Let the six 'burr' month season of holidays begin

Echoes of our past
William Wangemann  for The Review

Summer is over and the Holiday season is upon us. Have you ever thought about the fact that every month from now until the month of January has a major holiday? I like to refer to the coming next 6 months as the “burr” months, September, October, November, December Januaryber and Feberary, (I know, February is spelled wrong) winter and its cold and snow are not far off. Do you remember the time when fashionable ladies would never wear white after Labor Day and most certainly not sear-sucker garments!

But getting back to Labor Day, the holiday was first proposed by labor unions on the East coast in 1882. Soon a movement was organized to make Labor Day a National Holiday which was accomplished in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed a bill naming the first Monday in September as a federal holiday honoring labor. The day was celebrated with a large parade and huge labor related rally. Many labor officials felt that President Cleveland who was running for re-election, who was known as being unfriendly toward labor, had signed the bill merely to garner the labor vote. If indeed that was his intention it failed; the president was not re-elected!

For most of the history of labor in this country the work force consisted of men. You have only to look at want aids from the later part of the 1890’s and into the 1900’s up to about the year 1940 and it will be clear that women were expected to work only in ”traditional” occupations. Want ads for women called for domestic servants, laundry workers and secretaries, just to name a few. Almost all of the jobs were low paying with no chance for advancement.

World War 2 was to change all that. During the “Great Depression” when jobs were scarce no employer would have dared to hire a female for a job that could be filled by a man. Here in Sheboygan, as in the rest of the country, 1940 saw an increase in the demands for “war” goods for our allies who were already fighting the Germans. As jobs became more plentiful here and there women were being hired for better paying factory jobs. Suddenly, on the peaceful morning of December 7, 1941, our naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan. The base was badly damaged and suffered great loss of life and many wounded. America was at war! During the next six months America’s industry took an astonishing change. Automobile factories, who only months before were manufacturing cars, stopped abruptly and completely changed production lines and began to build tanks, trucks and air planes. At first the output of the war plants (some of them newly built} was a mere trickle but in no time the trickle became a steady flow and then an absolute torrent of ships, planes, tanks and guns as a flood of goods poured from these plants. American labor had risen to the call as no other labor force in the world could have.

As the tempo of the war increased more and more men were called into military service, reducing the available workforce. The women of our country stepped forward to fill the gap. Women who had never seen a rivet gun, a welding torch, or a complex machine were soon qualified riveters, welders and machinists. By wars end 1/3 (18 million) of the work force were women.

An unexpected side effect of the increased demand for war workers was a corresponding drop in high school attendance. At first educators were baffled by the drop in attendance, then it was discovered that many high school drop outs who were too young to join the military had taken relatively high paying jobs in defense plants. It seems that government regulations pertaining to child labor laws had been greatly relaxed and young men between the ages of 15 and 17 were being hired in the war industry. Students 18 and over were dropping out of school and going into the military. Many years later a bill was passed granting high school diplomas to all the young men who had left school to serve in the military and had never graduated. One member of the Sheboygan Police Dept., Lt. Joseph Lang, had left high school, joined the military, and became a paratrooper in the Pacific, was awarded his high school diploma in the 1980”s after being out of school for over 40 years.

Here in Sheboygan and She- boygan County, shortly after Pearl Harbor, Sheboygan industry rapidly shifted to war production. Companies, such as the Jung Shoe Company, began turning out military styled boots for all branches of the service. Kohler Company received large contracts for portable generators, torpedo launching tubes for submarines, shells, piston rings for engines and all types of plumbing adapted for military use. It might be noted that the Kohler Company employed many women in their work force during the war years. Even Sheboygan’s large furniture industry received contracts for wooden glider parts. The gliders that were used in those days to transport troops were fabricated out of wood and who better to work with wood than companies that had been doing so, in some cases, for a hundred years or more. Then there was a small broom company in Sheboygan with just a few employees which received a large order for brooms from the Navy. After working night and day for several weeks the company proudly managed to fill the order. At one time Sheboygan had a substantial leather industry. Leather gloves, helmets and jackets were turned out for the Air Force. Companies such as Polar Ware and Vollrath Company turned out canteens, mess kits and car loads of stainless steel and enamel cookware. Sheboygan County cheese factories, famous for their hight quality cheese, joined the fight and turned out tons of cheese for the military which was shipped out of Plymouth. The list of companies in Sheboygan County that contributed to the war effort is long.

The laborers of Sheboygan County, both men and women, contributed greatly to the war effort. They worked 8, 10, 12, even 16 hours a day and sometimes even more, without complaining. During the war the fictitious character “Rosie the Riveter” was created to represent all the women working in the war industry. Many of the war workers from World War II have passed on but to those of you who are still with us our hats are off to all the men and “Rosie the Riveters” who worked so diligently during this era. We dedicate this past Labor Day to you!

If anyone has any comments or suggestions for future columns please feel free to contact me, Bill Wangemann at 920-458-2974 or email me at wangemann@yahoo.com.

Note: Each Tuesday morning at 7:30 Am a discussion of today’s column can be heard on radio station WJUB “The Breeze”, 1420 on the dial

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