Nash at war: 1943

Nash-Kelvinator’s Ranco Division earned the Army-Navy “E” for High Achievement in War Production in January 1943. The Columbus, Ohio subsidiary had been known for electrical switches and heater controls before the war; now, its workers were making binoculars and aviation equipment, including altitude controls and pressure gauges.1

first aid for your carNash Motors prepared a comprehensive booklet entitled Nash Owners’ First Aid For Your Car: Wartime Trouble-Shooter’s Guide for Duration Driving. Fitting neatly into the glove compartment, the red, white, and blue document was sent to Nash owners throughout the country, and reminded owners that pre-war servicing schedules based on mileage were no longer applicable; that “Time” used the car whether the driver did or not. “Your car is precious…save it!” exhorted the wartime car care calendar as it listed the attention a Nash needed every two weeks, every month, every two months in order to last for the duration.

Owners also received attractive Mileage Ration Book Holders, courtesy of their Nash dealers. Made of a high grade, heavy embossed paper, they were sized to fit the gasoline ration book, the tire inspection record, registration, and driver’s license, with a handy check off chart to “Keep a record of your car and keep it rolling for the duration.” There were columns for recording odometer readings, oil changes, lubrication, battery checkups, tire rotations, wheel bearing service, transmission and differential checks, engine tune-ups, wheel balancing and alignments. “Care for your car—for your country,” was the watchword from Nash.

Car tires needed to be inspected. B Book holders had to have their tires certified every four months and C holders, every three months. The fee was 25¢ for checking the five tires—50¢ if the tires had to be removed from the car. Failure to have them inspected meant owners would be denied future gasoline ration books and no longer have permission to purchase tires or even recaps.9

The lowly tin can wouldn’t be kicked around any more; the first drive for the now important metal was organized on January 18th. With help from the Boy Scouts, city garbage trucks made their way through streets snowdrift-filled streets to pick up the flattened cans placed at the curb. Two boxcars were filled to the tops with 32 tons of the precious metal, shipped to a detinning plant in Chicago.3 If every housewife in the nation saved only two tin cans in one week, a week’s worth of the recycled cans would provide enough steel to build the hulls of three heavy cruisers and enough tin for twenty submarines.4 In February, Girl Scout troops helped to collect more than 2,500 pounds of used fats6 , a vital component in making explosives.

Meat became more and more difficult to buy. A&P began to promote “Meatless Menu Makers” as part of its advertising. Grocery ads not only listed prices but ration points, too. Kellogg’s of Battle Creek reminded folks that meat could be stretched a good ways by adding cereal when making meat loaf, hamburgers, and croquettes. Then, on February 12, the US Mint began making zinc-coated one-cent coins; copper was needed for weapons and ships.16

can't keep a good man down

An entirely new genre of print advertising was launched by the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation in February. No one in the world had ever seen a campaign like it before. These advertisements had absolutely nothing to do with selling cars or refrigerators. While the corporation’s role in weapon building was tagged, it was not the primary focus; each ad was a miniature drama, designed to personalize the war and emphasize the values of freedom and liberty upon which the United States of America had been founded.

Readers got instantly involved with the characters, often presented as intimate, heart-wrenching messages came from soldiers on the front lines of battle to their loved ones at home. Others featured the sentiments of mothers, wives and families on the home front, sent to their men in uniform.

when you come back

when come backWith its pledge to keep the home fires burning brightly until the soldier could return, “When You Come Back to Me” struck a chord with thousands. Nash was flooded with requests for reprints. Countless copies were tearfully kissed and sealed into envelopes, mailed to soldiers the world over. Another ad entitled, “Until I Come Back,” was nearly as popular. Virtually impossible to read without a handkerchief, the patriotic message reminded readers that this war was really about freedom and liberty. The words touched the hearts of many and the ad was often seen posted in public places throughout the nation.

On February 13, President Roosevelt extended the workweek to 48 hours for all war industries. Nash-Kelvinator advertising backed up the president’s words with pleas to “give more hours” and to “give more blood” in its advertising.

The company’s Electromaster division employees proudly added a gold star to their Army-Navy pennant that spring, signifying excellence in the workplace. Deliveries to the government from Electromaster were on time and under budget.17

Del Monte foods, the world’s largest fruit and vegetable canner, announced that a full third of its 1942 harvests had been diverted to the armed forces. The company urged all Americans to grow Victory Gardens during this emergency and to buy rationed foods with care. “Take the varieties your grocer has—and “fill in” with the foods you grow and can at home.” 19

An office for the Second Kenosha War Bond Drive opened at 5727 Sixth Avenue in the Schwartz Building on April 5. A wartime rarity—a phone—was installed. The national goal of the Second War Loan was $13 billion and Kenosha’s quota was $2,080,0000. The campaign kicked off on the 12th. Simmons took out full-page ads with huge headlines that asked, “Are you a part-time American?” It urged Kenoshans to buy any one of the seven different types of war bonds to pay for the men, the planes tanks and guns needed on ever expanding battlefronts.21 Citizens reached their goal in the first week, but then leaders decided to shoot for a Double Goal.22 By the end, proud Kenosha would lead the state of Wisconsin in oversubscription to the bond quota.

The nationwide goal for the War Bond Drive was $13 billon. Magazines and newspapers gave the government $170,000 worth of advertising space. Nash did its part, too. Each of the company’s ads exhorted readers to “Speed the day of victory! Buy more War Bonds!” When the campaign closed on May 1, citizens had responded mightily: more than $18.5 billion.23

On April 8, President Roosevelt froze wages and prices in attempt to curb inflation. The newly created Office of Price Administration would be the watchdog. Workers could no longer change jobs in key industries unless it was proven to be beneficial to the war effort. The creation of the OPA prompted the Kenosha school board officials to heave a sigh of relief; Kenosha’s factories led the state in wages and it was difficult for the public sector to compete. The school board found it virtually impossible to hire and keep janitorial and maintenance staff. Salaries were low enough that, until forbidden, even teachers were working full shifts in factories after a day in the classroom.24

The National Safety Council published surprising figures on April 27, showing that the home place was ten times more dangerous than the front battle lines. Statistics revealed that 128,000 people had died in accidents since the start of the war compared to 12, 230 deaths in the armed forces. Americans were urged to be careful, Ned Dearborn, spokesman for the Council admonished, “No war worker is so unimportant that he can afford an accident.”

radial engineIt was common knowledge by the end of April that Nash workers were building aircraft engines. On April 29 a reporter for the Kenosha Evening News was allowed to write, “Today 35 top aircraft engineers, production men and technical specialists came to Kenosha to study production and manufacturing techniques used at the aircraft engine plant. The men were members of the aircraft engine committee of the Automotive Council for War Production. The morning tour was followed by a round-table meeting with key people at Nash.”

Included in the news report was a tersely worded statement from the company. “Nash-Kelvinator’s product here, one of the newest aircraft engine plants in the country has been in production on Pratt & Whitney Double-Wasp, 2,000-horsepower altitude engines since last fall. These engines are used to power the navy’s highest flying fighter craft.” Continuing on, “Other war products being manufactured by Nash-Kelvinator Corporation include Hamilton Standard hydromatic propellers, propeller governors, binoculars, secret ordnance and other ordnance items.”

Engine work was well under way at the Nash factory. Hundreds of hopeful workers poured in from places like Tupelo, Mississippi to swell the ranks. Employees in the Aircraft Division got anywhere from 65 cents to a dollar an hour (room and board for a single man was $10 a week; a furnished apartment for a married couple was $12 a week.)26

The test cells ran night and day. The buzz could be heard throughout much of the city. Larry Finkler was so highly in tune with the engine program he could sit in his back yard on a day off, listen to the drone and know immediately if something was wrong. When the sound was “off” he would jump out of his lawn chair and call the plant to tell the engineer in charge which engine in which test cell was malfunctioning.27

Harold E. Long was appointed Works Manager at the Nash plant on June 12. Long left the Buick concern in 1917 to come to Kenosha with Charles Nash “in founding an independent automobile empire.” Long was already the company purchaser and in January had been named Director of Planning for Nash Motors. Long is credited within the automotive industry as the father of the rapid turnover and low-inventory system, a.k.a. the “just-in-time” delivery of inventory from suppliers that made Nash so highly profitable. He replaced Ray De Vlieg who was named Vice President of all manufacturing operations for Nash-Kelvinator and would be moving to Detroit to take up new duties there.

Nash-Kelvinator also announced on June 12 that it had signed a contract to build helicopters. Few had ever heard of the science fiction-like machines that could take off and land vertically. Designed by Igor Sikorsky, six of these astonishing craft had been built but the company could not deliver the numbers required by the United States Air Force. Experienced Nash would step into the breach, solve the intricate problems involved in mass-producing the highly complex machines, and deliver them to the Air Force.

The first R-6A flew in October 1943. Designed for observation and liaison, the helicopter could be equipped to carry 650 pounds of bombs or medical litters. When fitted with pontoons, it could land and take off on water. Still classified as Top Secret, Nash deliberately kept the current weapon under wraps by showing its boxy-looking predecessor, the R-4, in advertising. Workers built 219 of the R-6As in 1944 and 1945 under license from Sikorsky.

Sikorsky R6-A Specifications

  • Main rotor diameter: 38 ft.
  • Length: 38 ft. 3 in.
  • Height: 11 ft. 7 in.
  • Weight: 2,900 lbs. max.
  • Engine: One Franklin O-405-9 (235 hp).
  • Maximum speed: 96 mph.
  • Cruising speed: 69 mph.
  • Range: 305 miles
  • Service ceiling: 13,200 ft.

The same day, officials let it be known that Alfred Wibel had joined Nash-Kelvinator as a Vice President. Although he was a lawyer, he had spent most of his life as a buyer at the Ford Motor Company, and had the distinction of having purchased more material then any other human being in the world.

Two days later, George Mason met the press in Detroit to speak further about the helicopter contract. The War Measures Act did not allow Mason to say how many would be built or even where the factory would be located. It was quickly learned, however, that they would not be manufactured in Kenosha as the aircraft engine contracts provided “all we can handle.”

As June gave way to July, rubber was in such short supply that the sale of new tires was restricted to officials who had need of good tread for high speed. In Kenosha County that elite group included firemen, police and doctors.28

The Independence Day ad from Nash-Kelvinator was in the form of a letter from a soldier who “grew up in a foxhole.”


The war was taking its toll on the home front. Everyone was stretched to the limit on every conceivable level. On July 1 grocery store owners agreed they would all close their shops on Wednesday afternoons for the duration of the war. They needed to catch their breath from the labor shortages and heavily increased bookwork.

The famed Army Show rolled into town on August 4 with 800 troops and 125 vehicles. They wowed the citizenry with a great military spectacle. They arrived, pitched tents, took part in a gigantic parade that included an 85-foot long Nash-Kelvinator float and the first public display of the already legendary Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine. Some 40,000 townsfolk were entertained by the army’s 40-piece band and then settled in to watch a ferocious mock battle.30

Kenoshans were urged to “Share your home with a War Worker’s family…and earn extra income.” The announcement read, “Hundreds of decent, friendly, patriotic Americans have come to Kenosha to work in our war industries. But they can’t find a place to live with their families. They’re up against it. They don’t ask for a home as nice, or even as comfortable as the one they left in their hometown. All they ask is a roof over their heads…and they are eager and able to pay for it.” 31

Housing was critically short. Kenoshans were urged to list all potential vacancies with the War Housing Center, to convert their properties into dwellings with FHA loans, and to lease those properties to Uncle Sam. Setting the tone for the community, the Knights of Columbus leased their former meeting hall on Seventh Avenue to the government; the building was quickly converted into four apartments. The three-room apartments would rent for $40 and the four-room apartments for $50 a month, with heat and light included.32

Members at UAW Local 72 studied a resolution to work on Labor Day and not take part in the annual Labor Day Parade. The membership voted overwhelmingly “to produce for the continued attack on the Axis.” Every weapon was sorely needed if victory was to be realized.

36 secondsIf the Army Show had wowed folks, there was more to come. The Navy made Kenosha its port of call on September 14 to help spur bond sales during the Third War Drive. All the stars from the Meet Your Navy radio show were on hand, including movie star Billy DeWolfe and singing groups The Tune Toppers and the Blue Jackets. They performed in the Washington Bowl in front of an estimated crowd of 20,000 spectators. A reporter for the Kenosha Evening News penned his observations of the star-studded event. “The moon was full and so were the hearts of the huge throngs as they saw their own Navy men parade a lineup of talent that no commercial theater could supply in one show.” They honored Kenoshans for their superb record in buying bonds as they ‘backed the attack.’”

First Lady of Song, Kate Smith, did her part for the War Drive with a special, live radio performance on the Columbia Broadcasting System, aired on September 21. Famous for her rendition of “God Bless America,” the highly popular entertainer raised a whopping $39 million during the show. The goal for the War Bond drive was $15 billion. When it was over on October 2, Americans had once more done their part to “Back the Attack.” The final tally was nearly $19 billion worth of $100 denomination E Bonds sold.34

Italy surrendered to the Allies on September 9. Nash-Kelvinator’s advertising was so quick on the draw that the company’s “It is only dawn in Italy” appeared in the New York Sun the very same day as the headline that Italy was out of the war.

George Mason drew special attention to Nash-Kelvinator’s advertising in the 1943 Annual Report to stockholders. “To protect our stake in both the automotive and major appliance fields, our company has and will continue to advertise judiciously during the war period, for one of our greatest assets is the goodwill represented by the names “Nash” and “Kelvinator”, which we feel must be constantly kept before the public. Our advertising has been equally well regarded by the civilian population and the members of our armed forces; and has won praise from the press, industry, and Government officials and agencies. This is due, we believe, to the fact that it has so clearly set forth the fundamental principles for which we are fighting this war.”

Mason announced on September 24 that Nash-Kelvinator had successfully completed arrangements for a $75 million credit line in order to finance war production under the government’s VT Loan program. This would guarantee the independent automaker’s ability to take on even more war work.

hellcatAdmiral D. C. Ramsey, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, wrote a letter of praise to Nash-Kelvinator for its excellence and asked that it be shared with the workers. Published on October 30 in the Kenosha Evening News, it read—

To the men and women of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation at Kenosha… The new Hellcat fighters powered by Pratt and Whitney engines have proved their superiority to the Japanese Zero by their devastating performance against the Japs in the Solomons and in the raid of Wake Island by our naval forces. In one of the engagements in the Solomons the Hellcats tore into 14 Zeros and shot down eight without loss to themselves. The other 11 hellcats encountered 19 Zeros and destroyed six with a loss of only one plane.

The pilots reported ‘The Pratt and Whitney engine performed admirably with no blower difficulties and few exhaust stack failures.’ In the attack on Wake the Hellcats shot down more than 30 Jap aircraft in combat and destroyed approximately the same number on the ground. As far as is known the Zeroes failed to down a single Hellcat. Every engine you supply puts another one of these urgently needed planes into action.

Turkeys were absent from the Thanksgiving dinner table again this year but smoked ham was 31 cents a pound at the National Food Store, if one had the necessary 5 brown points to lay down with the cash. A&P was taking orders for Thanksgiving poultry—with no guaranteed that it would be a gobbler—when and if they should become available. The OPA dictated that any turkey sold would cost 53 cents a pound. The second wartime thanksgiving was observed “quietly, reverently and industriously” according to the Kenosha Evening News. Stores and government offices were closed but the factory whistles blew and tens of thousands of employees went to work. Military men who found themselves at the USO while passing through town were all invited home to eat with civilian families in Kenosha.36

1942 wing and a gunThe War Manpower Commission ordered all American factory workers to start working a 48-hour a week workweek on December 1. Like their counterparts throughout the nation, employees in Kenosha were paid time-and-a-half for the last eight hours.

The arrival of the first 150 trailers at Bonnie Hame on November 30 was an early Christmas gift for the many families who were desperate for a roof, any roof, over their heads.

George Mason spoke to reporters about the company’s latest fiscal year earnings on December 2. It was an opportunity to underscore a vibrant peacetime future--

Though our entire efforts are dedicated and will continue to be dedicated to our part in the winning of the war, we have not overlooked our obligation in planning for the post-war period. To this end our executives are devoting much thought to the factors which will influence the design, trend, manufacturing processes, distribution methods and sales possibilities of the future. Without taking any necessary effort away from our responsibility in connection with war production program we are planning and projecting so that at the proper time the company will be in a position to swing back to the manufacture of civilian products with a minimum loss of time. This program, we hope, will enable us to re-convert with the least possible dislocation of labor and with a minimum of temporary unemployment.

Mason only made page five of the Kenosha Evening News; the front page was dedicated largely to an article, that once conquered, Japan would be stripped of its empire. Other disturbing front-page news was that 126,969 American soldiers had been killed from the beginning of the war through to November 15, when the last statistics had been released.

On December 10, The Distilled Spirits Institute took out a full-page ad in the Kenosha Evening News to dispel the rumor that there was no whisky shortage. The dry truth was that not a drop had been distilled since October 8, 1942. All distilling facilities throughout the country were engaged in producing alcohol for war purposes, including smokeless powder, chemical warfare materials, synthetic rubber and medical supplies. There were around 303 million gallons of whiskey in storage, but 100 million gallons were too young to drink.

War brought odd juxtapositions. A holiday ad urged, “For Peace on Earth buy War Bonds.38 Newberry offered a large assortment of Christmas wrapping paper for 10 cents a roll; gifts given to commemorate the birth of Jesus would be wrapped in patriotic war themes.39

not alone

With so many consumer goods rationed or no longer available at all, Christmas was a much quieter holiday than usual. Reflecting the gravity of the world’s peril, the Christmas tree at the White House remained unlit for the second year in a row. Extravagance was considered to be not just poor taste but unpatriotic, with the nation’s very existence at stake. Ostentation might be out of style but there was plenty of humor to take its place. People joked that Santa had tried to enlist in the US Army but had been rejected and ordered to report to Civilian Defense.

Wisconsin Bell reminded folks on Christmas Eve to “Please help keep crowded Long Distance circuits clear for necessary war calls. There are no holidays for war or the telephone.” Five minutes was the limit for a long distance call before the operator cut in to end the conversation.

President Roosevelt told a nationwide audience of radio listeners that the best gift citizens could give the men in uniform was a “steady output of needed supplies.” Factories were open around the clock and workers at their stations every day of the year, ceasing their toil only on Christmas Day.41

It was fitting that the city’s largest employer was front–page news on December 30. The Nash-Kelvinator year-end letter was published in the Kenosha Evening News. After reviewing the company’s war record Mason added, “I would like to express my appreciation to the men and women of Nash-Kelvinator for their intensive production record in the building of war goods during the past year. I am inspired by the hope that the sheer weight of American military production, plus the skill and courage of our allied fighting forces, will hasten the successful conclusion of this war and the earliest return to peaceful pursuits.”

As the year ended, workers at Nash were secure in the knowledge that all jobs were now paid at an hourly rate. The old-fashioned and highly detested piece-rate system was history.42 They could look back with pride at the 2,692 R-2800 engines it had built.43 Nash employees had gone far above the call of duty; 1,000 members of Local 72 had taken part in the Red Cross Blood Drive held in Kenosha during the year.44

The men and women who worked for Nash-Kelvinator were at peace with the company management, solidly behind the war effort and a vital part of the nation’s “arsenal of democracy.” They would redouble their efforts victory as their hearts ached for the twenty young soldiers, friends and neighbors, who had died defending freedom in 1943.45

Chapter Seven End Notes

  1. Kenosha Evening News, January 6, 1943

  2. Ibid, June 10, 1943

  3. Ibid, May 11, 1943

  4. Ibid, September 20, 1943

  5. 1943 Nash-Kelvinator Report to Stockholders, p. 17

  6. Kenosha Evening News, April 17, 1943

  7. Ibid, February 4, 1943

  8. Ibid, February 6, 1943

  9. Ibid, February 11, 1943

  10. Ibid, February 3, 1943

  11. Ibid, March 11, 1943

  12. Ibid, February 11, 1943

  13. Ibid, March 11, 1943

  14. Ibid, March 18, 1943

  15. Ibid, March 3, 1943

  16. Ibid, November 10, 1943

  17. 1943 Nash-Kelvinator Annual Report to Stockholders, p. 17

  18. Andrea, Dave. Personal Interview. April 3, 2004

  19. Kenosha Evening News, February 24, 1943)

  20. Ibid, March 11, 1943

  21. Ibid, April 14, 1943

  22. Ibid, April 27, 1943


  24. Hosmanek, John J. Life is a Classroom unpublished manuscript, p. 669

  25. Randle, Nancy. A League of Women. Chicago Tribune Magazine July 5, 1992 pp11-15. The league disbanded in 1954 and not all teams played every season.

  26. Finkler, Florence and Frances. Personal Interview. April 4, 2004

  27. Finkler, Florence and Frances. Personal Interview April 4, 2004

  28. Jenson, Don. The 1940s: On the Home Front, Kenosha News, March 8, 2000

  29. Kenosha Evening News, July 3, 1943

  30. Ibid, August 5, 1943

  31. Ibid, August 20, 1943

  32. Ibid, September 21, 1943

  35. Kenosha Evening News, October 20, 1943

  36. Ibid, November 26, 1943

  37. Rintz, Don. Preservation Racine, Inc. Newsletter, Winter 1994

  38. Kenosha Evening News, December 11, 1943

  39. Ibid, November 30, 1943

  40. Rintz, Don. Preservation Racine, Inc. Newsletter,. Winter 1994

  41. Rintz, Don. Preservation Racine, Inc. Newsletter, Winter, 1994

  42. UAW Local 72: The First 50 Years. Newsletter: 1985

  43. White, Graham. R-2800 Pratt & Whitney’s Dependable Masterpiece, SAE, 2001: p. 116

  44. UAW Local 72: The First 50 Years. Newsletter: 1985

  45. Read All About It. Kenosha News 1994, p.20

Also see: Series Contents, Nash Motors, Nash engines, Nash Metropolitan, Jeffery, AMC, the Nash Car Club of America

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