the years that followed, Pennsylvania, as Governor Arthur James would boast, became "The Arsenal of America."
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