2011 Articles‎ > ‎

War that began 70 years ago, Dec. 7, 1941, altered every aspect of civilian life in Hamilton; defense production started before surprise attack

"Remember Pearl harbor!"

War that began 70 years ago, Dec. 7, 1941, altered every aspect of civilian life in Hamilton; defense production started before surprise attack

(Additional details on the impact of World War II in the Hamilton area are available in Jim Blount's 1995 book, On the Home Front: Hamilton in World War II, 1941-1945. It is available at local outlets or from Books in Shandon, 513-738-2962, or e-mail binshandon@fuse.net)
Compiled by Jim Blount

Shock is the best word to describe the reaction of citizens in the Hamilton area when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Hawaii targets reached Butler County Sunday afternoon, Dec. 7, 1941. U. S. entry into the war had been discussed and debated here and nationally, but few people expected it to begin in the Pacific Ocean with an assault on American territory.

More likely was a gradual process, reminiscent of the Great War -- as the 1917-1918 conflict was still called in 1941. The U. S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, but it was several months before American troops were in France. That short encounter was renamed World War I when events in the 1930s led to World War II.

In Hamilton, realization that World War II had enveloped the U. S. came between 2:25 and 2:30 p.m. that Sunday afternoon. An Associated Press flash (a one sentence statement) from Washington was timed at 2:22 p.m. It said: "White House says Japs attack Pearl Harbor."

Local newspapers said the first radio bulletins of the Pearl Harbor bombing reached Hamilton shortly before 2:30. The AP added that "the attack of the Japanese also was made on all naval and military activities on the Island of Oahu." The degree of death and destruction -- and U. S. vulnerability -- wouldn’t be known until after the war.

Reports indicate that local public reaction quickly evolved from shock to disbelief and anger and finally to expressions of patriotism. "Remember Pearl Harbor!" became an instant slogan and was constantly seen and heard.

Seventy years ago, most residents weren’t familiar with Pearl Harbor and its importance in protecting the U. S. West Coast. They quickly learned that Pearl Harbor was a strategic inlet in Hawaii, and a vital port for the U. S. Navy. Hawaii -- home to several U. S. military installations -- was considered a remote U. S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, about 4,400 miles southwest of the Butler County Courthouse. If not in the military, few Butler County residents had ever visited the islands.

Local anxiety was heightened by the lack on information from Hawaii. Military and government officials released few details on the situation. The first reported contact between Hamilton and Hawaii was 9:20 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 9, when a cablegram arrived from Sara Morrison, wife of Lt. William F. Morrison, who was aboard the USS McCall, a destroyer operating out of Pearl Harbor.

Few residents 70 years ago had any idea of the many changes they would face in the next few years, some starting within a month of Pearl Harbor. The war altered every aspect of civilian life, regardless of age, sex or race. What and how much people ate, how they dressed, when and how they traveled, how much they smoked and how much they drank were rationed, subject to voluntary limitations or the result of shortages. The war’s extensive impact on the home front extended beyond Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed a surrender agreement aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor.

For some residents, sacrificing and doing without wasn’t new. That had been their way of life during the Great Depression, the 12-year period immediately preceding sudden U. S. involvement in a conflict that had started more than two years earlier in Europe.

Starting immediately in December 1941, the government aimed at convincing everyone on the home front -- including school children -- that they had a responsibility in waging and winning the war. Those too young, too old or physically unable to serve in the military or work in defense plants were expected to conserve food and fuel, save scrap paper and cooking fats, wrap bandages, buy war stamps and bonds and a multitude of other war-related tasks.


In early December 1941, a frequent topic was the new 1942 model automobiles displayed by Hamilton dealers. They included Studebakers at Motzer Motor Sales, 425 High St.; Pontiacs at Hamilton Auto Sales, 437 High St.; Hudsons at Otto Proeschel Motor Sales, 618 Maple Ave.; and Oldsmobiles at Joseph H. Miller Co., 130 Main St.

Dec. 17 -- 10 days after the attack on Pearl harbor -- potential buyers could only look at the new models. That day the federal government froze new car sales "for the duration of the war." Later, restrictions on tires and gasoline helped boost ridership on Hamilton's bus system to an average of more than 25,000 people a day.

Tire rationing began in January 1942. Gas rationing and a 35-mph speed limit began in December 1942. Starting Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1942, those with the lowest driving priority were limited to 16 gallons of gas a month, said to be enough to drive 240 miles at 15 miles per gallon. In January 1943, Hamilton police reported city traffic down 50 percent while Hamilton City Lines officials noted average daily bus ridership had increased about 2,000.

For out-of-town travel during the war years, the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania railroads served Hamilton with as many as 16 daily passenger trains -- most with every seat and Pullman berth filled. Potential travelers were constantly asked, "Is This Trip Necessary?" by posters in bus and railroad stations and reminders in newspapers and on the radio. (There were no television stations in this area then.)

In November 1942, bus companies, in order to conserve fuel, eliminated stops, requiring riders to walk longer distances. "Unless you're a war worker, travel between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.," suggested the Hamilton City Lines, noting that "our buses are filled to capacity during many periods of the day." Downtown merchants contributed by changing store hours, operating noon to 8:30 p.m. Mondays and 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Some residents formed Victory Car Clubs (car pools). Businesses with more than 100 workers were ordered to form transportation committees to encourage ride sharing.


Christmas shopping -- mostly in downtown Hamilton stores -- had started before Dec. 7. The sudden U. S. entry into World War II had little influence on 1941 shopping. Later, rationing and other war-related strictures would change holiday habits.

In early December, ladies' two-piece suits were on sale for $10 and winter pastel dresses were reduced to $4 95 at Wilmurs, North Second and High streets. Sheer silk hose, in a variety of shades, were $1.25 a pair at Robinson-Schwenn at High Street and Journal Square. (Allowing for inflation, the $10 suits would cost more than $146 this year.)

At Burg's, Main and North B streets, seamless nylon hose were $1.69 a pair, and women's shoes, in suede, gabardines and leathers, were $3.98 and $4.95 a pair.

Eventually, the war would limit the availability and control the price of food. In December 1941, ham ranged from 23 to 32 cents a pound, bacon 13.5 to 18 cents a pound, T-bone steak at 32 cents a pound and sugar five pounds for 30 cents at the Chicago Market Co., North Front and High streets. Atherton Market on Court Street had center-cut halibut and salmon at 35 cents a pound and catfish at 29 cents a pound.

The Elite, 212 High Street, featured pumpkin and mincemeat pies at 30 cents each, praline pecan layer cake at 49 cents and a variety of ice cream flavors at 50 cents a quart. Christmas cookies were available at 50 cents a pound from home delivery salesmen of the Weik Bakery while the Milillo Baking Co., 802 Heaton Street, advertised fruit cakes starting at 35 cents. (Those 50-cent-a-pound cookies would be about $7.35 now.)

Seventy years ago, food and retail stores closed early Saturday evenings, and they weren’t open Sundays.

The first food to be rationed was sugar. In justifying its May 1942 start, the government emphasized "every time a 16-inch gun is fired, it eats up the distilled product of one-fifth of an acre of sugar cane." In 1941, per capita consumption had averaged one and a half pounds of sugar per week. Rationing was designed to produce a 33 percent reduction — a limit of one pound per week. The government emphasized that "ships which otherwise might be bringing sugar into the United States are hauling supplies to the battle" and "manpower is scarce at sugar refineries and shipping ports."

Entertainment options Saturday night, Dec. 6, included Larry Pachoud and his 12-piece band at the Kitty Kat Nite Club off U .S. 27 in Millville. The 40-cent per-person admission included dancing from 9:30 until 2:30 and floor shows at 11:30 and 1:30. The Hayloft at Winters Hotel in New Miami featured dancing and a 12-act floor show with music by Bob Haze and his Wildcats.

Another weekend possibility was dinner at the Elks Dining Room at South Second and Ludlow streets. The Dec. 7 evening menu featured leg of lamb or fried chicken at $1 and club steak or fillet mignon at $1.25. Prices included appetizer, salad, potato, vegetable, biscuits or raisin muffins, beverage and dessert. Earlier, lunches at the Paddock Nite Club at 112 N. Second Street, opposite the YMCA, ranged from 25 to 40 cents.

Some residents were in movie theaters when the afternoon bulletin reported the attacks in Hawaii. There were matinees at Hamilton’s four theaters, each with only one screen. Clark Gable and Lana Turner starred in "Honky Tonk" at the Paramount, 18 S. Second Street -- the city’s high-price theater with adult tickets ranging from 30 to 45 cents.

Admission was 25 or 30 cents for double features at the Rialto at 50 High Street and at the Palace at 213 S. Third Street. "The Shepherd of the Hills" with John Wayne and "Naval Academy" were at the Rialto. The Palace featured "The Mexican Spitfire" and "Outlaws of the Desert" with William Boyd. Those seeking laughs paid 25 cents to see the Marx Brothers in "The Big Store" at the Linden Theater at 2233 Pleasant Avenue.

Later in the month, Christmas festivities were nearly normal, except for the absence of those who were in the armed forces. But Christmas 1941 was the last normal holiday until late 1945.

"Christmas was different this year," an editorial noted in December 1942 after Hamilton observed its first real holiday of the first full year of war. Absent in 1942 was outdoor Christmas lighting, including the traditional downtown display, because of wartime efforts to conserve coal and electricity.

For those involved in war-related work, Christmas Day 1942, a snowless Friday, was their first holiday off. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said production could stop on Christmas after it had been work as usual on previous 1942 holidays.


Much has changed in Butler County in the 70 years since Japan bombed Pearl harbor Dec. 7, 1941. There are more people residing in the area now than in 1941, and the population has spread into more parts of the county.

The 1940 census had counted 120,249 residents in Butler County. In 2010, the total reached 368,130, three times the population recorded 70 years ago. Other population comparisons include:

50,592 Hamilton residents in 1940 and 62,130 in 2010.

31,220 in Middletown in 1940 and 45,605 in 2010.

2,756 in Oxford in 1940 and 21,371 in 2010.

Fairfield, which had 42,510 people in 2010, didn’t become a city until 1955. Fairfield Township, which includes more than the city, had a population of 4,602 on the eve of World War II.

Another measure is that the cities of Hamilton and Middletown -- with a combined 71,812 residents -- comprised 59.7 percent of the 1940 county population.

In 1940, only 3.1 percent of county residents were in two southeastern townships -- 2,109 in West Chester (then Union) and 1,628 in Liberty. Seventy years later, more than one out of four (26.7 percent) were housed in those townships -- 60,958 in West Chester and 37,259 in Liberty, a total of 98,217.

In Oxford, pre-war Miami University enrolled fewer than 3,000 students, less than a fifth of its recent totals. Miami’s Hamilton and Middletown campuses didn’t open until the 1960s and the Voice of America Learning Center in West Chester Township is less than 10 years old.

Oxford wasn’t a World War II ghost town. More than 7,800 military men and women were trained on the Miami campus from June 1942 until the end of the war in 1945. Most were prepared to serve as cooks, bakers and radio operators for the U. S. Navy.

Registration for sugar allotments under the first food rationing program didn’t conform with the 1940 census. Instead, it indicated a population increase. Based on sugar applications, Hamilton in 1942 had 55,616 inhabitants, or about 10 percent more than the 50,592 counted two years earlier. In all of Butler County, 131,666 people sought sugar stamps, more than 9 percent higher than the 1940 census total of 120,249.


The war in Europe began Sept. 1, 1939. While U. S. involvement remained in doubt for two years, defense preparations gradually erased the widespread unemployment of the Great Depression, which began in 1929. Local output expanded U. S. military stockpiles and supported British forces fighting in Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean. Hamilton industrial jobs topped 11,800, equal to about a fourth of the city population.

The Ohio Guide, published in October 1940, said "the city is nationally known for its stoves, safes and coated paper," and Hamilton shops also "make such varied products as diesel engines, woolens, automobile parts, metal castings, dies, tools and fixtures."

"In 1941, added impetus of millions of dollars in defense orders is keeping the wheels of Hamilton factories turning day and night," said an article in the official program for the city's sesquicentennial. "Hamilton, as the name 'City of Diversified Industries' implies, contains many vital industries," said the article published in October 1941.

Employment climbed rapidly after Dec. 7, 1941. Eventually, women, and teen-agers became part of the local work force as factories struggled to replace men called into the armed services and to fill new jobs created by the demand for war products.

The 1942 city directory, compiled before Pearl Harbor, said Hamilton factories "are working full-blast in 1942 to turn out the sinews of war and defense."

Manpower shortages attracted people to Hamilton, but most new residents had to settle for makeshift housing. Some families rented empty rooms while others converted garages to housing. Residential construction nearly stopped because the federal government restricted building materials to war-related projects.

Although war secrecy clouded the actual number, Hamilton manufacturing jobs were estimated at more than 15,000 by mid war. By then, a third of the local work force was women. Later, it would be reported that factory rolls rose to about 22,000 and remained at or near that level through the Korean War, 1950-1953.

A leading World War II employer was the General Machinery Corp., formed by a 1928 merger of the Niles Tool Works and the Hoover, Owens & Rentschler Co. During the war, GMC employed as many as 4,500 men and women, often working 11-hour shifts. Overtime and six and seven-day work schedules were common in most war plants.

A post-war report said at least 125 manufacturers in Hamilton contributed to the war effort. Most local shops produced components, not finished military hardware. Mandated secrecy has prevented compilation of the full story of the many products of local industry.

Some objects were impossible to hide, including 140-ton Liberty maritime engines at the General Machinery Corp.; naval anti-aircraft guns at the Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co.; heavy artillery at the Columbia Machine Co.; armor plating for various uses at the Mosler Safe Co.; and bomber parts at the Ford Motor Co.

Several small shops were sub contractors for large industries. For example, the Champion Papers machine shop had a role in fabricating the 826 Liberty engines completed by GMC.

In addition to their full-time jobs, thousands of people in city and rural areas served on dozens of committees and boards that administered war-related programs from scrap drives, safety, civilian defense and blood donations to rationing compliance.


Industrial security tightened immediately after Dec. 7, 1941. There were periodic sabotage rumors, none publicity confirmed. Every railroad derailment (none fatal or disastrous) was investigated.

The FBI urged city officials to increase protection and vigilance around Hamilton's municipal electric-generating plant, natural gas facilities and water reservoirs and treatment plant.

One of the most alarming events was a fire at a factory at Rockdale, north of Hamilton on the Great Miami River in Lemon Township. The blaze destroyed the Sall Mountain Co. asbestos factory. A news report said "the factory was nearly 100 percent on orders for war needs, chiefly asbestos products for the army and navy."

After the Sept. 8, 1943, fire, Sall Mountain’s 93 employees, working two shifts seven days a week, were relocated to temporary sites in Hamilton. Machines were salvaged and repaired and other equipment was obtained, enabling the company to continue to produce rolls of paper, millboard and insulation

As usual in war time fires, accidents and explosions at industrial and transportation facilities, the FBI joined state fire inspectors and local agencies in investigating the Rockdale situation.

Although believed to have been a production accident, the FBI investigated a fatal explosion at the King Powder Co. in Kings Mills, less than 20 miles east of Hamilton. Five Warren County residents died in the July 30, 1942, blast. At least 11 employees were injured.

The two ammunition plants in Kings Mills, the King Powder Co. and the Peters Cartridge Co., employed about 50 Hamiltonians.


Labor shortages weren’t restricted to local industry. Farmers in surrounding Butler County also needed workers. In the spring of 1942, county farmers sought 221 temporary summer employees, but only 47 people applied. The void was filled by junior high and high school students.

The labor problem continued throughout the war as farmers struggled to increase production despite government limits on the availability of new farm machinery and gas rationing.

The crisis worsened in 1943. Draft boards had granted deferments to farmers and their sons "to avoid further shortages in food production." That ended in the spring and summer of 1943 when military manpower needs took priority.

In Butler County, relief came from an unexpected source. At least 150 experienced farm workers -- all full-time employees of war industries in Hamilton and Middletown -- volunteered to work on farms in June 1943. The Victory Farm Volunteer Labor Corps also enlisted more than 200 junior and senior high school males, ages 12 to 17.

Alabama cotton workers were imported to Butler County in July 1943. They were provided room and board and paid the prevailing wage for farm harvest workers. They were available to harvest wheat, hay and other local crops until Sept. 15, when their labor was needed again in Alabama to pick cotton.

Local farmers were asked to make some crop changes. In March 1942, for example, they were urged to convert more acres to tomatoes because of military food needs. In October 1942, the county had its largest crop of soybeans.

Butler County farm production in 1942 increased despite labor problems, rationing, a lack of new equipment and shortages of parts for old machinery.

Farmers in 1943 were asked to hike local hog production by 10 percent, and increase the market weight 10 pounds over 1942 average.

Food production also was expected of city residents, who were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens in their back yards and empty lots. In the spring of 1942, posters and newspaper advertisements urged civilians to "Garden for Victory" and "Grow Your Own, Can Your Own." Vegetable seed packages had new labels, reflecting a new name, "Victory Seeds."

By March 1943, there was added incentive for Victory Gardens. Rationing began that month for processed foods, meat, cheese, butter and cooking oils.


Safety concerns didn’t diminish in Hamilton after residents had some time to digest the impact of the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. War-related questions and fears were many and lingered for weeks, some for months and a few throughout the four years of U. S. involvement in World War II.

Were more Japanese aircraft carriers lurking off the Pacific Coast, ready to bomb West Coast targets? Were transport ships, bearing Japanese soldiers, headed to Hawaii and/or the mainland?

Would Germany follow Japanese aggression with its own surprise assault on the U. S. East Coast? Could German bombers reach the U. S. -- from carriers, if not from Europe? Could they fly as far the Midwest? Were German submarines ready to strike off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts?

Were saboteurs threatening Hamilton factories, railroad lines, utilities and other local assets related to national defense?

Planning by the Hamilton Civilian Defense Council had started months before the Pearl Harbor attack. Immediately after Dec. 7, Hamilton police and fire personnel, with FBI assistance, began enlisting more than 3,300 volunteers in the city in the first seven months of 1942. In addition to the Civilian Defense organization, the local Red Cross enrolled women in classes for nursing aids and home nursing. Factories, offices and stores organized CD teams.

Additional thousands were recruited for civilian defense in Middletown, Oxford and rural Butler County.

In February 1942, work began on Hamilton's air raid system. In July, Hamilton's first air raid siren was tested. The city was awaiting delivery of 14 additional sirens. Twenty-five casualty and first-aid centers had been designated. Three dim-outs were conducted in parts of Hamilton in August and several additional tests were ordered in September. Tests and drills continued until the war ended.


Hamiltonians were cognizant of the war in Europe, Africa and Asia before Dec. 7, 1941. For example, the night before the Japanese surprise attack, some residents were raising money to assist English victims of German bombing. The city’s second annual "Bundles For Britain Ball" concluded in the early minutes of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. The dance -- which began Saturday evening of Dec. 6 -- raised more than $550 to help pay for bomb damage repairs at a children's hospital in London. It was held Anthony Wayne Hotel in downtown Hamilton.

A "Bundles for Britain" chapter was formed in Hamilton in October 1940, a few weeks after the start of the Battle of Britain. "We'll knit and we'll raise funds to equip base and field hospitals rapidly being filled in England with victims of Nazi war machines," explained Mrs. Homer Card, the Hamilton chapter’s first president.

Sounds and descriptions of Luftwaffe air raids were heard in local homes by radio. Most notable were daily reports by Edward R. Murrow, CBS Radio bureau chief in London (a popular TV news personality in the 1950s.). The eight-month Battle of Britain -- which began Aug. 11, 1940 -- killed more than 40,500 civilians and injured 46,850 people.

Hamilton’s awareness of the war -- and the potential for U. S. participation -- was evident Aug. 2, 1940, when the city observed Preparedness Day. The Friday afternoon and evening event focused on military displays and was highlighted by a parade and several speakers. By that date German forces had overrun France and appeared to be ready to invade Britain.

A highlight of the Aug. 2 rally was arrival of units of the 10th Infantry from Fort Thomas, Ky. Soldiers displayed vehicles, weapons and equipment around the Butler County Courthouse while its 26-piece band entertained on the courthouse lawn. An evening parade, with more than 5,000 participants, attracted an estimated 50,000 spectators,. Viewers were reported at more than 10 deep in some locations as the parade moved from Main Street at Eaton and Millville avenues to High Street and North 10th before ending at Dayton Street.

A month later, Sept. 16, 1940, a Hamilton-based National Guard company was among hundreds of units called into federal service. It departed for training in Mississippi a month later. The local troops were still in Mississippi when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The military draft -- the selective service system -- also was enacted Sept. 16, 1940. The first draftees left Hamilton Nov. 20, 1940, for the Fort Thomas induction center in Northern Kentucky. More than 600 men from the Hamilton area were inducted before Dec. 7, 1941.


Through much of World War II, several local casualties were reported each week in daily newspapers in Hamilton and Middletown. One estimate said at least 347 Butler Countians were killed or died of various causes, or were missing. A conservative count of wounded surpassed 400.

The county’s first war death was reported Friday, Dec. 12. Mrs. Lawrence Williams, of West Church Street in Oxford, was notified that her son was one of the more than 1,100 soldiers and marines killed Dec. 7 aboard the battleship USS Arizona. That report identified Ensign Lawrence "Junior" Williams as the pilot of a scout plane on a battleship and said he "died in action somewhere in the Pacific."

The 27-year-old pilot had graduated from McGuffey High School in 1932, from Miami University in 1936 and had enlisted in the U. S. Navy in May 1940. His last trip home had been in May 1941.

A 1945 report, at the end of the war, listed 15,267 Butler County men drafted into the armed services. Hamilton's 8,161 draftees were about a fourth of the city’s male inhabitants. It isn’t certain that those totals include volunteers.

In addition, hundreds of local men were "frozen" in their jobs, which were classified as critical to the war effort. They were exempt from the draft and weren’t accepted as volunteers because their skills and experience were required in Hamilton defense industries.

War Flash & Bulletin, Dec. 7, 1941

as reported by the Associated Press


WASHINGTON -- White House says Japs attack Pearl Harbor.


WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (AP) -- President Roosevelt said in a
statement today that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii, from the air.

The attack of the Japanese also was made on all naval and
military "activities" on the Island of Oahu.

The president's brief statement was read to reporters by
Stephen Early, presidential secretary.

No further details were given immediately.

At the time of the White House announcement, the Japanese
ambassadors Kiurisaboro Nomura and Saburo Kurusu were
at the State Department.