Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Defense Train Comes to Wilmington

In November of 1941, much of the news in America was filled with reports about World War II. Many Americans felt it was just a matter of time before we would become involved in the war. The President and Congress were actively bolstering the armed forces as American industry was just restarting after a decade of stagnation caused by the Great Depression.  

The three trains as seen at Washington Union Station.
Library of Congress Photo
The military was woefully unprepared for war and desperately needed resupply of everything from safety pins to bombs. Most of what they needed was a lot more complicated than safety pins.

The big military contractors that outfitted the Armed forces needed to find thousands of smaller subcontractors to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding military production machine that was quickly coming back to life. They knew that many small manufacturers were going to be needed fast, so the government decided they had to go find them.

One of the trains ready to get underway.
Library of Congress Photo
In its quest to find small manufacturing companies, the Office of Production Management sponsored three different, eight-car trains dubbed “Defence Specials.”

The trains were painted red, white, and blue and the first six cars were fitted with displays, blue prints, and specifications for many of the approximately sixty-thousand items needed by the armed forces. The last two cars were used as living quarters for the 36-man staff. 

The trains traveled between cities at night so they could maximize their time during the day going over production needs. With all of the hoopla they could muster, the trains were assembled at Union Station in Washington, D. C. and sent on their way on November 10, 1941 for a five-week tour that covered 79 cities. 

On that very day, across the pond, Winston Churchill spoke at a luncheon in London and warned that the war could spread to the Pacific. His quote, as reported by the news services was, "it is my duty to say —that should the United States be involved in a war with Japan, a British declaration will follow within the hour."

L-R: Herman S. Schutt, Gov. Bacon, Mr. Keller, Lt. Col. Thomas A. Brady, Jr.,
Lt. Comm. R.C. Peardon, and Mayor Albert W. James. Delaware State Archives Photo
On November 11, 1941 the first stop for the east coast train was made at Wilmington, Delaware, where it was greeted by Governor Walter W. Bacon, Wilmington Mayor Albert W. James and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Inside vendors could view many of the items
needed and meet with military specialists
Throughout the day 700 factory owners and managers visited the train and learned of opportunities to supply the needs of the military. Because many of these companies had never dealt with the military before, a clinic designed to help smaller businesses learn to do business with the defense industry, was offered in the north waiting room of the station. 

The next morning the train left Wilmington for its next stop, Trenton, N.J and continued to other manufacturing centers in the east. On December 7th the train arrived in Harrisburg from Reading. That morning, suddenly, the onboard crew of procurement experts realized their mission was exponentially more important. Winston Churchill's quote proved to be correct on both counts.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. This work is needed to educate people about this historic information. In our local Historical society we have a complete history of the Octorara branch of the PennCentral (PRR) RR back to its founding. Contact me for more information. Keep it up !!
    Al Eelman (former PC,Conrail, and Amtrak employee.


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