The Arsenal of Democracy: Metal Scrap Drives

Figure 1.--This lot was not fooling around. Here children from what looks like an elementary (primary) school in the Western town of Butte, Montana proudly pose with all the scrap metal they collected (October 1942). There were also scrap drives in Germany and Japan, but you do not see scenes like this. American kids had an advatage. There was a lot more metal scrap lying around in America than any other country. The children all give the "V" sign gesture. Notice that in Montana, many girls wear pants. That was not very common back East. Put your cursor on the image to see the rest of the group. Source: Library of Congress. USW 3-9700-D.

World War II was an industrial war. And metals were needed to build the weapons that won the War. The shortage of rubber was the most serious impediment to the Allied war effort, but metals of all kinds were needed in huge quantities. Building tanks, ships, planes, and other weapons required massive amounts of metals, more than any other war in history. An Army Sherman M-4 tank required more than 20 tons of metal. A Navy battleship needed more than 900 tons. And building the world's largesr air foirce meant that aluminum would be needed in unprecedented quantities. Thus the Government after Pearl Harbor either cut off the supply of metal to the consumer economy or strictly rationerd it. Every thing from barbed wire to farm equipment was rationed. Kids were unable to get bicycles, tricycles, and pedal cars, both because of the metal and the rubber. Expanding mine production took time. And increasing imports meant thast ships had to be built which also took time. There was metal that was immediately available. One estimate suggests that 1.5 million tons of scrap lay useless on U.S. farms. And there were also large large quantities in the cities as well. The Goiverment urged Americans to turn in scrap metal for recycling, and schools and community groups like the Scouts across the country held scrap metal drives. Celebrities pitched in to help promote these drives. The metals that could be obtained through scrap drives included aluminum, copper, iron, nickel, steel, and tin. Given the need for alumininum for aircraft production, drives were launched for old pots. Cans and even tin foil was collected. People saved tin foil from gum wrappers. Often they made tin foil balls which were taken to the collection sites. A shortage of nickel developed. The Victory Key campaign was launched as some keys (especially Yale and Corbin) contained large quantities of nickel needed by the Navy. Americans got caught up in the partiotic feeling and sometimes brought historic cannons or ceven mounuments to the collection sites that after the War they wished they had saved.


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Created: 11:24 PM 5/29/2011
Last updated: 11:24 PM 5/29/2011