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WW II Home Front

Our community made sacrifices and learned a new way of life in support of the military during World War II.

Life changed significantly for Americans with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the subsequent declaration of war by President Roosevelt. Young men were drafted into service while others volunteered. On the home front, Americans accepted many changes in their way of life to support the war effort.

Rationing became a way of life. Gasoline was allocated based on necessary mileage. The ration coupon was needed to purchase gasoline. Farmers were allocated extra fuel for farm use to produce food. Automobile production stopped and was replaced with jeep and tank production. Tires were re-capped rather than replaced to save on rubber. Tractors had their rubber tires replaced with metal studs.

Because silk was needed to manufacture parachutes, women’s silk stockings were limited. Rita Saylor of McHenry recalls that it was considered patriotic to wear your old silk stockings with holes and runs in them. With a Marshall Field’s charge account, you could purchase one pair of stockings each month.

Victory gardens appeared in back yards growing vegetables to eat and share with others. Butter, sugar, eggs and meat were rationed. These foods were used to produce the soldiers’ food rations and as ingredients for explosives. Cooking fat was saved by housewives and sold to the local butcher. It was sent to the munitions factories to be turned into glycerin for use in explosives.

Spam, a potted meat product, made its appearance with 272 million pounds used in the soldiers’ rations. At home because of the shortage of fresh meats, spam also became dinner.  It could be baked with a slice of pineapple and brown sugar on top to replace ham.

According to Alma Justen Anderson of McHenry food was always available on the farm. Often they would share excess eggs and vegetables with friends and family. Farm families worked together to plant and harvest all the crops.

School children joined the war effort by collecting newspapers, aluminum foil and even foil gum wrappers. Gertie Barbian of McHenry led the local Red Cross blood drives to benefit our fighting forces.

Everyone purchased war bonds. Children purchased stamps for 10 or 25 cents through the Schools at War program and pasted them in a book until they had $18.75 for a $25 bond to be issued. Adults purchased bonds through payroll deductions encouraged by employers and ads run by Hollywood stars.

Women Go to Work

Women were hired to replace men in the factories. The iconic Rosie the Riveter reminded women of their duty to provide the supplies needed by the fighting force to win the war. Locally, workers were hired by the Morton Plant in Ringwood where photographic chemicals used in the war were produced. In Huntley, hundreds of McHenry County residents were employed at the Fencil Fuze Factory in Huntley producing munitions. McHenry Tent and Awning Company manufactured hospital tents for use by the troops and the Hunter Boat Company received government contracts for several hundred boats.

Young women headed to Fort Sheridan and Great Lakes to join servicemen at USO dances. Some of these new friendships blossomed and resulted in marriages.

Lasting Impact

Throughout McHenry County, support for the war was evident in every day life. Everyone had helped the war effort. When victory was declared and servicemen returned home life changed again. Women had become more independent and many continued to work outside the home.


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