Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


At the beginning of World War II, American political leaders in the Great Plains went to Washington to lobby for location of war industries in the region. As early as December 1940, Gov. John Moses of North Dakota and the Greater North Dakota Association, a group of businessmen, presented plans for the establishment of industrial plants in their home state. Again, in March 1942, a North Dakota War Resources Committee went to the nation's capitol in search of war contracts. They met with little success. By 1945 North Dakota had received only $9 million of such contracts, out of a national total of $225 billion. This was less than any other state.

Still, Plains states did make significant contributions to the national war effort, especially in the production of crops, cattle, and oil. Plains states also profited from the expansion of federal military installations, training centers, and new airfields. Some urban areas fared particularly well. For example, Wichita, Kansas, became an important aircraft manufacturing city. There, the Stearman Aircraft Company received military orders for more than 7,000 trainers, and when the Boeing Aircraft Corporation of Seattle expanded its production of B-29s, it made Wichita, with its secure interior location, a primary facility. Employment at the Boeing plant rose from 2,500 in 1941 to 27,000 in 1945, and 1,644 B-29s were produced, more than at any other plant. The plant closed at the end of the war but was later reopened.

Kansas also secured aircraft modification centers. By the time a plane was off the production lines, the demands of combat often required substantial changes. In March 1942 the War Department pressured Boeing to modify 200 B-24 trainer planes for immediate combat duty in the Pacific. Time was of the essence in providing the craft with heavier armaments. Company officials lined up the planes on four Kansas airstrips freshly made from farmland. Six thousand Boeing workers labored night and day, braving blizzards, to modify these planes to military specifications.

The war affected the Great Plains in Canada more than in the United States. At the beginning of the conflict, political leaders in Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan complained that they were being left out of the mobilization program. The government in Ottawa addressed these concerns after 1941. Winnipeg, Manitoba, received orders for aircraft parts, and the General Motors plant in Regina, Saskatchewan, converted to manufacturing explosives. Regina, along with Winnipeg and Calgary, Alberta, was also a major site for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which trained aviators and repaired and overhauled aircraft engines. Calgary became an important refining center, especially for highoctane aviation gasoline. The Prairie Provinces also became sites for German and Italian prisoner-of-war camps. As in the U.S. Plains states, the Prairie Provinces' population as a whole did not increase, but urban populations did. Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary boomed, as Canadians from rural areas and smaller cities moved to centers of war production. Canadian farmers prospered as they had not done for more than a decade, and mechanization increased the efficiency of agriculture.

In both countries, therefore, the war accelerated existing trends, such as the decline of rural population and of the number of farms. It encouraged the movement of younger men and women into industrial or service occupations in towns and cities within the Great Plains and elsewhere. In both Canada and the United States, the government programs paid veterans to enroll in vocational programs and universities. In sharp contrast to the Great Depression, World War II invigorated the economy of the Great Plains and provided considerable opportunities for its residents.

See also CITIES AND TOWNS: Wichita Falls, Texas.

Gerald D. Nash University of New Mexico

Bothwell, Robert, Ian Drummond, and John English. Canada, 1900–1945. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987.

Nash, Gerald D. World War II and the West: Reshaping the Economy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

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