The War Manpower Commission was established by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt during the early period of World War II. It called for the “elimination of wasteful labor turnover in essential activities … the direction of the flow of scarce labor where most needed in the war program … (and for) the maximum utilization of manpower resources,” explained an article in the October 29, 1943 edition of the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times.
Early in the war it was revealed that many industrial centers in the United States were struggling to provide necessary war materials and products because of a labor pool greatly diminished when thousands of former employees were drafted to serve in the United States military.
“Our country saw fit to locate at Kansas City, the Heart of the Nation, the production of large quantities of the most important munitions of war,” wrote John B. Gage, mayor of Kansas City, in a proclamation dated May 6, 1944. He added, “At the very time when the greatest battles of this war are to be fought—when planes, engines, explosives, landing craft and other vital material of war produced here are most needed, a shortage of workers fully to man the war plants has developed.”
Under the auspices of the War Manpower Commission, Mayor Gage sought to address these labor shortfalls by forming the Citizens War Manpower Committee to aid in supplying an additional 30,0000 workers for local war plants. The mayor called upon Elmer C. Rhoden, president of Fox Midwest Amusement Corporation, to serve as chairman for the local committee.
On May 15, 1944, only a week after the formation of the committee, an “advertising approach” was approved that was designed to “appeal to older men who may fear they are not adequate to the jobs that are open.” The committee also noted, “We must appeal to both men and women who are in non-essential or less-essential jobs and convince them it is their duty to surrender their present security and take up work on the production line in the manufacture of the implements of war.”
The special committee for advertising was headed by W.J. Krebs, of Potts-Turnbull Advertising Company, and comprised of volunteers employed in various Kansas City-area advertising specialties. The committee developed a multifaceted approach that included advertising on Kansas City streetcars and buses, a billboard campaign, notices on water and gas bills of 100,000 residents and brief clips played prior to the showing of films in area theaters.
“The services of the War Housing Centers are available to assist employees of essential industries in finding suitable quarters,” explained the booklet titled “War Workers Guide: Greater Kansas City. “Anyone who has a vacancy can make a real contribution by listing their vacancy with the War Housing Centers ….”
With scores of local men away from home to fight the war, the committee sought to address the concerns of women who might otherwise be willing to fulfill an essential war job but were disinclined from doing so because they had young children for whom to provide care.
“Mothers who feel impelled to take a war job can rest assured their children will be well cared for,” the above-cited booklet explained. “There are 32 child care centers operated by the public school system, which can be expanded to meet future needs.”
A War Jobs Headquarters was opened at 1120 Grand Avenue in Kansas City, where applicants were received, assessed and potentially referred to essential war industries by U.S. Employment Service employees and area war plant representatives. Several recognized companies—such as Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, Hercules Powder Company and North American Aviation—opened employment storefronts to receive potential applicants.
In his final report to Mayor John B. Gage on July 31, 1944, Committee Chairman Elmer Rhoden related, “During the period of the Citizens Committee campaign, 90,000 persons responded to the appeal, 60,000 of these were referred to employers, and 30,000 were placed in jobs.”
Rhoden affirmed the committee’s success would not have been possible without assistance from a myriad of partner agencies, noting the majority of the new workers resided in Kansas City thus “proving the claim that the labor supply was available … and the effectiveness of the committee’s campaign.”
Pratt & Whitney Aircraft also acknowledged the assistance provided through a local campaign in helping them maintain production of their Wasp family of aircraft engines, which were used in a number of military aircraft of World War II.
L.C. Mallett, assistant general manager Pratt & Whitney’s local offices, wrote Chairman Rhoden on July 13, 1944, “(T)he members of the (committee) are to be congratulated on their performance. There is no question in our minds that their efforts assisted all war industries in this community and that the results could not have been attained without their assistance.”
Further acknowledging the contributions of others and spotlighting the profound achievements of the committee in supporting the war effort, Chairman Rhoden, in the aforementioned letter to the mayor, calmly stepped away from his voluntary wartime endeavor to return to his employment in the private industry.
“Now that the Citizens War Manpower Committee has completed its task, your chairman feels he can resign his responsibilities with sincere and profound thanks to all those who served with him, and with renewed faith in the belief that the citizens of Kansas City can accomplish anything they set out to do.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.