Shoes and Boots
The Hannibal shoe factories provided a substantial boost to the local economy as they worked full tilt to meet the deadlines of government contracts for combat boots and shoes for our troops during World War II.
The International Shoe Company was one of the first industries in Hannibal to convert to wartime production. In 1940, International Shoe employed twenty-five hundred workers. In 1941, it began to convert its shoe production to the use of wooden heels (as rubber was needed for the war effort). Up to fifteen thousand shoes were produced per day.
The Bluff City Shoe factory also converted to defense manufacturing by producing men’s shoes. In 1943, it began rebuilding used shoes for the Army, employing more than eight hundred workers who could refurbish as many as six thousand pairs per day.
Pictured are workers in the fitting department of the Bluff City Shoe Co., circa 1917, at the corner of Maple and Collier. The photo was originally contributed by Mrs. John Logan of Louisiana and is now a part of the Hannibal Arts Council’s Hannibal As History collection.
Making Do During Rationing
During World War II, many household items were rationed in the United States, to provide adequate supplies for the armed forces. Americans were urged to “make it do.” It might now surprise you that items like these were rationed: typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, silk, nylon, fuel oil, stoves, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled, and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter. But, what about shoes?
Japan controlled the part of Asia from which raw rubber was sourced. Due to the resulting rubber shortage, footwear made of rubber or with rubber soles was rationed or simply unavailable. The military also had a high need for leather, not just for shoes and combat boots, but for those popular leather flight jackets, belts and straps. As a result, civilians had to make do with less.
Starting September 30, 1942, men’s rubber boots and rubber work shoes were placed under rationing. To obtain a new pair, a man had to apply to the local ration board, prove he needed the shoes for essential industry—not for sport—and turn in the old pair. Galoshes and overshoes were not rationed because they used less crude rubber, but sportsmen couldn’t get boots, and sneakers were no longer produced.
In 1943, the New York Times devoted four columns to an official U.S. government statement on footwear. Effective February 9 of that year, the statement explained, Americans would need a special coupon to buy a pair of shoes. Everyone would receive three of these coupons per year. Shoe rationing had arrived!
On February 7, 1943, the United States instituted rationing of leather shoes to begin February 9. Each man, woman, and child could purchase up to three pairs of leather shoes a year, using designated stamps in War Ration Book One, and later in Books Three and Four. To simplify the system, only six shades of leather were produced. However, the supply of leather continued to decrease. On March 20, 1944, the ration was reduced to two pairs of leather shoes per year. Shoe rationing continued until October 30, 1945.
Second-hand shoe stores got a nice bump in business, and inventive manufacturers introduced shoes made from materials that weren’t rationed: mostly plastics, but also “pressed carpet, felt, old brake lining material and even reclaimed fire hose.” Plastic shoes and boots with fabric tops came into vogue, and Americans took it on the chin to get involved and support the war effort.
In the fall of 1944, 265 German prisoners of war were brought by train to Hannibal from Clarinda, Iowa, for a six-week project. More than two million shoes had been donated to the war effort from all across the country, and the Germans were brought to Hannibal to aid in sorting the shoes and preparing them for repair.
Bluff City Shoe Company had received the army’s contract to refurbish the shoes, which would then be sent to Europe. Clemens Field was converted into a temporary encampment for the prisoners, who lived in tents behind a barbed-wire fence inside the compound.
The town was abuzz, but the German POWs were well received. Bread and fresh vegetables were regularly brought to the camp by Hannibal residents concerned for the Germans’ well-being. There was even talk that the POWs might be allowed to attend a football game at Hannibal High School, but the U.S. Army vetoed the idea. One Hannibal resident recalled groups of locals gathering at the edge of the bluff at the end of South Fifth Street to listen to the prisoners singing as they sat around their evening campfires.
Durasteel, which had retooled in early 1940 to produce lawn furniture, instead began filling an order for more than 100,000 M47A1 chemical bombs the armed forces orders in 1942. Of Durasteel’s one hundred employees during the war, thirty-seven of them were women. After the war, the Durasteel plant converted back to manufacturing metal porch furniture. Many members of my family worked in these local businesses that supported the war effort, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even my grandparents.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hannibal joined the rest of the nation in support of the war. Civil Defense measures were practiced, including the use of camouflage in the home and at the workplace. To prevent light from being seen during blackout drills, Hannibal housewives hung heavy, dark drapes and blinds in their windows.
The Red Cross conducted countless fundraising drives, and defense savings bonds could be purchased from local banks. Rationing books were distributed, shared, and stamps traded. Victory gardens were planted to enable home canning in case further rationing was needed in the months ahead. Metals for ammunition and rubber to make tires for military vehicles were generously donated to support the war effort. It was a way of life. “Use it up – Wear it out – Make it do,” were common slogans appearing on posters everywhere during World War II.