Nash at war: 1945, the final year and the re-start of civilian production

Yet again, the New Year was ushered in under the clouds of global conflict. Any celebrating in Kenosha was done at home.

On March 1st, a nationwide midnight curfew went into effect. The measure effectively shut down popular watering holes in Kenosha an hour earlier than previously and went far to quell complaints about unpatriotic “layabouts” who were bending their elbows too often in public establishments and missing work.

inside the 1946 nash

During the month of April, American judges convicted more than 2,000 people and sentenced them to jail time for abusing the meat restrictions. More than 4,000 others paid hefty fines.1 That did not stop desperate restaurant owners in Kenosha from searching out black market beef. They simply crossed the state line into Illinois, where enforcement of the law was more lax.2

In May, Germany surrendered, and Kenosha went wild with joy. Factory whistles blew and people celebrated Victory in Europe. Now, all military might was focused on Japan.

Beginning on May 14, 1945, just a few days after V-E Day, some officials feared the Seventh War Loan goal of $14 billion would not be reached if Americans believed the surrender of Germany made full subscription unnecessary. These fears proved unfounded, as the individual sales goal of $7 billion - the highest of any war bond drive - was surpassed by $1.6 billion. The final tally recorded sales of over $26 billion dollars during the six weeks of the Seventh War Loan drive.3

There was serious abuse of sugar rationing throughout the county. Some store clerks failed to have purchasers endorse their ration coupons and record the number of the customers’ ration books.6 Sugar rations to manufacturers were slashed drastically on June 15. Fancy Grades of canned fruit were eliminated completely.

Gasoline was an even bigger headache, with over 300 applications for gas coupons piling up at the courthouse. Steve Jensen, in charge of the Occupational Rations at the local War and Price Rationing Board, gave a lengthy explanation as to when Kenoshans could expect more gasoline. As of June 21, the bearer of an A ration coupon would be entitled to six gallons of gas, not four. B coupons would not increase in quantity but the B-coupon motorist could visit the service station more often. That would commence on June 11. Coupon bearers could then be allowed to travel 650 miles a month instead of the previous 475 miles. He warned that servicemen who used civilian cars while on leave had better make sure that they had their mileage rationing record in their possession when making application for furlough gasoline.7

nash ambassador 1946

Wednesday, June 6, was Ernie Pyle Day and the anniversary of the invasion of France. The day was a tribute to war correspondent Ernie Pyle, the day having been unanimously voted upon by the state Assembly and Senate. Governor Goodland signed it into law. Ernie Pyle Day was another occasion for Americans buy extra US War Bonds. All of the theaters in Kenosha offered free tickets to any picture show to anyone who purchased a war bond at any of the movie houses that evening.

The gimmick was needed. With just three weeks before the Seventh War Loan campaign ended, Kenoshans lagged far behind its quota for buying war bonds. It was short more than a million dollars on E bonds and $2.5 million shy in E, F and G Bonds. People were reminded bluntly, “The Quota of the Boys in Service may be death! Your Quota is to buy more war bonds!” 9

George Mason announced to the press on Saturday the 9th that the company had just completed its first post-war car. He said that the Master Pilot (prototype) model “Will be put into assembly line production, expected to get under way in Kenosha within the next few months.” He told the press that Nash’s wartime experience as an airplane engine builder had helped engineers to make many improvements in the 1946 Nash cars, but that automobiles would not be made in any quantity for months. “All cars probably will be sold on government priority for some time after production starts. This means that present owners should take care of their cars.”

Housewives were happy to learn that The War Food Administrator was about to declare a 37-day holiday on cheese quotas. Manufacturers were invited to make any kind of cheeses they wished until July 15, when production would return to cheddar only.11 Another sign that the war was winding down, on June 30 the War Food Administration was absorbed into the Department of Agriculture, its administrator retired.

Cigarettes, severely rationed to the point where they had virtually disappeared, now appeared “openly on many retail counters in the New York area.” The nation’s five top brands, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, Old Golds, Phillip Morris and Camels, were all in better supply. Kenoshans’ turn was coming.12

It was a good day for the War Production Board to announce that it had released up to 300 million pounds of aluminum for the making of civilian goods, particularly pots and pans so desperately needed in households.14

New furnaces and parts for the repairs of heaters were released by the government on July 3. Sears offered Kenmore kerosene heaters for $35 for those who needed them while they waited.

A new headache for housewives cropped up as laundry soap disappeared from stores right around the country. One soap maker quipped that the situation was a result of “a shortage of fats and oils and an oversupply of government regulations.” A new kind of soap (in liquid form) began appearing on store shelves for the first time.17

It was a hot and sticky summer in Kenosha as a heat wave held the Midwest in its grip. In July, there were several weeks of near 100-degree temperature.” 18 Polio was sweeping the nation and reported nine cases had been reported to health officials in Madison before the end of July.

It was clear that the war in the Pacific Theater would not be over until the winter of 1946 at the earliest. Rationing and conservation were still the order of the day. The Phillips 66 gasoline retailer took out advertising to warn Kenoshans that a car broke down every 17 seconds somewhere in the United States and that 5,000 cars a day were being scrapped. “Care for your car, care for your country,” ad copy for the gasoline station chain admonished.19

Nash released an announcement that there would be a private showing of the new Nash 600 and the Nash Ambassador Six at the Royal Palm Hotel in Burlington. The showing was only for officers of the company and the managers of Nash’s 28 zone offices. The cars would be put through their paces at the new proving grounds.21

The press release further noted that on August 8, a meeting in Chicago would be held to discuss the parts and service operations for the rest of the war and also to focus on postwar plans. The meetings could not be held in Kenosha because having civilians at the factory would breach wartime security.22

An atomic bomb was hurled at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Carrying an impact 2,000 times more powerful than any bomb ever dropped before, it left the city in ruins. It did not, however, prompt Japan’s leaders to surrender. Workers at American Brass Company had played a part in helping to produce the A-Bomb. Aside from procuring brass and copper, technicians at American Brass helped to develop the bomb. Another Kenosha firm, Weldcraft, had constructed special metal parts for the tanks and chemical paints and sprays used at the Elza, Tennessee plant where the actual bomb was constructed.23 (Chrysler had been instrumental in designing and building the uranium refinery.)

A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. The center of this attack was the 12-square mile Mitsubishi complex, with three major factories. The Japanese offered to surrender, but the conditions did not meet the Allies’ terms. The two sides parlayed back and forth. The American people were ready to celebrate but were held back. The entire world waited for Japan to throw in the towel. Finally, four years, eight months and seven days after Pearl Harbor, Japan agreed to lay down its arms.

When victory did come on August 14, 1945, the news was broadcast on radio at 6 o’clock Central War Time. The headline of the Kenosha Evening News on the 15th read “World Enters Era of Peace.” People in Kenosha ran outside banging dishpans and spoons, anything that was loud and noisy to celebrate the war’s end. Most of the stores and plants in the city were closed in celebration. For federal government employees, it was their first real holiday since the war had begun. Some Kenoshans took the train to Milwaukee where there was dancing and partying in the streets. 24

The OPA immediately dropped rationing of gasoline, canned fruits and vegetables, fuel oil and oil stoves. Administrator Chester Bowls, said, “The day is finally here when we can drive our cars wherever we please, when we please and as much as we want.” Kenoshans, like everybody else in the country, went joyriding.25

Service stations throughout the city were promptly jammed with cars. Drivers pulled up to the pump and gleefully ordered attendants to “fill ‘er up.” Churches of all faiths held services themed to thanksgiving for the end of the bloodshed.26

The government warned that meat, butter and fat would be rationed until the end of 1946 but sugar was still the scarcest food item. Sugarless canning recipes appeared in the Kenosha Evening News.27 The UAW quickly announced that its “no-strike pledge” was over but also added that it hoped there would not be a rash of strikes.”28

george mason home

That Saturday night there was a Victory Dance at the Kenosha Union Club Ballroom. George Grey and his 15-piece orchestra played from nine until one. Admission was $1 and servicemen in uniform were admitted free.29

On August 17, UAW Local 72 officials revealed to the press that it had been engaged in a series of meeting with Nash-Kelvinator to plan the conversion to civilian production. The navy had terminated its contracts and as many as 2,600 workers stood idle. Joseph Lourigan, President of Local 72 said, “The cutbacks in the Nash-Kelvinator aircraft program came as no surprise to the local for more than two months ago, labor was informed by management as to the possibilities of peace.”

The Navy terminated its contract with Nash on August 15. Other than maintaining a parts department for the Navy, Nash was “out of the aircraft production business.” The workers had turned out 5,030 engines this year and a total of 16,181 of the mighty war machines since 1942.30

There might not be any military contracts but all departments at Nash, except the assembly division, were already back at work. Some 1,500 employees were hustling throughout the plant working hard on peacetime conversion. Lourigan told the press that textiles and rubber supplies were easily obtainable but that and adequate supply of sheet steel was of concern. “Production and the actual return to jobs depends (sic) on matters beyond the control of both management and the union.”31

The next day Nash officials explained that shortages of material meant temporary reduction in employment, but that it was expanding the Kenosha plant at a cost of $3.8 million and another $2.2 million in Milwaukee. George Mason told the press that the company would be permitted to build 8,000 cars during the balance of 1945 but as soon as the government restrictions, were lifted plans were in hand to triple Nash Motors’ prewar car sales. For the cities of Kenosha and Milwaukee it meant “the largest peace time payrolls in the corporation’s history and twice as many home and commercial appliances made by the Kelvinator Division in Grand Rapids and Detroit.” 32

The foundry, used exclusively for the wartime production of aluminum parts for aircraft engines, had been reconverted to grey metal some months ago and was ready to make automobile parts. The forge shop was ready, too.

Washington rescinded the 35-mile-an-hour wartime speed limit on Sunday, August 18. On the 21st, a total of 210 wartime controls were lifted including those on the manufacture of refrigerators, radios, trucks, caskets, construction machinery, machine tools, electric ranges and paper cups. On August 24, Washington lifted restrictions on passenger car production, but advised that new automobiles could not yet be fitted with a spare tire. That matter would be handled by the OPA.

A handful of workers at American Brass walked off the job on the 30th, after their foreman invited them to leave if they didn’t like the working conditions. Soon all 1,100 men followed.

The Japanese surrendered formally in a ceremony on board the battleship Missouri, docked outside of Tokyo on September 1.

Wisconsin’s oldest automobile dealership, Benning Motors, at 2221 Roosevelt Road in Kenosha, began taking orders for new Dodges and DeSotos. Not to be outdone, The Sheridan Road Garage, billing itself as “Kenosha Nash Headquarters,” showed off a new 600.

Advertising for the post-war Nash was bold. “Despite rumors which have been circulating throughout the industry about 1946 models, these new Nash care are not warmed over or face lifted version of the 1942 models. Over one hundred improvements have been made-more than ordinarily incorporated in the usual yearly model change-and these improvements have been added to a car that was just being introduced as one of the most advanced in design when the Jap attack came at Pearl Harbor and the war brought automobile production to an abrupt halt.”34

President Truman addressed Congress on the 6th and laid forth his 21-point “Conversion” speech in which he outlined how the country would get back to a normal, peacetime footing. He warned that rationing of food would continue until the newly liberated Europeans were no longer in danger of starving to death and having their countries taken over by the Communists. Truman admonished unions and management to be fair with each other in negotiating contracts.

While the strike at American Brass dragged into its 13th day, workers at Nash, the states’ industrial giant, threatened to strike on September 13 if they could not negotiate on the union’s demand for wage adjustments for the 300 craftsmen in the maintenance department of the Kenosha plant.”38

The union had requested that skilled workers such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, millwright and other craftsmen have their hourly wage raised from $1.18 an hour to $1.25. The request had been submitted in December of 1944 and management had passed it on to the War Labor Board who dithered on a decision and sent it back to Nash for action on September 11.

On Sunday, members of Local 72 met at the Eagles Club and voted to strike. Negotiations were carried on all day Monday between the union’s executive board and management in a last ditch effort to avoid a stoppage.

As if to underline the seriousness of the labor dispute, it was noted in the Kenosha Evening News that 40,000 Ford workers were already manning picket lines in Dearborn and another 12,200 employees were engaged in a violent strike, across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, at Ford of Canada. At Hudson, 6,500 men were on strike and 350,0000 UAW members at GM were ready to walk on Tuesday morning if they didn’t get a 30 percent pay hike.39

A wildcat strike closed the Nash-Kelvinator plant on Wednesday the 18th. All reconversion work stopped cold. Union officials issued a terse statement that it would “make every effort to get the employees back to work” and reminded management, “The only matter in dispute is the request involving 300 maintenance workers.” Meanwhile, across town, the American Brass strike dragged on into its 20th day.

Nash and Local 72 did not talk on Thursday but there was no picketing of the plant. When negotiations resumed on Friday afternoon it was with a union executive directive that the workers return to work. The union reminded workers that it was seeking a $2,600 a year minimum annual wage, and a 35-cent an hour hike in pay for all employees.40

On the lighter side, Kenosha police investigated a strange incident. Drivers of automobiles parked in the vicinity of 64th Street and 32nd Avenue, left their shift at the Badger ice cream factory and a nearby trucking company only to discover they were unable to start their cars because all of the keys had been stolen.

Police discovered that a five-year old neighborhood boy had innocently removed the keys from the cars and taken them home to play with. Only four sets of keys were recovered, prompting Detective Lieutenant Arthur J. Riley to remind motorists not to leave their keys in the ignition when parking their cars.41

2,000 Workers at Simmons walked out the doors. Nash, however, reopened its doors on Monday the 24th and the men returned to work while their leaders negotiated a settlement.42

It seemed as if the entire country was on strike. “Nation Nears Million Idle Through Strikes” read the page one headline of the Kenosha Evening News on September 26. Garment workers, automakers, gasoline refiners and coal miners were in dispute with their bosses. The government issued an ominous announcement that rationing would continue as long as there were strikes.

At Nash, Local 34 of the Tool and Die Sinkers Union took a “labor holiday” and did not report for work. As a result, the drop forge department was forced to close, though all other departments remained open. A fed up President Truman threatened to use the War Seizures Act to force people back to work.43

Everybody at Nash was back at work on Tuesday, October 2 and negotiators for both sides went back to the table.

It was revealed on October 3 that American soldiers had uncovered 1.6 million tons of Japanese sugar hidden away on the island of Java. It was such a huge quantity that the press speculated the end of sugar rationing would be “speeded up by months.”

Negotiations continued quietly between Nash and Local 72 of the UAW but the War Labor Board finally got into the act in the Simmons dispute and told the press on October 12 that the workers had been ordered back to work on September 9 and that the workers were in violation of WLB ruling. The union’s swift response was that it was not in violation of the order.

The Eighth War Loan began officially on October 29th. It had the distinction of being the only war bond drive that had no war. Kenoshans, like everyone else in the country, gave joyfully, glad that the world was at peace. With a national goal of only $9 billion, by the end of the drive on December 8, more than $21 billion had been raised, representing an oversubscription of 192 percent, the highest percentage of any war loan.45

There was quite a bit of celebration at the factory as the first Nash cars rolled off the line on October 17. Workers and management gathered around. The first three vehicles were accompanied by huge handheld numerals, “1st post-war Nash, 2nd Post-war Nash and 3rd post-war Nash.” Nash was the third automaker to get back into civilian production, right behind Ford and Chevrolet. (Kaiser had not existed before the war.)

The seven-week strike at American Brass ended on October 19. The same day, Ford and Packard held press conferences to reveal that they were fully converted to civilian production and were manufacturing cars, when components and parts suppliers weren’t on strike. Hudson announced that it had reached production of 120 cars a day and intended to be second on the market (after Ford) with its 1946 models.46

Simmons workers returned to work on October 22 while the union and company exchanged proposals. After a long period of talks, Local 72 voted on strike action on October 22nd. The vote was 1,428 in favor of striking. Only 141 members voted “no.” While the union “prefers to continue peaceful negotiations…in the event negotiations fail, we are now prepared to exercise economic power on the Nash company,” read the statement.

No longer designated as an Ambassador, the little Nash 600 was the only car built at first. With all the strikes in the industry, it wasn’t until the 27th that George Mason could tell the press that production was under way and that volume was approaching 150 cars a day. Henry Doss said that the October 1 start up had been delayed by delivery of minor parts by striking suppliers. He noted that there were 119 improvements to the 1946 Nash line. The first cars would be limited to four-door models of the little 600 and the medium-priced Ambassador. It was pointed out that the OPA had not yet fixed prices for the 1946 cars. Doss boldly predicted that production would reach 150,000 units in January 1946 and 250,000 in June.

inside the nash 600

Though actual cars were far and few between, the 1946 Nash brochure boasted that the new Ambassador was “the first in four years” and “the finest ever.” The inexpensive 600 was billed as “the superliner of the highways,” having “the most advanced engineering in the low-priced field.” Folks in Kenosha finally got a peek at the new 1946 Nash cars on November 29 at Topel Nash on 8th or at Sheridan Road Garage.

In a surprise move, the WPB dropped automobile rationing on October 28, closing its doors a few days later; the 3,000 employees were transferred to other work in Washington.

On Armistice Day, a somber Kenosha gathered to remember those who died in defense of the nation and especially the 202 men who gave their lives for freedom in the war just ended.

The OPA finally announced the prices for some of the 1946 automobiles on November 19. Chrysler could charge one percent more, Ford was allowed a two percent hike and Studebaker nine percent more than it had charged for its 1942 vehicles. GM would be required to charge 2.5 percent less than 1942 ceiling. Packard, Nash, and Hudson figures were not yet ready.

The MGM thriller Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo opened for a two-day showing at the Roosevelt on November 29. Starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, the film spun the story of the top-secret 1942 raid on Tokyo by General Doolittle. The movie used actual footage of the event. Although it won an Oscar, it did not do as well at the box office as it might have; the public was no longer interested in watching war movies. Nash-Kelvinator owned half the movie and workers at its Electromaster Division had built the bombs used in the attack.

After ten weeks, Simmons and Local 184546 of the Federal Labor Union came to agreement on November 30. Kenosha was at work again.

The good news just kept coming. Henry Doss announced that Nash production was doing well and that he expected each of the 1,400 dealers throughout the US and Canada two receive two models from November’s production. Doss also told the press that Nash planned to add three light truck models to its production by July 1946 and to return an eight-cylinder automobile to the 1947 lineup.52

Shortages affected Nash; John Welland, plant manager of the Seaman Body Division, announced that a strike of employees at Pittsburgh Plate Glass was very likely to shut down the Nash plant. He said there was an estimated two or three days’ supply on hand but warned that production would be stopped in a week if more glass didn’t arrive.54

Nash did indeed send everyone home on December 21 and shut the factory down because there were so many strikes among suppliers that a whole car could not be built. The final count for the calendar year was 6,200 units, a far cry from the 25,000 that had been anticipated. Kelvinator was able to build only 45,000 of the 90,000 refrigerators that had been anticipated.55

George Mason weighed in with a year-end report of Nash-Kelvinator’s activities. While both divisions were prepared to produce record quantities of goods, there were shortages of all kinds. “Despite parts shortages resulting largely from labor difficulties in plants of outside supplies, every effort was made to get our products into the hands of consumers.” He let it be known that hundreds of Nash cars had been shipped from the factory without bumpers. 25% of Kelvinators had been sold without evaporator doors or ice trays.58

Chapter Nine: End Notes

1.Kenosha Evening News, June 14, 1945

2. Huntoon, Helen, Personal Interview, April 2004


4. Kenosha Evening News, June 4, 1945

5. Ibid, June 5. 1945

6. Ibid, June 7, 1945

7. Op. cit.

8. Ibid, June 5, 1945

9. Ibid. June 7, 1945

10. Op. cit.

11. Ibid. June 13, 1945

12. Op. cit.

13. Ibid. June 14, 1945

14. Op. cit.

15.Ibid. July 3, 1945

16. Ibid. July 9, 1945

17. Ibid. July 10, 1945

18. Ibid. July 20, 1945

19. Ibid. July 25, 1945

20. Op. cit.

21. Ibid. August 2, 1945

22. Op. cit.

23. Ibid. August 8, 1945

24. Read All About It. Kenosha News: 1994. p. 20

25. Kenosha Evening News, August 15, 1945

26. Op. cit.

  1. Op. cit.

  2. Op. cit.

  3. Op. cit.

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

  5. Kenosha Evening News, August 17, 1945

  6. Ibid. August 18, 1945

  7. Ibid. September 8, 1945

  8. Ibid. September 4, 1945

  9. Ibid. September 6, 1945

  10. Ibid. September 12, 1945

  11. Ibid. September 11, 1945

  12. Op. cit.

  13. Ibid. September 17, 1945

  14. Ibid. September 21, 1945

  15. Op. cit.

  16. Ibid. September 24, 1945

  17. Ibid. September 27, 1945

  18. Ibid. November 6 & 7, 1945

  19. Op. cit.


  21. Kenosha Evening News, October 20, 1945

  22. Ibid. November 22, 1945

  23. op. cit.

  24. Ibid. November 23, 1945

  25. Op. cit.

  26. Ibid. December 8, 1945.

  27. Ibid. December 14, 1945

  28. op. cit.

  29. Ibid. December 29, 1945

  30. Ibid. December 27, 1945

  31. Op. cit.

  32. Op. cit.

  33. Op. cit.

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

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