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Nash at war: 1944: the end in sight

war worker crestThe New Year started off with factory whistles blowing defiantly at midnight.1 The Kenosha County Medical Society reminded folks that more than 50,000 doctors had gone to war, resulting in a serious strain on the home front. Kenoshans were urged not to make requests for house calls, and if they did, to make sure they were early in the day.2

The war consumed everyone’s thoughts. Kenosha now boasted 16,000 workers in its factories. Employees had earned an average weekly wage of $29.38 a week in 1939. That had risen to $55.84 cents in 1944 for a 48.8-hour week.3

The need to finance the war grew more urgent as the Russians pounded the Eastern Front and three quarters of Berlin lay in ruins. For 1,000 Allied bombers to attack Berlin, the cost of aviation fuel was $380,000. It cost $200 million to build those planes and even more to train the 10,000 men who made up their crews. While 30 million Americans were on the Pay-Roll Savings Plan, more money was needed.4

Kenosha kicked off another waste paper drive on January 14, to get material for packing cartons, blood plasma containers, Army field rations, shell boxes, bomb rings, fuse parts, gas masks canisters, and even instrument panels.5 That Friday, so many Boy Scouts came out that 100 disappointed lads had to be sent home. Folks responded by handing over 174 tons—74 tons more than the quota. It was shipped to a factory in Milwaukee were in only 20 hours it would be turned into cardboard cartons. 6

The Fourth War Bond Drive got underway on January 18. This time, the appeal was specifically to women and farmers. The goal was to raise $14 billion. More than six million people volunteered to sell the bonds. When the campaign ended on February 15, some $16.7 billion was raised.7

Manpower was at such critically low levels that officials from Local 72 and Nash-Kelvinator agreed to set aside the clause in the collective agreement that forbade the hiring of women who were married and had a “visible means of support.” Special rules were imposed, however. These workers could only accumulate seniority in the department in which they worked and they were to be the first to be laid off in the event of cutbacks or should a returning serviceman qualify for the position.8

In generous spirit, the weeklong blood drive that got underway on January 21 was way over capacity. Led by wounded soldiers and sailors, Kenosha’s quota was 1,570 pints. The Red Cross let it be known that figure had already been surpassed before workers at Nash, Snap-On, MacWhite, American Brass, and Kenosha Brass rolled up their sleeves.9

Nash-Kelvinator’s board directors was re-elected in Baltimore at the annual stockholders’ meeting. Mason told the crowd that while war production would increase throughout 1944, steps were already being taken to prepare for reconversion to expanded peacetime production.10

Nash Motors’ Corporate Secretary, H. J. Mellum, filed the deed to a large tract of land in Walworth County. Situated 26 miles west of Kenosha, near Burlington, it would become an exhaustive test ground facility that would be able to test “almost every kind of driving condition topographically conceivable” and be equipped to test vehicles in “all types of weather conditions, such as rain, fog, sleet, ice, or baking sunshine.”

R. A. DeVleig told the press that the land was of little use agriculturally and included glacial gravels, hills, hogbacks, wooded areas, open stretches, and a constantly running stream. The facility would include a one-mile concrete circular concrete track banked for continuous test speeds above 70 mph, a half-mile rough black track, a half-mile stretch of corduroy gravel, Belgian rock road, deep loose sand, rutted mud, and water submerged areas. The proving ground would also have a 15-mile winding gravel surfaced road network. New buildings on the site would include facilities for 20 test automobiles; a light and power building; a water pump building; dining and sleeping headquarters for staff.15

pilot to wife

pilot to wife adThe Valentine’s Day advertisement from Nash-Kelvinator portrayed a Hellcat pilot. Under attack from sixteen Zeroes, the doomed flyer shared his final thoughts with his wife back home. (See above for readable text.)

A child day care program for war workers began on February 28. The Kenosha County Council of Defense approved 45 private homes where suitable day care activities would be provided along with adequate child supervision. This measure went a long way to freeing up even more mothers for essential factory work.

Nash President George Mason let it be known that despite its “gigantic” commitment to the war effort, Nash-Kelvinator was deep in post-war planning. “We have gone over all our plants thoroughly to reconvert and production schedules for the post-war period have been set. The layouts are complete. We know where every piece of machinery goes. Every supplier has been contacted so he knows his part in our plans. The only thing not yet done is to place orders and sign contracts or requisitions.”

Mason told the press that he expected manufacturing would take place under a governmental quota system for some time. He further bragged a little that Nash had hired two long-time Ford Motor executives to help carry out the ambitions post-war scheme: A. M Wibel, who for thee decades had been with Ford and long in charge of its purchasing program, as well as H. C. Doss who for 27 years had sold Fords and would now be General Sales manager for Nash. Doss’s first task was to create Nash zone offices in Cleveland, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Already he had completely streamlined the dealer franchise operations.23

Fantastic rumors had swept town for weeks that with the war coming to an end Kenoshans would be thrown out of work overnight. Nash-Kelvinator quickly put out the fire by announcing that workers would be given a week’s paid vacation starting July 1 and that when they returned there would be a reduction in the production schedules of the Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines currently coming off the lines. It also let it be known that an even larger engine was slated for manufacture.25

D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, took place on June 6, 1944. Nearly 150,000 American, British, Canadian, Polish and Free French soldiers invaded Occupied France in the first wave of Operation Overlord. The beaches ran red with the blood of more than 9,000 slain soldiers. First news of the assault on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” was broadcast to Kenoshans at 2:30 in the afternoon as network announcers interrupted regularly scheduled programming.

Once the news broke that the D-Day invasion was taking place, a radio receiver was brought into the Mary Bradford High School. Students listened to the historic event as reporters gave a blow-by-blow account, live from the front lines. The city’s churches were open for prayer and throughout the city, evening prayer services were held by virtually every denomination.26 No one knew that Private Jack Thommessen of Kenosha was among the soldiers killed. The 27-year old was among the first wave of troops landing on the beaches of Normandy.27

Virtually all of America tuned in to listen to Bob Hope’s radio show later that evening. America’s most popular comedian departed from his usual antics, leaned into his microphone and shared his most intimate thoughts with 35 million listeners.

You thought of the hundreds of thousand of kids you’d seen in camps the past two or three years…the kids who scream and whistle when they hear a gag and a song. And now you’d see all of them again…in four thousand ships on the English Channel, tumbling out of thousands of planes over Normandy and the occupied Coast…in to do a job that’s the job of all of us… We knew we’d wake up one morning and have to meet it face to face, the worlds in which America has invested everything these thirty long months…the effort of millions of Americans building planes and weapons…the shipyards and the men who took the stuff across…little kids buying War Stamps, and housewives straining bacon grease…farmers working around the clock…millions of young men sweating it out in camps and fighting the battles that paved the way for this morning. 29

With a federal election under way, 2,000 members of Local 72 overflowed the Union Club in Kenosha in June to hear CIO leader Leo Kryzycki campaign on behalf of President Roosevelt. The president had thrown his hat in the ring for an unprecedented fourth term in office. The working men and women of Kenosha were solidly behind FDR.

President Roosevelt spoke to Americans about the War Bond drive in the 30th—and though no one knew it at the time—his final Fireside Chat. “I am happy to report tonight that it is something which nearly everyone seems to be doing. Although there are now approximately sixty-seven million persons who have or earn some form of income (including the armed forces), eighty-one million persons or their children have already bought war bonds. They have bought more than six hundred million individual bonds. Their purchases have totaled more than thirty-two billion dollars. These are the purchases of individual men, women and children. Anyone who would have said this was possible a few years ago would have been put down as a starry-eyed visionary. But of such visions [however] is the stuff of America [fashioned].”31

The drive ended on July 8 and two days later it was reported that Kenoshans had topped their quota by $779,663.25. Folks across the country had purchased $20.6 billion worth of bonds.32

An election was shaping up and Governor Thomas Dewey and Ohio Governor John Bricker were nominated as president and vice-president candidates to run for the Republicans at the GOP convention in Chicago on June 28. It was a first-ballot victory. In his acceptance speech, Dewey declared that the war was outside of this political campaign. He was careful not to attack the president. “The present national administration… in its young days did some good things. But now it has grown old in office. It has become tired and quarrelsome,” he said. No one had any idea who the Democrats would field.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was drafted for an unprecedented fourth term in office at the Democratic Convention in New York City on July 21. His choice for Vice-President was confirmed by delegates and piano-thumping Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman became FDR’s running mate. [Truman had made a name for himself through his rigid enforcement of honesty among military suppliers, preventing the abuses that had taken place during World War I. — editor]

main street to the marshalls

Nash-Kelvinator’s advertising campaign shifted in July. Gripping stories still came from the boys on the front lines but they no longer tales of sheer survival and grim determination to do battle with the enemy. Now, they spoke of victories, retreating enemies, and their hopes for peace in a strong, vibrant post-war America. A new corporate logo appeared, underscored by larger drawings of Nash cars and Kelvinator appliances.

This Independence Day all retail stores were closed on July 3 and 4 in order to allow employees three days off. Citizens were warned not to travel because the railways would be tied up with servicemen, who would have priority.33

With its corporate eye firmly fixed on the future, Nash-Kelvinator appointed Howard Hallas to be Associate Director of Public Relations on July 7. Prior to joining Nash, he had worked five years at Geyer, Cornell & Newell, the advertising agency for both Nash and Kelvinator.

The first Kenosha County Fair since Pearl Harbor opened on Saturday, August 10. There were no rides because of wartime restrictions on travel and gasoline but then, there was no admission, either. The county’s 4-H Clubs had exhibits in place but the centerpiece of the show as a real, 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine built by workers at Nash. The Navy had given permission for the world’s most powerful mill to be seen by the public.34

Nash-Kelvinator filed a petition for a review by the Kenosha County Circuit Court of an order by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Board. The board had ruled on July 17 that the corporation’s metallurgists and laboratory workers could indeed be represented by the union. The company wanted the ruling overturned.36

Kenoshans were told that to be truly patriotic they should celebrate Labor Day at home—if they had the day off. The city organized an abbreviated parade and a modest show at the Washington Bowl.37

This year’s harvest was a bumper crop for farmers in southeastern Wisconsin, but labor was more scarce then hen’s teeth. Fortunately, the 250 German POWs who had been billeted in nearby Sturtevant helped to bring it all in. 38

Perhaps the most unusual harvest of 1944 in Kenosha County was begun on September 7 when Boy Scouts, 4-H Club members and school children tramped the countryside, under the supervision of the County Agricultural Agent, to gather all the milkweed pods they could find. The “floss” possessed superior buoyancy qualities and was preferred over kapok in the making of life preservers, commonly called the “Mae West,” after the busty Hollywood star. A total of 1,611 bags were collected and $296.80 was paid out. That meant that 805 precious life jackets could be made. Wisconsin was one of 29 states where milkweed pods were harvested.39

Washington announced a slowing of draftees into the army on September 13. Kenosha County’s contribution dribbled to nearly zero during in the fall months as the war continued to wind down. One could smell peace in the air.

Preparing for new cars and focusing on economy

Fanning those peacetime flames was an announcement from George Mason on the same day. He told the press Nash was ready to build automobiles as quickly as the civilian reconversion signal was given by Washington. He told distributors:

Our post-war car and production are completely set, even to the point of having all initial supplies and parts under order, and much of our machinery is ready. Just how soon after reconversion day the public will be able to have new cars depends upon a number of unpredictable factors but I believe it will be sooner than most people have been led to expect. ... Much of the nation’s future prosperity lies in the hands of ‘little business’ and our new type of franchise gives this fact active recognition.

Speculation that the war might really be nearing an end mounted to fever pitch on October 2, when Nash announced that the War production Board had authorized the automaker to begin “limited preparatory work in producing experimental models of civilian passenger cars” under Priority Regulation No. 3. Vice President Doss revealed the company’s new franchise strategy.

In a large, flip chart, entitled, Your Post-war Opportunity as a Nash Dealer, presentations were to be delivered to prospective dealers in early 1945. Those attending would be informed that Nash intended to build three times as many cars after the war as were produced in 1941.

Nash’s strategy was unique. Instead of spreading its dealer network “over every town, village and corner,” through the usual 4,000 to 7,000 dealers, Nash would concentrate its sales in the most important markets with just 1,500 to 1,800 dealers. The figure for the projected dealer body was far below the 4,000 dealers normally employed by an auto manufacturer.

The presentation stressed that a smaller dealer body translated into more profit per unit per dealer. Doss pointed out that nine million more families had incomes over $2,000 a year than in 1939. Someone at Nash had crunched numbers and discovered that Americans had enough money in current savings accounts to purchase 178 million passenger cars!40 Further, the immediate shortage of automobiles was in excess of nine million.41

Nash planned to geared all of its sales themes to economy because analysts expected that gas and tires would not be cheap.42 The company’s pre-war lines had showed a faster rate of gain than any other car in the low and medium price field in the last full-year of pre-war production.43 The Nash 600 was the newest vehicle on the market prior to the war and was the most advanced in the industry.44

Prospective dealers would be impressed to learn that Nash-Kelvinator had a net worth of some $50 million with no indebtedness and no preferred stock according to the 1943 auditors’ report.45 The Nash Division’s factories had more than 1.3 million square feet of space than it did before the war. It owned its own aluminum foundry.46

The company had a sterling publicity image and the new dealer would benefit from that.

Nash-Kelvinator is recognized everywhere as having done the best advertising of automobile companies during the war period. It has been awarded medals by recognized authorities on advertising. It has brought request for a quarter million reprints from men in the services, from their families, from churches, school libraries. It has been read into the Congressional Record twice. It has been repeated dozens of times by radio commentators and artists reaching millions of people.

This advertising has moved Nash into a more important place in the minds and heats of the public than it had before the war.”47 Wartime ads singled out for special merit included, Until I Come Back, Sure There’ll be a parade, I want up, I’m not playing for marbles, Can’t keep a good man down and When you come back to me.48

Nash received the 1943 Wartime Advertising Awards Certificate of Merit, along Geyer, Cornwall & Newell— its advertising agency—for its campaign that contributed to the welfare, security and activity of the nation at war.49

In the first five years of the post-war prosperity it was noted that the first two to three years would be years of excess demand over supply and that the backlog would change to a gradual or sharp decline, bringing industry volume down to normal.

It was estimated that the typical Nash dealer would sell sixty percent or even more over the commitment in the basic contract that called for sales of fifty cars. In other words, a dealer would sell eighty cars handily during the first four years, drop to sixty-two units in the fifth year and then sell fifty units in the sixth year of ooperation.50

The new Nash dealer could expect that income from service and parts would be 85 percent higher during the first five post-war years than it was in 1941 because of the number of cars that were from one to four years old. 51 A new Nash generated 30 percent of his gross profit from the Service and Parts department. The dealer was expected to draw at least 60 percent of that business from his one to four year owners. Projections were:52

Sellers’ market

1st year 1,800

2nd year 2,790

3rd year 3,780

Buyers’ market

4th year 4,770

5th year 5,760

6th year 5,430

Dealer costs were projected at $62 for salaries, $51 for semi-fixed costs (demonstrators, stationery, etc), $37 for fixed costs (rent, heat, etc), for a total of $150 per car; there was also $100 per car in advertising budgeted, rising to $120 in the sixth year. 55

As for discounts, Nash revealed that Chevrolet gave from 24.9% to 26.1% to dealers; Ford gave a flat 25% and Plymouth, 23%. Nash gave a 24% discount, but the incentive rose with the number of 600 models sold.53

Prospective dealers learned that if they went with Dodge, Oldsmobile or Pontiac, they could expect a 24%. Nash offered the same base discount on the Ambassador 6 but the incentive rose by 3% with 251st car sold, giving the dealer an appreciable edge over the competition.54

The new car gross profit was $300 per unit, and the net was $180 during the first year of operation, $170 in the second, $155 the third, $135 the fourth, 115 the fifth and $100 in the sixth year.56 The breakeven point for the first-year Nash dealer came with the 32nd new car delivered.57 That figure declined each year until a profit was made with the sale of the eighteenth new Nash in the sixty year.58

The total cost of a Nash dealership was only $8,000, with an average return of 96%. Service equipment cost $1,900, furniture and fixtures $500, and the parts $400, leaving $5,200 for net working capital.59

The dealer recruitment drive was as innovative as it was aggressive. Dealers signed up and waited for delivery of sparkling new Nash automobiles to fill their showroom floors.

Not to be outdone, Kelvinator unveiled its “Some-Day House in October,” with floor plans for five dream homes in a free booklet. The publicity read like heaven to the war-weary woman, sick with fear for loved ones in uniform, legs aching from standing in long lines for rationed food and goods, struggling to find enough jars, seals, and sugar to put up canned goods, weary of making do, doing without and longing for peace.

The advertisement read, “If I just close my eyes…I’ll find myself in a magic place…A kitchen of white and gleaming tile with red-bordered cupboards. And the first thing I’ll see will be a gleaming refrigerator with shining glass shelves and magic compartments to keep all the good things we’ll order to eat…and there by the door will be something shining white--our new home freezer—a treasure chest of steaks and chops, pheasant and trout, and all the green things our garden will grow....”

The Navy invited labor and management officials from Nash-Kelvinator to the Atlantic seaboard to spend a day on an aircraft carrier and see Nash-made products hard at work for victory. They were in awe as they watched the aircraft land and take off from the flight deck. A Nash-Kelvinator man was quoted as saying, “You may be sure that in the future we will produce with a keener realization of our responsibility to put only the highest quality materials and workmanship into the job.”

Equally awed, a labor leader told reporters, “Now, more than ever I feel that this is team job. Those boys out here certainly can fly, and no mistake about that. It’s up to us to give them the equipment they need—and the Navy can count on us right through to the finish.”60

Voters headed to the polls in November to elect a president. Throughout the campaign, Dewey had been careful not to attack FDR’s policies and the Republicans changed tack significantly by announcing they would take part in postwar international organizations, if elected.

While the president and his frail health was off limits, Republicans thought to create a scandal by attacking his abuse of power. The Commander-in-Chief had allegedly ordered a Navy destroyer to return to the Aleutian Islands to pick up his dog, accidentally left behind. Upon hearing the accusations, the president retorted, “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.” The nation got a good belly laugh at the Republicans’ expense and the incident backfired badly on the GOP.

Roosevelt won a fourth term to the Oval Office. Wisconsin was one of a dozen states that gave its electoral votes to Dewey, though votes in Kenosha County were heavily in favor of the man who had brought them the New Deal. The press reported that the upcoming inauguration would be a low-key affair, in keeping with a nation at war-and the swearing in would be held on the back porch of the White House.

The Sixth War Drive got under way with a reminder that a B-29 bomber cost $600,000, and an M-4 tank cost $67,417. Salaries for the estimated 12 million men and women in the armed forces had to be paid.62

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Buehler’s Meats, located at 612 58th Street, had something that folks had not seen for a long time: turkeys for 51 cents a pound. IGA announced that it had turkeys in stock, too. Veal was point-free this week. At the Gateway Theater one could spend 35 cents to watch Humphrey Bogart in his toughest role as a gangster in Dead End, followed by Lights of Old Santa Fe starring Roy Rogers and Trigger.

Hopes for victory in Europe by Christmas were dashed when the Nazis mounted a stunning attack on the Allied forces on December 16 in the rugged Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge was fierce and would not be won until February 1945.

At a union meeting in December, some Nash employees requested permission to collect money to buy a Christmas present for a popular foreman. The gesture drew applause from the members and prompted local union Vice President George Molinaro to take the microphone. He took the occasion to remind those assembled just how far they had come in the decade since the union had been certified.

“A request like this recalls the old basket brigade of ten years ago, before the union was formed. Those were the days when you had to bring a gallon of wine, a goose, a turkey, or a quart of whisky to your boss in order to hold your job. Those days are gone forever.” 63

Christmas was muted, with folks marking the occasion quietly at home. Some factories worked half a day.

Throughout the land, there was many a present that would never be opened. A hundred weeping mothers in Kenosha changed blue stars to gold in the front windows of their homes upon receiving the dreaded telegrams that their sons had been killed in action during 1944.68 The heartbreaking scene was mirrored in Racine where 175 soldiers laid down their lives during the year.69

Workers at Nash-Kelvinator labored all the harder for victory, turning out 9,259 Pratt & Whitney engines during the year.70 The factory was open around the clock. There were no holidays; employees accepted cash bonuses in lieu of time off. It was essential to keep a steady flow of weapons headed for the front lines. As the year came to a close, Local 72 let it be known that its War Bond purchases had now reached $50,000.71

Chapter Seven: End Notes

  1. Kenosha Evening News, January 3, 1944

  2. Op cit.

  3. Kenosha Evening News, January 4, 1944

  4. Ibid. January 4, 1944

  5. Ibid. January 10, 1944

  6. Ibid. January 17, 1944


  8. Drew, John. UAW Local 72: The First 50 Years. Newsletter: 1985

  9. Kenosha Evening News, January 21, 1944

  10. Ibid, January 22, 1944

  11. Ibid, January 25, 1944

  12. Ibid, January 27, 1944

  13. Op cit.

  14. Ibid. February 15, 1944

  15. Ibid. February 9, 1944

  16. Ibid. March 2, 1944

  17. Ibid. May 3, 1944

  18. Ibid. April 18, 1944

  19. Ibid. May 2, 1944

  20. Ibid. April 26, 1944

  21. Ibid. May 9, 1944

  22. Ibid. May 13, 1944

  23. Ibid. May 23, 1944

  24. Ibid. May 29, 1944

  25. Ibid. June 1, 1944

  26. Ibid. June 6, 1944

  27. August 26, 1944

  28. The Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, June 6, 1944

  29. Hoopes, Roy. When the Stars Went to War. Random House, New York: 1994. p. 314

  30. Kenosha Evening News, June 10, 1944



  33. Kenosha Evening News, June 26, 1944

  34. Ibid. August 12, 1944

  35. Op cit.

  36. Ibid. August 17, 1944

  37. Ibid. September 1, 1944

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

  39. Kenosha Evening News, November 1, 1944.

  40. Your Post-war Opportunity as a Nash Dealer, flip chart. p.12

  41. Ibid. p. 13

  42. Ibid. p. 27

  43. Ibid. p. 29

  44. Ibid. p. 30

  45. Ibid. p. 33

  46. Ibid. p. 38

  47. Ibid. pp. 43-45

  48. op cit.

  49. op cit.

  50. Ibid. pp. 49-53

  51. Ibid. p. 55

  52. Ibid. p. 57

  53. Ibid. p. 61

  54. Ibid. p. 62

  55. Ibid. p. 64

  56. Ibid. p. 65

  57. Ibid. p. 67

  58. op. cit.

  59. Ibid. p. 69

  60. Kenosha Evening News, November 1, 1944

  61. Ibid. November 7, 1944

  62. op cit.

  63. Drew, John. UAW Local 72: The First 50 Years. Newsletter: 1985

  64. Kenosha Evening News, November 14, 1944

  65. op. cit.

  66. Kenosha Evening News, November 16, 1944

  67. Rintz, Don. Newsletter, Preservation Racine, Inc. Winter, 1994.)

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

  69. Rintz, Don. Newsletter. Preservation Racine, Inc. Winter1994.

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

  71. Drew, John. UAW Local 72: The First 50 Years. Newsletter: 1985.)

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

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