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Nash at peace: 1946: trying to make cars despite parts shortages

Peace brought a bevy of New Year’s festivities throughout the city. The Elks’ Ball was one of the largest celebrations with 175 couples in attendance, dancing the night away and feasting on a breakfast that was served from two to four o’clock. 1,500 revelers showed up for the fun and another 350 partied at the American Legion. The Italian American Society was filled with several hundred couples.1

inside the 1946 nash 600

No more tire rationing was a good way to kick off the New Year and Goodyear, at Sheridan Road and 58th Street announced that its DeLuxe 6x16 tires were on sale for $15.20 each plus tax. The sweetest words in the ad were the phrases, “No Certificate Needed” and “Anybody Can Buy!”2

Life slowly began to return to what it was in the pre-war years. Now, the only widely rationed item left was sugar. A political cartoon in the Kenosha Evening News depicted “old man sugar” being interviewed by a reporter in 1975. The grizzled character tells the newsman that he is “the last of a long line of the great Ration family.”3

Although the factory was still shut down for lack of components, Nash took out large ads in the paper on January 4 to sell its cars. “Here Today! With Tomorrow Written All Over It!” was the description of the 1946 Nash 600. The hometown dealer had one on display and Kenoshans were invited to come into the dealership on 8th Avenue or the Sheridan Road Garage to see the chrome and steel beauty. The car had to wait for a retail price tag until the 24th, when the OPA announced the prices for the 1946 Nash product line — with a $35 decrease in the price of the Ambassador two-door Sedan, now listing for $1,084. It had sold for $1,119 in 1942. Other Nash models were granted increases up to $77.

The Nash ad also reminded folks to tune in to the Columbia Broadcasting System to hear the tight harmonies and the danceable rhythms of the Andrews Sister at 9.30 CST every Wednesday night. Superstar sisters Maxine, Laverne and Patty sang the nation to victory and had been proudly sponsored by Nash Motors on their top-rated N-K Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch since December 31, 1944 .4

George Mason stood in front of television cameras on January 16 to tell viewers who had access to the new medium exactly why automobile production was so slow in the first twelve months after the war’s end.5

insie the 1946 nash cars

Folks might look at the lovely new Nash on the showroom floor but they weren’t going to be able to buy it, or any other vehicle for that matter. The nation’s 750,000 steelworkers walked off the job in search of better contracts.6 Still, Nash announced on January 25, 1946 that new 1946 cars were rolling off the lines in Kenosha. The company bragged a little that it had also just built its 100,000th automobile since conversion to civilian production. Nash was only a little ahead of its time: the plant reopened on January 28. Harold Long, the general works manager, told the press that the production lines were geared to produce 800 cars a day, but that figure was purely dependent on supplies of materials.7

Valentine’s Day rolled around, with an unusual twist. “Win one of six big Nash cars from Quaker Oats,” screamed large ads in newspapers throughout the country. Anyone could enter the contest, all they had to do was complete the sentence, “Quaker Oats is America’s (or Canada’s) Best-Loved Cereal because… or “Mother’s Oats is America’s Best Loved Cereal because…” in fifty words or less on a plain sheet of paper and mail it in with a trademark from the side of the box to The Quaker Oats Company in Chicago, Illinois or the Quaker Oats Company of Canada, Limited in Peterborough, Ontario.

Each Nash was equipped with the thermostatically controlled, conditioned Weather Eye air system, automatic overtake, special cruising gear, and the Zenith Long Distance Radio with the safety foot switch. A new Nash was quite a prize for a car-starved public.

Nash-Kelvinator and the UAW-CIO announced a tentative wage agreement on March 8 in Detroit, with an 18.5-cent wage hike for the 8,000 workers at Nash Motors in Kenosha and Seaman’s Body Plant in Milwaukee. The contract was retroactive to February 11, and a nine-cent increase was retroactive back to October 1, 1945. That would bring the average hourly wage to $1.34. In comparison, workers at Ford made $1.40 an hour.9 On March 12, Local 72 voted on the contract, but kept the entire nation waiting for a day before announcing that it had been ratified unanimously.10

hurricane sixLines were down at General Motors again, its 175,000 workers walking the picket lines; that dispute put 400,000 other automotive workers out of work across the nation. GM workers would not pick up their tools until March 26.

The OPA announced its latest prices for Chrysler, Ford, Hudson, and Nash cars on March 30. Despite hefty raises in the price of steel, the price of all Nash models was cut by $1 to offset the decrease in dealer absorption.

To add to the nation’s labor woes, 400,000 coal miners walked off the job on April Fool’s Day, prompting layoffs in the coal-dependent steel industry. By April 23, automakers reported that their need for steel was so great they had a four-year backlog of orders on hand. Without coal and steel, America sank to its knees. On May 5, President Truman ordered a 50 percent reduction in schedules of passenger trains to save precious coal, and the city of Chicago went on a four-day workweek. Ford was forced to lay off 110,000 men on May 8.

Finally, on May 9, Nash plant manager Harold Long admitted to the press there were enough supplies on hand to finish out the week’s production and that most of its vehicles were shipped by truck but lines would be idled on Monday because there were not enough parts from suppliers on hand or trains to bring them into Kenosha. A hastily arranged, last-minute 12-day truce in the coal strike prevented a shutdown at Nash.

1946 nash specifications

The thirty factories operating in Kenosha reported 13,000 employees that spring. The figure was up by 2,000 over the same period last year. Nash accounted for 4,400 of the workers, Simmons 2,400.14

On May 17, an exasperated President Truman seized the railroads in a bid to bring the country’s economy back to normal. Truman told the companies’ spokesmen and union leaders that he was sorry but until the dispute could be settled the railroads would operate under the authority of the United States Government. That prompted coal miners and the collieries to hustle back to the bargaining table in fear that coal mines would be seized next. Indeed, when negotiations failed again a few days later, the mines were seized, too.

Nash announced on May 21 that it would load 400 cars onto a ship in Kenosha harbor. Bound for delivery in Buffalo, New York, the precious cargo would be distributed to dealers in Buffalo, New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

It was the first time since 1936 that Nash had shipped cars through the Great Lakes, and they were forced into it by cost and rail industry woes. The cars were parked six abreast on four decks. It took three days to pack the vehicles on board. The boat sailed on Thursday for the 72-hour journey to Buffalo. Weekly shipments were made after that, frequently on the same ship (the L.D. Wells).20

The OPA hiked the retail price of cars by up to 8% for Chrysler Ford, GM, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, and Nash, with the rise ranging from $33 to $167, after proving that the costs for parts and materials had risen dramatically. The Nash 600 had $78 tacked onto its price, it now listed at $1119 for the four-door sedan and $1041 for the two-door sedan.21

1946 nash ambassador specs

Nash factories in Kenosha and Milwaukee were shut tighter than drums because of material shortages created by the coal and rail strikes. Getting completed cars out of the city was a headache, too. Nash had limited storage space. The 4,000 workers at GM’s plants in nearby Janesville were also shut down for lack of supplies.22 Trains now operated on an emergency basis, carrying only emergency freight. Passenger services were suspended completely. Greyhound Bus was the only passenger link in and out of Kenosha and its services were limited to morning and evening coaches.23

Kenosha was the best city in the state in which to work, according to government statistics published on June 6. Employees in the city’s factories earned an average of $53.87 a week for a 42.2-hour workweek. That was $9.32 higher per week than the statewide average.

New phone exchange equipment allowed more than 300 Kenoshans to have telephone installed. No private lines were available; the lucky ones would make do with two- or four-party lines until “equipment is again available in quantity to permit the type service requested.” The successful applicants had to qualify under the federal System of Priorities Act. Wisconsin Bell reported there were 14,274 telephones in service in Kenosha, compared with 9,612 in 1941. Some 2,100 persons were still waiting for phone service. It was noted that Kenoshans made 71,200 local phone calls a day, compared to 51,000 a day in 1941.29

Harold Long, General Works Manager, could tell the press on June 20 that 5,900 Nash workers were turning out more than 400 cars a day. Long told reporters that the plant was ready to produce 600 cars a day if supplies from other manufacturers continued and sufficient coal and steel kept coming in. Long anticipated another 1,100 employees in July to meet that goal. He also told the press that the plant intended to build 1,000 cars a day with an 8,000 work force in place. He noted that cars are currently short of bumpers because the Chicago plant that made them was strike bound. He also revealed that currently there were no springs or clocks for Nash cars.

If it was tough sledding for Nash, Packard advertising on June 28 bluntly told Kenoshans just how impossible it had been for them. Material shortages and parts shortages allowed its assembly line to run only nine days during the first three months of 1946. The company admitted that 65% of the people who had ordered a grand Packard had cancelled their orders and were now driving some other make. “Honest, it’s gotten so we hate to answer the telephone or look our friends in the face.”

1946 full ad

The OPA’s mandate expired at midnight on June 30, save for its control over sugar prices. Literally, overnight, virtually every service and commodity cost more. In many cities, people found themselves living on the streets as rents tripled. Millions who had hated the OPA, now longed for its return. President Truman revived the OPA on July 26.

Detroit had on hand more than 5.5 million orders for new cars. The industry’s analysts estimated that it would continue to be a sellers market until the end of 1947, possibly early in 1948.31

Further proof that peace had come was a large announcement in the Kenosha Evening News on July 16 that government-owned industrial plant #719, leased to Nash-Kelvinator in wartime, was up for sale or lease. The 230,800-square foot building covered 11.28 acres and was suitable for making engine parts, engine assembly, and testing. Nash-Kelvinator’s $1,033,00 bid for the property was revealed on August 29; Nash was the only bidder. The corporation offered to buy the 37-test cell building, but said it would do so only to keep the nation in a preparedness state for another national emergency—that the cells had no peacetime application and actually decreased the value of the bid.

bodyThe sale was announced on October 23. General Works Manager, Harold Long, told the press, “Acquisition of these facilities in Kenosha brings to several millions of dollars expended by Nash in improving and expanding the Kenosha plant and equipment since V-J Day.” At Nash Motors’ request, the test cell building was removed from the bid and held in the hands of the Federal Government.

On July 24, a Nash public relations spokesman told the press that a Swedish vessel was about to dock in Kenosha to take on 60 Nash cars for shipment to Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. Nash officials revealed that it and sent only 4% of its 1946 production abroad, though it was entitled to send 6.5 percent according to US Government regulations. It was pointed out that prior to the war, Nash sold 10 to 15% of its production abroad.

The spokesman admitted that material shortages still hampered manufacturing operations but on the whole, the plant was increasing output according to plan. When the 260-foot boat did arrive, it was the Ornefjell, of Norwegian registry. It docked at 9.30 AM on Friday the 26th. The 2,200-ton carrier took on 30 Nash cars bound for Oslo, Norway. Some of the cars were driven on board the vessel; others were shipped in crates. Once in Oslo, some of the cars would be transshipped to Sweden by rail for distribution there. The boat would take 20 days to sail to home port.

weather eyeThose loading Nash cars onto the Ornefjell that Friday were lucky to be working. Most of the 5,600 factory workers had to be sent home on Thursday from the Milwaukee and Kenosha plants because employees at Milwaukee Gas & Light walked off their jobs. That shut down the Seaman’s Body Plant. Without bodies, the Kenosha lines went down, too. It would take the weekend to shut off city gas valves and connect an emergency supply of bottled gas to the welding apparatus in Milwaukee so that the Seaman’s plant could re-open on Monday.

The Federal Power Commission tabled a report in Congress showing what Americans paid for electricity. The report listed Kenosha residents as paying the lowest electricity rates in the country for a medium-sized city. The average bill was $3.73 for a home equipped with a refrigerator. If an electric range was used in cooking, the bill was $6.60 a month. Kenoshans were also pleased to learn that they led the state in factory pay with weekly checks of $44.49.33

Cars were so scarce that folks would do just about anything to purchase one. A Canadian woman perpetrated a scam by offering a 1941 automobile for sale in a dozen cities in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin—including Kenosha. The 320-pound con artist told prospective buyers that her husband had taken delivery of a new automobile but he had been killed in a car accident. She wished to dispose of the 1941 convertible coupe. She took deposits from several purchasers and a $900 full payment from a buyer in Fond du Lac. The sweet faced con artist sold the car as many as five times in Kenosha, telling all that her 18-year old son would get the title and she would deliver the car the next day. When they returned, the woman was gone—and the car—with Michigan plates—had been reported stolen. Police caught up with the pair and arrested them in Marshall, Michigan on October 11.39

B. A. Chapman, a native Kenoshan, was named Assistant to the Vice-President in Charge of Manufacturing at Nash-Kelvinator on August 20th. He had worked at Plymouth in 1930, while a student at the University of Detroit, and was quickly promoted to plant layout and equipment design; he held that job until 1936 when he was transferred to DeSoto as plant engineer. He joined Nash in 1937 as plant engineer for all of the factories in Wisconsin. Chapman had been plant engineer in charge of N-K’s propeller division in the two Lansing factories in 1941, and in 1943 was promoted to be staff engineer for all of Nash-Kelvinator’s plants in the automotive and appliance fields.

economyCompany spokesman Harold Long told the press on August 22 that Nash workmen were now turning out 350 Nash 600s per day, a far cry from the 600 hoped for, because of shortages caused by strikes in factories that supplied Nash with parts. Ambassador had been halted and would not be resumed on September 1st. Henry Doss told reporters that production goals were to be 960 cars and 40 trucks a day; the new Nash trucks would not be built until supplies were sufficient—probably in 1947. He also said the Ambassador Eight would not return to production until at least 1947.

Workers at the Seaman plant stopped body production on August 28. This dispute centered on the production of right-hand drive Nash cars tagged for international export. Five union employees had refused to work on the right hand drive cars on Tuesday. They were promptly fired. The entire 3,700-man work force walked, claiming they had been locked out.

To date, employees in Milwaukee hade been allowed to purchase eleven cars a week while workers in Kenosha had been allotted fifteen cars a week. Workers did not want to purchase right-hand drive cars. Now the UAW-CIO Locals 75 and 72 wanted more vehicles, claiming the old figure was inadequate. Kelvinator employees walked in sympathy with their brothers. With 12,000 Nash-Kelvinator employees idle, government conciliators added pressure on management and union to get the lines rolling again.40

A Saturday strike vote on the 31st was not taken. A federal conciliator told the press that a new figure was agreed upon and only one issue remained unsolved but he declined to say anything further. A union leader, speaking on terms of anonymity, revealed to a reporter that the final issue was a discount on prices to workers. On Wednesday, September 4 the strike was resolved and the 12,000 men went back to work in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Grand Rapids.

The renegotiated deal allowed workers in Milwaukee to have seventeen cars a week instead of eleven; in Kenosha the allotment was increased to twenty-three from fifteen a week and in Grand Rapids, Kelvinator employees got ten cars instead of six. Vehicles were to be bought through local dealers and the whole employee sales program was suspended until a discount was worked out. The workers agreed to return to work and allow the union executive to negotiate employee discounts—a deal contingent on workers building 500 automobiles a day. The five men who initially refused to work on the right-hand drive cars were rehired.41

C.E. Wilson, President of General Motors, told the press on September 14 that GM had halted all preparations for the manufacture of the lightweight and low-priced Chevrolet passenger car. The small car carried the pre-production name of Cadet. The reason given was a shortage of basic materials and an uncertainty regarding their future availability. Officials at Nash would wait to introduce its two small cars in a buyers’ market.

Then, a crane operator dumped a load of metal slag into the slag pit; it fell from there into standing water. The resulting explosion tore a large hole in the roof of the Nash foundry and blew out a number of windows. Fire engines rushed to the factory but there was no fire. Although the crane operator received injuries, he continued to work. Ten to fifteen workers in the area received minor burns. Plant officials told the press that the incident caused “more excitement than damage.”42

1946 ambassador

Nash lines were humming but 4,500 workers picketed Kaiser-Frazer in Willow Run. At Briggs, 1,800 men were on strike, but that key component maker’s absence meant that 32,700 Chrysler workers and 1,100 Packard employees had to be sent home for lack of parts.43

A delegation of engineers and experts from Renault of France toured the Nash facilities in Kenosha and Milwaukee to learn the latest manufacturing techniques and to purchase equipment destroyed in the five bombing attacks made on Renault’s factories during the war.49

Nash still had sheet steel, but Ford was forced to shut down for a lack thereof. Chrysler reduced its output from 3,600 to 2,775 vehicles a day for lack of rolled steel.50

President Truman pulled the plug on virtually all aspects of the OPA at midnight on the 15th. Controls over automotive industry and rent would remain, however.51

Homelessness in Kenosha, due to skyrocketing rents, now added up to nineteen more people, as two more families were evicted from their apartments on October 23. A second family of nine planned to sleep in their automobile and any other place they could find shelter. A family of ten was evicted the same day. This case was especially difficult because the father had been just released from hospital after an appendectomy. Authorities scrambled to find accommodations but as Undersherrif Huck said, “there just isn’t any place to put ‘em.” City jail cells were once again pressed into service as emergency shelters while folks found their footing in post-war society. Two days later, the family of ten was allowed to winter in the abandoned Worth one-room schoolhouse on Kilbourne Road in Pleasant Prairie Township. The other family was permitted to sleep in the offices of an attorney. They had actually purchased a new home but it would not be ready for another four months.

By November 30, the OPA was dead except for sugar. Restrictions on the automakers were off and the race was on for the hearts and driveways of the American public.

Nash closed a sweet deal in which the Prudential Insurance Company loaned the corporation $20 million at 3% interest over the next sixteen years. George Mason told the press on November 19, ”The corporation more than a year ago announced plans to triple Nash automobile production and to double Kelvinator appliance output as compared with pre-war levels, and virtually has completed facilities for such expansion. The new working capital will be used for this expanded business. The Nash division also intends to enter the light truck field in 1947, when materials become available.”

Topel Nash showed off its spacious new facilities at Eleventh Avenue and Sixtieth Street on November 26. Flagship dealer for Nash, the modern building was built of Bedford stone and brick. Its showroom held eight automobiles on its quarry-tiled floor. Earl Topel showed off the parts department, the largest in the state, and impressed visitors with the 110-foot long service garage filled with $16,000 worth of new equipment all used for maintaining Nash automobiles.

In a surprise move, Local 72 brought Nash Motors to a halt in Kenosha on December 4, to provide support for Allis-Chalmers workers in Milwaukee. The 5,500 Nash workers met at Lake Front Stadium to hear union leaders speak. While in sympathy with the striking brethren in Milwaukee, Local 72 president went to great pains to point out that there was no argument with Nash and the plant closing was only for this five-hour study session. Workers voted unanimously to send 200 men to picket the A-C plant the next day. The meeting closed with a reminder that all workers were to return to their next regular shift at Nash Motors.

Some 7,500 union men swelled the ranks of the 200 faithful picketers at the Allis-Chalmers plant on December 5. There were 600 police on hand as well. A fight broke out when a CIO photographer was struck by a Milwaukee Journal photographer. An AP photographer had his camera stolen during the ensuing scuffle. By the time it was over, five men were injured and sixteen arrested. Nash men were on hand again when a second clash took place on December 10. This time up to 500 union men did battle with 200 police in front of a crowd estimated to be as high as 8,000 spectators. 50 men were injured and 56 arrested.

George Mason told reporters on December 7 that Nash-Kelvinator had earned a net of $121,566,012 for fiscal 1946. He added, “As the fiscal year closed, production was moving slowly upward and there were indications that some of its great irregularity was being leveled out. However, there was no assurance that the disturbances that marked 1946 had run their course. The future now depends on the ability of the country to avoid a recurrence of the crippling difficulties of the past year which forced up unit costs of productions, raised prices and prolonged shortages. The upswing in prices—which is dangerous and undesirable—can be checked and turned downward to sound levels again only by efficient volume production.”

All Americans heaved a sigh of relief when the 400,000 coal miners returned to work on December 7. Nash officials revealed that had the strike continued, it would have had to close its doors.

The 100,000th post-war Nash rolled out the doors on December 19. While sharing the happy occasion with the press, H.C. Doss, VP and General Sales Manager, announced that the 1947 models were now being built. He indicated that because of “the stress in rapid production of new cars, few style changes would be made. He indicated that the front end was redesigned to give a massive look with a longer, lower appearance with a wider radiator grille, more massive ornaments and a restyled hood emblem. Other changes would consist of a new treatment of the instrument panel and a two-tone treatment of interior hardware.56

John Welland, Manager of the Seaman’s Body Plant, told reporters on December 28 that the Milwaukee facility would be shut down for lack of steel. The 4,800 workers would be recalled on January 6. In Kenosha, Harold E. Long, plant manager said that there were sufficient bodies on hand to continue manufacturing until December 31 at noon, and then the factory would be closed until January 4.

It had been a wild and woolly year. Nash plants had been shut down eight times for lack of material. A full 42% of the company’s suppliers had been strikebound. There were hopes throughout Kenosha that the worst was behind; that 1947 would be a truly prosperous New Year.57

Chapter Ten End Notes

  1. Kenosha Evening News, January 2, 1946

  2. Op. cit.

  3. Ibid. January 8, 1946

  4. Mays, James. From Kenosha to the World: The Rambler, Jeffery and Nash Truck Story, 1902-1955: 2003. p.92

  5. Kenosha Evening News. January 16, 1946

  6. Ibid. January 21. 1946

  7. Ibid. January 26, 1946

  8. Ibid. March 2, 1946

  9. Ibid. March 9, 1946

  10. Ibid. March 14, 1946

  11. Ibid. March 20, 1946

  12. Ibid. March 22, 1946

  13. Ibid. March 20, 1946

  14. Ibid. April 9, 1946

  15. Ibid. April 10, 1946

  16. Ibid. July 23, 1946

  17. Ibid. April 10, 1946

  18. Ibid. June 27, 1946

  19. Ibid. April 13, 1946

  20. Ibid. July 24, 1946

  21. Ibid. May 23, 1946

  22. Ibid. May 25, 1946

  23. Op. cit.

  24. Ibid. May 27. 1946

  25. Ibid. June 1, 1946

  26. Ibid. June 6, 1946

  27. Ibid. June 15, 1945

  28. Op. cit.

  29. Ibid. June 19, 1945

  30. Kenosha in 1946 Postwar Memories home movie by Charles B. Van Patten and Kenosha Evening News. July 5, 1946

  31. Kenosha Evening News, July 12, 1946

  32. Ibid. July 15, 1945

  33. Ibid. July 29, 1945

  34. Ibid. August 6, 1945

  35. Ibid. August 7, 1945

  36. Ibid. August 26, 1946

  37. Ibid. August 26, 1946

  38. Ibid. August 27, 1946

  39. Ibid. October 12, 1946

  40. Ibid. August 30, 1946

  41. Ibid. September 4, 1946

  42. Ibid. September 20, 1946

  43. Ibid. September 21, 1946

  44. Ibid. September 24, 1946

  45. Ibid. October 3, 1946

  46. Ibid. October 4, 1946

  47. Ibid. October 10, 1946

  48. Ibid. October 9, 1946

  49. Ibid. October 10, 1946

  50. Op. cit.

  51. Ibid. October 10, 1946

  52. Ibid. November 1, 1946

  53. Ibid. November 14, 1946

  54. Ibid. November 23, 1946

  55. Ibid. November 25, 1946

  56. Ibid. December 23, 1946

  57. Ibid. December 26, 1946

  58. Nash-Kelvinator Annual Report, 1946.

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

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