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Mid & Late 20th Century: 1941 to the Present

  1. World War II
  2. Kansas After World War II
  3. Late 20th Century Political & Social Changes
  4. Culture & Progress in Modern Kansas

World War II

When we think about the enormous investment of lives and energy made by the United States in the Second World War, it is difficult for us to imagine that many Americans were not enthusiastic about our entering the war. Some believed, as with the First World War, that it was a European War. Harry Woodring, a former Democratic Governor of Kansas and President Roosevelt's Secretary of War, was dropped from the cabinet because he disagreed with President Roosevelt's policies regarding the war. 

To drum up support for the war, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was formed in 1940, with William Allen White as its chairman. Even though many did not wish to commit to war, it was good for business in Kansas. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation helped pay for expansion of the Stearman Division of the Boeing Aircraft Corporation. Boeing made parts for the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in Wichita. Beech Aircraft received a multi-million dollar contract to make training planes for the military. There was also expansion of Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley for training troops. It is estimated that fifty million dollars came into the Kansas economy as a result of defense-related spending during World War II.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, most Kansans united behind the war effort. One of the longest lasting economic effects of the war was on the aircraft industry in Wichita. Cessna Aircraft manufactured planes for the army. The B-29 Superfortress was manufactured in Wichita. Pilots were trained at Salina. Some of the landing craft used in the D-day invasion in France in 1944 were manufactured in the Fairfax district of Kansas City.

Kansas agricultural products played a major role in supporting the war effort, but farm labor was scarce because of the large numbers of young men in the service. Farm labor was supplemented by students, women, men with draft exemptions and, in some cases, German prisoners of war who were being held at Concordia, Salina, and Fort Riley.

New industries gave employment opportunities for laborers. As new factories opened, laborers moved to the cities for jobs. Women also entered the workforce in large numbers during the war. "Rosie the Riveter" was the nickname given to women who worked in defense industries. Because so many men went to war, the women needed to take jobs that had previously been performed by men. Had women not worked patriotically for the country, the United States might have lost the war.

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B-29's being serviced at the Smoky Hill Army Air Field in Salina during World War II (Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society)

 

Poster representing Rosie the Riveter

 

Approximately 3,500 Kansans were killed in action during World War II. Most notable among Kansans serving in the war was Dwight D. Eisenhower. "Ike" was born in Texas but grew up in Abilene, which is the sight of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He was the supreme commander of the allied forces for the D-day invasion that ended the war in Europe.

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan ended the war in the Pacific. Kansans living today may have been indirectly affected by the project that created the atom bomb. In the early stages of development, bombs were routinely exploded in the atmosphere in the Southwest, and Kansans, along with millions of others living in the Midwest, were exposed to radioactive fallout which drifted to the east. The exposure has recently been linked to increased rates of cancer in individuals in some areas.

Additional Resources

bulletLearn more about World War II.
bulletRead World War II letters from Kansans.

Study Guide Questions

  1. How did World War II benefit Kansans economically?
  2. How did William Allen White help the war effort?
  3. How did the aircraft industry in Kansas contribute to the was effort?
  4. How did the farmer's supplement their labor force during the war?
  5. What was the role of Dwight Eisenhower in World War II?

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