Salvaging Victory: Scrap Drives for the War Effort
"It Is Astonishing the Amount of Waste
Being Gathered Up"
Even before America's entry into World War II, and stretching over four years, a parade of scrap drives kept citizens busy. The drives started by collecting aluminum before moving into a wide range of products such as tires, paper, tin, household fats, silk stockings, and even coats for Russian refugees. Through it all, Oregonians combined a strong community spirit with fierce competition to salvage countless tons of products vital to the American war effort. Salvaging represented yet another way that Americans could contribute to the war effort in concert with other wartime programs. And the process was once again driven by shortages of vital materials such as rubber, tin, and steel. In the overall effort, the conservation movement worked to reduce the consumption of war related materials; rationing attempted to fairly distribute the scarce commodities; and the salvage effort aimed to hunt down every last pound of material that could be used to win the war. (listen to Fats Waller sing "Cash for Your Trash" about salvage efforts.-via Marr Sound Archives)
Government public relations campaigns spearheaded the effort to educate and mobilize every American to participate in scrap drives. As with the calls for conservation of valuable resources, officials persistently reminded citizens about how their seemingly inconsequential contribution would become monumental when multiplied by the efforts of other citizens nationwide. Jack Bristol, a Portland public relations expert, offered advice to an Oregon State Defense Council official to "drive home to the individual that what HE saves is important. One discarded toothpaste tube is admittedly not worth a tinker's damn --- but if ALL the tubes that are squeezed dry and discarded in Portland every morning were gotten together, they would constitute a respectable poundage of pure tin." (view PDF-3 pages)(1)
Comparisons also drove home the value of salvaging materials. Thus, the amount of rubber salvaged from one old tire could provide 20 parachute troopers with boots or make 12 gas masks. A thousand old galoshes collected during a scrap drive could provide all of the rubber to make a medium-sized bomber. And since the scrap drives would be weighing the collected materials, officials also provided weight comparisons to give people some context for their efforts. For example, a light tank required 489 pounds of rubber--just the tracks alone consumed 317 pounds. And volunteers would have to work long and hard to outfit a battleship, needing 165,000 pounds to complete the job. (view PDF-1 page)(2) Officials didn't want people to destroy possessions that were still being used for their original purposes, but they made comparisons nonetheless: "How the beauty parlor goes to war; The iron that used to go into a single hair dryer is enough for six hand grenades." and "The Lumber in two average desks would provide enough material to build a trailer for a war worker."(3)
Comparing the salvaging efforts of the enemy with those of Americans could also spur higher achievement. In May 1943 officials quoted famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle who described German salvage work during a retreat:
The Germans leave very clean country behind them. Their salvage organization must be one of the best in the world -- probably because of desperate necessity. We've gone all over the Tunisian country from which they have fled and evidences that they have been there are slight. You see burned-out tanks in the fields, and some wrecked scout cars and Italian trucks lying in roadside ditches, and that is about all. Nothing is left behind that is repairable. Wrecked cars are stripped of their tires, instruments, and lights. They leave no tin cans, boxes or other junk.(4)
In relation to the German retreat, an Oregon State Salvage Committee official added the commentary that "when you're running like heck, with an Allied bayonet close to your pants and still have to stop for salvage, its' importance is more than obvious. Salvage committees don't have to work under that handicap. We are not retreating. We face no dangers here save public apathy and indifference. But salvage is no less necessary on the peaceful home front in order to adequately support our boys on the war front who have to face the bayonets."(5)
A Devilishly Clever Idea?
Conde McCullough, a top State Highway Department official and designer of a number of Oregon's most beautiful bridges, offered an idea to salvage scrap rubber from the mail posts lining the roads of the state.
In McCullough's words: "Last Monday I drove from Coquille to the California Line on Highway No. 101. I noticed that at practically every rural mail box there was a device, consisting of a wooden post, one-half of an old automobile tire, and some sort of a clip gadget which looked like a mouse trap, the purpose of the ensemble, I presume, being to assist the rural mail carrier in picking up and distributing the mail, without unduly fatiguing him."
McCullough went on to sketch the device and praise it, saying that it "is devilishly clever and ranks with the incandescent light and the cotton gin among America's great inventions. If I knew who thought this up first I would recommend that he be decorated with the Croix de guerre and elected into Phi Beta Kappa...."
However, McCullough quickly shifted to recommending that all of this great engineering be yanked from the mail posts in the interest of the war effort: "...there must be nearly half a ton of old scrap rubber utilized in these various installations. I presume that the property owners will kick but it appeared to me that in the present emergency they might be induced to get along with some sort of a gooseneck or bracket constructed of timber, in lieu of the rubber tire."(18)
Organizing the salvage efforts
Oregonians salvaged everything from rags to rubber to rope through a cooperative process involving the federal War Production Board (WPB) and the Oregon State Defense Council. Created in 1942, the 46 volunteer members of the Oregon State Salvage Board, under the WPB, planned programs and set policies and procedures for salvage efforts statewide. The defense council in turn was responsible for coordinating and mobilizing volunteer efforts in conjunction with local salvage committees. By early 1943, every county in Oregon had a committee and an additional 273 local committees were in operation.
Along with the highly publicized consumer scrap drives, WPB officials also sought out industrial scrap, old automobiles, and even special sources such as the rails from Portland's unused streetcar lines. Scrap drives came and went over the years depending on the particular shortages of the moment. Thus, rubber was urgently needed early in the war, leading to millions of old tires rolling into collection centers. Later, the need for rubber was less intense but the need for brass and bronze increased.(6)
Can kitchen fats win the war?
While a wide variety of scrap drives occurred over the years, those related to kitchen fats and scrap paper illustrated the general process involved. Kitchen fats and greases would seem, on the surface, to be odd materials to be fervently collecting in the midst of a world war, but officials had their reasons. The fats contained a significant amount of glycerine that could be used in explosives. Glycerine was valuable to the war effort in other ways too, including as an antiseptic, a medicinal solvent, in cellophane and glassine packaging, and as treatment for sunburn and other skin irritations. The need for salvaging kitchen fats was heightened by the "complete shut-off of our vegetable oil supply from the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies by the Japanese...." Despite drastic curtailment of the use of glycerine in civilian products such as soap, cosmetics, lotions, candy, and gum, shortages still persisted and fueled the long running salvage efforts.(7)
Salvage officials provided instructions, and even quizzes (view PDF-5 pages)(9), to help consumers efficiently save kitchen fats and greases and meet the ever present quota: "You can help attain this quota, Mrs. Housewife, by saving your pan drippings, lard and vegetable shortening and all waste kitchen greases. Be sure to strain your fats, pour them into a wide-mouthed can, keep in a cool or refrigerated space and then, after you have one to two pounds of the materials, take them to your meat market. The butcher will pay you for them and start them on their way toward war industries." Transportation of the kitchen fats, once collected, proved to be a problem for some remote communities such as Lostine in Wallowa County. Volunteers there had collected a large amount of tallow that had gone rancid before it could be delivered for rendering. A state official sternly reminded a Lostine salvage volunteer that "the government, on this kitchen Fats program, must have clean, clear, free-from-water fats; and if this quantity of tallow has been standing for quite sometime in Lostine, where probably there has been no refrigeration, we doubt very much if it would have any particular explosive glycerine value." The official suggested a call to the Consolidated Freightways Inc. office ten miles away in Enterprise to try to arrange for future pickups.(10)
Silk Stockings Go to War
In one of many unlikely pairings, ladies silk and nylon stockings played an important part in winning the war. At the time, silk was the only material out of which powder bags could be made. Powder bags contained the charge of gunpowder used in firing the "big guns." Silk was completely destroyed during the firing, unlike other materials that left a residue, which required cleaning the gun between shots.
Nylon stockings could be melted, respun into nylon thread, and manufactured into war products such as parachutes. With their silk and nylon stockings drafted into the war effort, stylish women needed alternatives. Many used leg make-up, otherwise know as "bottled stockings," that could last up to three days assuming no baths were taken. Some women even used eyebrow pencils to paint faux stocking seams on the backs of their legs. Sacrifice, and ingenuity it seems, were boundless! (view PDF)(19)
Paper drives also proved to be a common form of salvage during the war. A 1942 estimate found that the nation needed well over 20 million tons of paper for the war and associated uses, with a goal of seven million tons coming from salvaged paper. The versatile product found its way into "several hundred thousand items used by the armed forces" such as blood plasma containers, K-ration cartons, shell casings, vaccine boxes, and bullet cartons. Once again, officials took steps to limit civilian use. For instance, the amount of newsprint allocated to publishers was reduced to 75 percent of normal consumption. Still, by 1944, WPB chairman Donald M. Nelson was warning that "the shortage of wood pulp and available waste paper at the paper mills is becoming increasingly critical. The demands of the mills for paperboard containers and paper products for shipment of supplies to all battlefronts is growing constantly."(11)
The WPB studied reports of school waste paper salvage campaigns across the country to put together a new program designed to enhance efforts by students. The program created "an army of paper salvagers" called "Paper Troopers." According to program literature, the name was no accident, since it had "a resemblance to the name Paratroopers, those daring raiders dropped from the sky behind enemy lines, and should, therefore, have a tremendous appeal to pupils. Boys nowadays live in terms of fighting adventure and the paper trooper emblem will make a strong appeal to them. It will appeal to girls, too." Students who excelled at paper collection could "advance in rank" and earn additional chevrons that would serve as "public acknowledgement of their achievements." They could also earn certificates of merit for themselves and for their schools.(12)
WPB officials urged teachers to get involved too, saying that "almost every teacher can find some way of working the Waste Paper Salvage theme into his current classroom assignments." For example, in dramatics class the students could do a skit on "the story of waste paper and the war." Social studies teachers could highlight the role of paper in modern life and arithmetic teachers could have their students account for the paper received and the funds resulting from its sale, while shop teachers could challenge their pupils to construct a paper baler. Because of "the rising rate of juvenile delinquency," officials also wanted to set up activities during school vacations. They reasoned that the continuing work would serve two purposes: it would add to the paper salvage totals; and it would help students "develop their competence as youthful citizens and turn their energies into wholesome constructive channels at a period when there is great pressure to divert them into non-constructive and even anti-social channels."(13)
Harnessing the community spirit
Paper Troopers and other salvage programs harnessed both cooperative and competitive instincts within communities. Each level, from the state down to the neighborhood or school, saw constant jockeying for bragging rights. Thus, all of the citizens of Oregon could be rightfully proud of the state's ranking of number two out of all 48 states in both iron/steel and silk/nylon stocking salvage on a per capita basis in 1943.(14) Tiny Powers High School, with an enrollment of 45, won acclaim for what was thought to be the national record for the collection of scrap by students in 1942, with each child collecting nearly 14,000 pounds. Meanwhile, Portland's Lincoln High School collected 200 tons of scrap making it the champion of total poundage. This sort of friendly competition continued throughout the war as "scrappers" of all ages vied for evidence of their prowess and patriotism.(15)
State salvage officials fanned the flames of community rivalries by regularly publishing local accomplishments. Thus, readers learned that young people in Corvallis held a "scrap matinee" at a local theater and gathered a truckload of "much-needed" copper, brass, and aluminum. Meanwhile, "one thousand Klamath Falls kiddies, each bearing a batch of tin cans, bore down on a local theater" for another matinee, this time in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Campfire Girls organizations. By the end of the show, 5,250 pounds of cans had been salvaged. Clatsop County contributed over 12 tons of waste fats and nearly 1,000 pounds of silk and nylon stockings while Portland put up big numbers by filling 23 train carloads of tin.(16)
Local efforts, such as those in the La Grande area, proved to be inspiring as J.H. Bratton reported to the Oregon State Defense Council in 1942: "The salvage program is in full blast and the committees are obtaining splendid cooperation from the public. One wrecking concern informed me that they are turning in around 12 tons of old tires and that they ship a carload of scrap-iron every other day. All service stations are piled high with rubber salvage. I have met a number of farmers bringing in scrap-iron and rubber in pick-ups and trucks on the road. It is astonishing the amount of waste that is being gathered up."(17)
1. Letter from Jack Bristol to Mrs. E.W. St. Pierre, December 29, 1941. Folder 6, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
2. "National Salvage Program Official Plan," U.S. War Production Board, circa 1943. Page 6, Folder 5, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
3. "Spot Notices," U.S. Office for Emergency Management, no date. Folder 14, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
4. Memorandum from Claude Sersanous and Ethel Keck to County Chairmen, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, May 28, 1943. Page 1, Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
5. Ibid., Pages 1-2.
6. "Agreement Between the Office of Civilian Defense and War Production Board," U.S. War Production Board, January 1, 1944. Folder 8, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA; Memorandum from Claude Sersanous to Gov. Snell, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, February 1, 1943. Page 1, Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
7. "Status of Glycerine" Informational Bulletin, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, circa 1943. Page 1, Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA; Kitchen Grease Quiz, circa 1942. Page 1, Folder 13, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
8. "Report of Oregon State Salvage Committee for 1942" Memorandum, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, February 1, 1943. Page 1, Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
9. Kitchen Grease Quiz, circa 1942. Page 1, Folder 13, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
10. Letter from Mrs. C.W. Hayhurst to Mrs. Melvin Crow, October 26, 1942. Folder 13, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA.
11. "Use of Reclaimed Salvage" Memorandum, circa March 1942. Folder 13, Box 28, Defense Council Records, OSA; "Paper Trooper: A Manual for School Administrators and Community Leaders," U.S. War Production Board, circa 1944. Folder 9, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
12. "Paper Trooper: A Manual for School Administrators and Community Leaders," U.S. War Production Board, circa 1944. Folder 9, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
14. "Annual Report of the Oregon State Defense Council Civilian War Services," Oregon State Defense Council, January 1944. Folder 33, Box 24, Defense Council Records, OSA.
15. "Report of Oregon State Salvage Committee for 1942" Memorandum, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, February 1, 1943. Pages 4-5, Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
16. "Short Summaries of Salvage 'Round the State" Memorandum, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, April 28, 1943. Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
17. Letter from J. H. Bratton to Jerrold Owen, June 20, 1942. Folder 1, Box 16, Defense Council Records, OSA.
18. Letter from Conde McCullough to Jerrold Owen, June 26, 1942. Folder 11, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.
19. "Silk and Nylon Stockings" Question and Answer Sheet, Oregon State Salvage Committee of the U.S. War Production Board, circa 1943. Folder 6, Box 30, Defense Council Records, OSA.