If you haven’t had a chance to read James J. Kimble’s relatively new book, “Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II,” I would recommend it.
The book is an overarching narrative of the Nebraska scrap drive of 1942, the brainchild of Henry Doorly, publisher of the Omaha World-Herald. Scrap metal was needed to make steel and without it, America’s war production would be severely hindered.
Doorly sparked the competitive spirit in Nebraskans, pitting all 93 counties against each other in a contest and encouraging residents to go out into the farm fields, alleys, streets and wherever else scrap metal could be found for the allied war effort.
In Sarpy County, the call to action was no different. In conjunction with Doorly’s contest, the scrap drive went into effect July 11, 1942.
Each town had a scrap chairman responsible for overseeing the collected metal from their respective communities. Almost nothing was sacred and nearly everything that could be collected was. Plows, stoves, car bumpers or even entire vehicles were collected for the war effort.
The Papillion Times goaded readers into contributing or else risk reading their name in the paper under the headline, “Sarpy County citizen refuses to help win the war by keeping his scrap.”
The intimidation may have worked, because the following week when the final tally was in for the three week long scrap drive, Sarpy County placed an impressive ninth place statewide with a total of 1,962,696 or 181.14 pounds of scrap per resident.
The war effort in Sarpy County wasn’t just limited to a three-week stint. A second surge of activity took place in the fall of 1942, when a scrap drive competition vied state against state.
A county-wide scrap day was scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 20, 1942. The mayors of Bellevue, Gretna, Papillion and Springfield as well as all three county commissioners signed a proclamation that work at farms and businesses be suspended for the day. Schools spent the day not on reading, writing or arithmetic, but focused on the scrap drive.
In addition, the courthouse offices would also be closed to the public and employees were encouraged to locate scrap. This was not a ceremonial proclamation.
It was recorded that practically the personnel of every business house, professional officer, courthouse office and tavern donned overalls and supported the scrap gathering efforts.
The one-day efforts netted Sarpy County another 300 tons of scrap. This was metal that would be turned into everything from helmets and machine guns to B-26 bombers produced at the Martin bomber plant at Fort Crook.
So who won Doorly’s contest? Despite an impressive run, it wasn’t Sarpy County. Its 10,835 residents supplied the war effort during both the local summer and national drives with 307.02 pounds of scrap per person, more per capita than Douglas and 66 other counties. Of the 93 counties, Hooker County with its 1,253 residents yielded the most, with 995.80 pounds of scrap per person.
However, it was actually Grant County that won the $1,000 war bond for providing the most scrap during the summer drive.
As a side note, the 19,178 residents of Richardson County served as the biggest loser, only supplying the war effort with 77.86 pounds of scrap per individual.
On a national level, Nebraska was the sixth highest contributor of scrap metal during World War II, a home front feat given the spare population of our state, compared to many of the other great 48. While Nebraskans remember the efforts of the Martin bomber plant, North Platte Canteen, or munitions factories, the state also proved its worth in weight during the Second World War.
Ben Justman is the executive director of the Sarpy County Museum and periodically pens a history column for the Bellevue Leader.