Minnesota Woman Working at the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant
Between 1941 and 1976 (with some pauses between WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam wars), the United States Army operated a munitions factory about half an hour from downtown Minneapolis, in New Brighton, MN. Originally the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, renamed the Twin Cities Arsenal in 1946 and then finally as the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in 1963, its workers produced small arms ammunition. Unsurprisingly, it was at its most busy during World War II, when it was staffed almost exclusively by women. The women working there were indispensable to the war effort, not just in the munitions they produced, but in their likenesses.
All of the above photos were printed in Minneapolis newspapers in 1942 and 1943 both as simple reporting, but also as propaganda: the United States had resources, was producing munitions like mad, and the work was being done by strong, attractive women.
This post was researched and written by Special Collections Intern James Morrow. James spent the summer working on various components of the Minneapolis Historic Photo Collection in the Hennepin County Library Special Collections.
Ft. Snelling Troops Subdue Hostile Town: Hastings, MN
By 1941, most Americans had little doubt their country would eventually be drawn into the war. Conscription had already started the previous year and new soldiers were being trained. That August, troops from Ft. Snelling engaged in a military exercise to invade a town, remove “hostiles” from a building, clear the streets and secure bridges and other points of access into the town.
In the photo above, soldiers are seen sweeping the streets after having cleared their objective: The Lund Ski Company, on the right, whose curious employees can be seen watching the soldiers from the factory windows and loading dock. Note the soldiers’ leggings, WWI-style helmets, and gas masks.
Hollywood Victory Caravan arriving at the Nicollet Hotel, 1942. Notables pictured here are Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Katherine Booth. I believe Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were also along for the caravan.
(image via MHS Visual Resources Database)
The Hollywood Victory Caravan was organized for the benefit of army and navy relief. There was long line for tickets at the downtown ticket office on April 30, 1942. The stars arrived on May 9, 1942 and raised $28,329 in the St. Paul show and $36,000 at the Minneapolis Auditorium show. Bob Hope also made a visit to West High School in uptown Minneapolis.
Woman Testing Ammunition at Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, circa 1942
The plant was located in New Brighton, Minnesota and was an earlier proposed site of the new Minnesota Vikings Stadium. Many women worked at the plant during World War II, they were integral in the manufacture of the weapons and ordnance needed for the successful conclusion of the war.
Article on the current exhibit in Special Collections on Women in World War II by Mary Treacy. The exhibit was created by Special Collections intern and HCL employee Lindsay Keating. If you want to browse the World War II poster collection you can go here.
State Theater, WWII Brownout, February, 1945
Theatergoers had to find their movies in the dark during the brownout. The brownout was lifted after V-E day, May 9, 1945.
Great Northern Deport, WWII Brownout, February, 1945
The brownout to save coal instituted in the Twin Cities resulted in a 2.5% reduction in electricity consumption.
The penalty for not complying with the brownout was having your electricity cut off by Northern States Power. We did not find much evidence of revolt - a J.B. Low who ran a tavern at 2730 Franklin Ave. E. refused to obey until NSP threatened to shut off his power.
Brownout on Hennepin Avenue, February 1945
Block E is in the foreground with the Great Northern Market and the 620 [Hennepin] Club, which was known for it’s turkey dinners and it’s owner Max Winter. Winter went on to be an owner of the Minnesota Vikings and was team president from 1965-1987.
Due to wartime coal shortages, brownouts and energy conservation were instituted in February 1945 in Minneapolis. The brownout provisions prohibited the use of outdoor electrical advertising, promotional lighting and decorative and display lighting.
Here is an editorial from the February 2, 1945 Minneapolis Tribune:
The loop isn’t going to be so bright for a time, at least until the coal shortage is eased, but our experience with the brownout to date give no suggestion that traffice will be seriously affected. Still there is no denying Nicollet and Hennepin will be darker and darkness does add to transportation hazards. Autoists and pedestrians alike must have a keener awareness of the possibilities that reduced vision entail.
How much coal the brownout will save is problematical. Window lighting and electrical advertising are however conspicuous examples of coal consumption that could be dispensed with, and if home dwellers and office workers were to be asked to make a sacrifice of temperature these manifest consumers of coal had to be curtailed.
The real coal savings will be in the homes, the office buildings and factories, where there is a large and continuous wastage. One need but to look out the window down town to note the evidences of unskillful firing as shown by the black thunder clouds of smoke pouring out of the chimneys in every direction. This is a serious waste of fuel in addition to being dirty, unhealthy and certainly unaesthetic.
Home dwellers are equally wasteful of fuel, and although their individual failures are small the aggregate loss is great. Their total fuel consumption draws heavily on the fuel storage. Better firing and maintaining temperatures at a comfortable, if not luxurious, level will save much more coal than extinguishing electric advertising devices and store windows.
Women in the War Effort during WWII
We have a new display on World War II that focuses on women at home (canning, victory gardening) and at work (Rosie the Riveter, women in the military). It was created by our intern Lindsay Keating. This poster is from our Kittleson World War II Poster Collection.
This display showcases the way patriotism was promoted towards women in WWII propaganda posters. Women were either marketed to as homemakers or as possible replacement workers for men. The homemaker posters reinforced women’s traditional role as domestic homemaker and cook. The worker posters sought to pull women into manufacturing out of sheer need due to so many men being overseas. They appealed to women’s sense of civic duty. When women came to manufacturing jobs in droves, it proved that they were capable of much more than previously imagined.
"Anti-Blackout" Flying Suit, Munsingwear, 1945
Caption attached to photo from the Minneapolis Tribune:
THE ANTI-BLACKOUT FLYING SUIT is modeled here by Kenneth R. Larson (center), 5153 Thirtieth avenue S., Munsingwear industrial engineer, and Charles W. Pauly, 165 Peninsula road, Munsingwear mechanical engineer. At right, Frances Balck, 3028 Fremont avenue S., helps zip up the suit for Larson while Pauly “blows up” the gear.
Towards the end of World War II warplanes were getting fast enough to put significant g-forces on the pilots. G-suits like the one above would allow pilots to stay alert and conscious as the gravity forces would try to force the blood away from the pilot’s head during high-g maneuvers. The g-suit would put pressure on the legs and abdomen, restricting blood flow away from the brain and eliminating the possibility of the pilot “blacking out” during flight.