When the United States was pulled into World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. raw materials were in high demand globally, and hard to come by. Commodities such as rubber and cloth became precious and very valuable to the war effort. Many of the men were now off fighting the war, and so the factories, mines, etc. were not producing the necessary materials to build the much needed military equipment and weapons for the war effort.
When it was decided that the country needed a drive to supply these materials, the Community-Minded Patriotism of the United States Home Front swung into action. The nation decided that they needed a drive to collect the materials needed. On Oct. 5, 1942, the first day of the first drive, young people throughout the city and county hauled in 2,800 tons of scrap metal to feed industry during World War II. By Oct. 16, the end of the campaign, their total was 7,658 tons, which is the combined weight of 230 Sherman tanks.
More scrap drives were organized across the country, encouraging citizens to contribute their rubber to make jeep tires, their clothing to make cleaning rags, their nylon and silk stockings to make parachutes, and their leftover cooking fat to make explosives. One of the most vital materials to collect was scrap metal. A single medium tank required 18 tons of it, and a single Navy ship hundreds more. For many people, I’m sure it looked like a great way to get rid of all those items most of us would try to unload at a garage sale.
The scrap metal drives became very competitive, almost frenzied affairs, as communities fought to out-contribute each other. Housewives threw in their aluminum pots and pans, farmers sacrificed their old tractors, and cities and towns ripped up wrought iron fences, trolley tracks and historic Civil War cannons. People were encouraged to imagine their household items being transformed into armor and weaponry for their soldiers and sailors in harm’s way. It was a great way to energize the Home Front. In Lubbock, Texas, a bust of Hitler was erected as a target for patriotic citizens to hurl their cookware. It was a way to take out their anger a little bit, and it worked. Walt Disney donated two iron Bambi sculptures, which were said to contain enough iron for 10,000 incendiary bombs or one 75 millimeter artillery piece. In all reality, the effect of these scrap metal drives on actual war production was very small, marginal at best. Nevertheless, their true value was in galvanizing citizen morale and a sense of patriotic unity…making everyone like they took part in the war effort. So, in the end, the scrap days did their job very well.
Since man first learned to fly, there have been many kinds of planes. It seems like everyone is trying to improve on them. Hollywood producer, Howard Hughes was one of the people who wanted to do something new with planes, so he founded Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932. He tested cutting-edged aircraft that he had designed and in 1937 broke the transcontinental flight-time record. He then broke the world record in 1938 by flying around the world in 19 hours and 14 minutes. Those were amazing feats, but it was another of his planes that caught my dad’s interest.
After the United States entered World War II, the government asked Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of transporting men and materials very long distances. The concept had originally been that of Henry Kiser, but he dropped out and Howard Hughes took over. The plane was built mostly of birch, but also of spruce, due to wartime restrictions on the use of steel. The wood was laminated with plastic and covered in fabric. The design gave the plane a gray/white color, and since spruce was used in the design, the plane was dubbed the Spruce Goose. The plan was for it to be able to transport 700 men at a time. The plane had a wingspan of 320 feet and it was powered by eight propeller engines and was designed to take off and land on the water. It’s first and last flight was on November 2, 1947. It wasn’t originally intended to be a flight, but just a taxi trip on Long Beach Harbor. Howard Hughes decided on a whim to fly it. It flew 70 feet over the water for one mile before landing successfully.
Since me dad had built planes at Douglas Aircraft Company before going into the service during World War II, the Spruce Goose really intrigued him. It was such a novelty…whether it was supposed to be or not. When Mom and Dad were in McMinnville, Oregon, they finally had the opportunity to visit the Evergreen Aviation Museum and see the Spruce Goose for themselves. I can just hear the thoughts going through my dad’s head the moment he saw it. I’ll bet it was all he could do, not to jump up and down with excitement. I’m sure it was an awesome moment.
I don’t know if Dad ever saw the video of the first and only flight of the Spruce Goose or not, but I have had the chance to see it. It was amazing to see a plane with a wingspan that was longer than a football field actually be able to get in the air. To me though, it seemed like that flight took a lot of effort. I don’t think I would have wanted to trust it to fly the long distance flights to Europe and such. Still, it flew, and it is the largest plane, and no one can take those things away from the Spruce Goose.