City of Ishpeming Records: Ishpeming and World War II

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the country went to war. Along with countless other communities, the city of Ishpeming suddenly had to deal with restrictions, rationing, and more. The committee reports from the years 1942-1944 give an interesting look at just some of the problems and challenges the Common Council had to face.

One of the very first items was the purchase of a roadway snow removal unit. In a letter to the Common Council on December 9, 1941, the Board of Public Works held a special meeting and placed an order for a Model LRT Snogo. The Board had met on December 2nd, but deferred action due to questions on the suitability. On the 9th, the questions were quickly cleared up. “To comply with National Defense priority restrictions, the immediate placing of this order was imperative, if we were to obtain delivery before March, 1942.” This was not the usual order of business, as approval was needed prior to placing the order, but as the board stated: “Trusting that your Board’s action in this matter, under the circumstances, will meet with the concurrence and approval of your Honorable Body.”

At the regular meeting of the Common Council on October 8, 1941 the council wanted the citizens to vote on whether or not they wanted a change in the form of government. A resolution was to be adopted at the February meeting and voted upon at the annual April election. However, the resolution that did come out of the Common Council stated “those actively interested in the promotion of the idea of a new charter or a new form of government are now actively engaged in war work and other defense activities and such work will undoubtedly increase in the future….giving said citizens little time to devote to this project.” The question of a new style of city government would be postponed “until some future election.”

In March of 1942, the Common Council recommended the purchase of $6,000 in Series G Defense Bonds. Their reasoning was that “said investment will yield the City 2 ½% per annum instead of the 1% which it now receives, and it being to the interests of the City of Ishpeming to do so…”The monies came from the Cemetery Trust fund.

In a June 1942 report to the Common Council the Board of Public Works addressed a citizen’s petition for grading and surfacing on several streets in the 6th ward. Part of the board’s response stated: “Since governmental restrictions no longer permit the use of railroad cars for delivery of paving asphalt or tarvis, it would be impossible at this time to comply with the request for tar surfacing.” Grading of the streets in question would have to suffice.

Also in June of 1942 comes a report from the Board of Public Works regarding street signs. The report stated: “Compliance of this idea would involve the purchase of signs and standards or posts upon which to attach them, metal in both cases being most practical and slightly. Because of current governmental restrictions upon use of steel and other metals, it is improbable that such metal material could now be purchased.” A further report dated July 7th stated “Enquiries have been made by your Board of Public Works of many manufacturers and dealers in such signs, and replies from six leaders in these specialties state that they are now unable to supply such, and are aware of no foreseeable future date on which they could promise delivery.” The issue of street signs would be dropped until governmental regulations were withdrawn.

Both of the past two reasons were used to answer John Koski’s request for a culvert to fix his driveway. “Due to governmental restrictions on both steel material and railroad car transport facilities, culverts cannot now be purchased for road uses. “

A letter from the Social Security Board of the United States Employment Service highlighted a problem with recruiting war production employees. Some prospective employees were reluctant to leave their current positions as they were afraid of losing their seniority or service rights. Since the country desperately needed workers for war production and since many of those highly skilled tradesmen were employed by cities and other governmental agencies, the SS board asked the Common Council to adopt a policy of protecting seniority rights for any workers who wished to work at full time defense or war work. The Board of Public Works, Cemetery Board, and Library Board had no objection to the adoption of such a policy.

Even something as simple as the installation of a street light was subject to additional paperwork! A citizen petition asking for a street light on Salisbury Street got the following response from the Michigan Gas and Electric Company. “We have investigated the possibility of installing a street light on Salisbury Street, and are quite sure that it can be done without any pole installation or line extension, as the circuits are already on the pole where the lamp will be installed. However, formal application will have to be made to the War Production Board, and we are quite sure permission will be granted for its installation.”

Changes were made at city hall. There was a special meeting of the Common Council in July of 1942 to act on bids for the remodeling of two rooms in the basement of city hall for use as headquarters for the Civilian Defense Council.

There were some positive things to come out of all the restrictions. In August, the Common Council had to deal with a petition from city workers asking for an increase in wages. The Board of Public Works had this to report to the Common Council. “In regard to that part of the petition covering wage and salary increases, it should be remembered that this request was not made in time for, nor was any financial means provided for, meeting such an additional expenditures in the City Budget for year 1942. However, due to war restrictions on material preventing further street improvements and other work provided for, your Board, after careful consideration, concluded that it could be arranged to grant an increase of approximately 10% in wages and salaries.”

The war time restrictions did have an impact on safety, especially when it came to trains. A letter to the Common Council dated February 1, 1943 stated “I wish to make a plea for a Safety Signal at the Third Street Railroad crossing in behalf of any person or persons who must pass this crossing at night. I had a very close call there recently as the Streamliner approached the city. Who knows who may be next – perhaps one of you – and it may not be merely a close call, it may be fatal.” This was a letter that the Common Council took seriously as shown in the March 3, 1943 report from the City Attorney.

“The railroad people (representatives of Duluth. South Shore & Atlantic and Chicago & Northwestern) pointed out that due to present regulations, it was impossible for them to furnish any additional crossing protection by furnishing additional watchmen since they were now short of manpower as it was, and are having difficulty in even maintaining their present watchmen service. That it was further impossible to furnish flashing signals at these crossings due to shortage of material and the refusal of the Government to release such equipment for such purpose.” In short “The Committee regrets that there apparently is nothing that can be done to relieve this situation at the present time.”

After further investigation into the matter, which included researching the cost of flasher signals at several of the intersections in the city, a report from the Committee on Street Lighting to the Common Council stated, “We would recommend that no action be taken on the installation of these signals at this time, as the committee feels that the railway companies are the ones who should furnish the protection to all traffic over their crossings.”

Remodeling of City Hall in 1943 required “War Production Board authority to proceed with the remodeling of the City Hall.”

In October of 1943, the Common Council received a resolution from the Wakefield City Commission asking the government to increase the meat ration allotment for miners and lumbermen. The resolution stated, “Whereas, because of their arduous tasks a more nutritious diet is necessary than that which can be obtained at present due to rationing restrictions, and Whereas it is deemed necessary that a larger allotment of meat be made available to each person so engaged in order that a diet consistent with the amount of energy expended daily be adequately provided.” The resolution was forwarded to each community in the Upper Peninsula, although there is no indication in the reports if the allotment was ever increased.

By 1944, there was little mention of World War II in the Committee reports. Whether this was due to an easing of restrictions or to some other factor is not mentioned. One cause for this may be changes in the city government. The postponement of the city charter issue mentioned earlier only lasted several months as the question surfaced again in the summer of 1942. A special election in September of 1942 showed that residents did want the charter rewritten and did not want the current aldermanic form of government. Once the charter was rewritten, the city council size went from 20 alderman (one for each ward) and a mayor to 9 council members, elected at large, and one mayor. In addition, the city, for the first time in its history, hired a city manager. There were not as many committees and not as many reports were generated. The end of World War II is not even mentioned in the Committee Reports.

Come see these reports for yourself at the archives! We are open Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10 AM-5 PM and Tuesday/Thursday 10 AM-7 PM.

Written by Karen Kasper

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