The Great State of Washington During WWII
Despite a wartime population of only 1.7 million (which equates to 28 people per square mile), Washington State more than “did its bit” for the WWII war effort. From the manufacturing and production of war materiel to housing POWs and providing food for the armed forces, Washington was a busy place to live!
Manufacturing: Fifteen shipyards peppered the coastline and rivers of Washington, producing thousands Liberty ships, aircraft carriers, LSTs, transport, and cargo ships. The Pacific Car and Foundry manufactured hundreds of Sherman tanks, the mostly widely used medium tank by U.S. and Western Allied troops. Then there was the Boeing Company that made thousands of B-17 and B-29 bombers. According to one report, floor space of Seattle based aircraft companies increased from 800,000 square feet to 4.1 million square feet by the end of the war.
War Materiel: In the eastern part of the state, Hanford designed the plane and refined the plutonium for the bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945. Additionally, at the beginning of the war the state had no aluminum production, but by war’s end, Washington was the third largest producer of the metal. Lumber was also in huge demand, and the state stepped up. Billions of board-feet were milled to build barracks, minesweepers, barges, training planes, and much more.
Food: The fishing industry had always played a large part in the state’s economy, and continued to do so. In addition to salmon and halibut many other seafood was harvested. The army and navy purchased nearly all the tinned salmon the state could produce. Washington was also a leading agricultural state. Improvements in dehydration processes, allowed the state to ship dried fruit, vegetables, milk, and eggs to troops worldwide. An estimated four hundred million pounds of dried eggs left the state annually!
POWs: Nine POW camps at various locations around the state housed thousands of enemy troops. The state’s remoteness and fair treatment of prisoners resulted in very few escape attempts. One story is told about a prisoner who snuck out by hanging on the underside of a truck as it was leaving camp. The man lived with a woman for two weeks, but after an argument turned himself in. Prisoners performed a variety of jobs and paid eighty cents an hour for their efforts.
Internment Camps: After the implementation of Executive Order 9066, Seattle’s “Japan Town” was emptied and by all reports, never recovered. Many Japanese-Americans operated farms, and the strawberry industry was severely impacted when these families were moved out of Bellevue. Three “enemy alien” internment camps were created. McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary held Japanese individuals, Seattle INS Detention Facility held Italian and Japanese, and Fort Meriwether German, Italian, and Japanese.
Washington State also sent its sons and daughters to serve, and more than 6,200 lost their lives.
Have you ever visited this beautiful state?