April 23, 2019
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Preparing for War

Evansville workers produced ships, planes, bullets, and more
This photo, taken from Reitz Hill, shows the overnight crew, all of whom began work at midnight.

Evansville’s location in the heartland of the U.S. made it the perfect place to produce Landing Ship, Tanks and warplanes during World War II. Located far from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — but with a river that connected to the Gulf of Mexico — Evansville became one of the most important manufacturing centers during the war.

During World War II, Evansville was the most productive manufacturing city in the world, per capita. Workers in the city produced planes, ships, bombs, and much more for the war effort. The most notable contributions were Landing Ship, Tanks (LST) and P-47 Thunderbolts.

In February 1942, just two months after the U.S. officially entered the war, it was announced that the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company of Leavenworth, Kansas, would build and operate a shipyard in Evansville. Five other companies were involved with the design and construction. The first keel for an LST was laid on June 25, 1942. It was to be approximately 325 feet long and 50 feet wide. It launched on Oct. 31, 1942.

At its peak, the 45-acre site employed more than 19,000 men and women. The shipyard eventually built 167 LSTs, the last of which left town on Dec. 12, 1945. The LSTs built in Evansville were involved in every significant amphibious assault on both German and Japanese forces.

The shipyard operated 24 hours a day and had its own hospital and cafeteria. The shipyard even had its own newspaper, “The Invader.” Smoke from the welding and pounding of the riveting could always be seen and heard on the West Side.

Meanwhile, Republic Aviation had a problem. It was making the P-47 Thunderbolts at its home plant in Farmingdale, New York. But that put it close to the East Coast and perhaps vulnerable to attack. So in January 1942, a Republic official secretly visited Evansville to see if a manufacturing site could be found.

It was decided to build the new plant near the Evansville airport. Ground was broken on the new facility April 7, 1942, and the first plane was completed by the end of September. The facility produced more than 5,000 P-47 Thunderbolts, and employed about 5,500 at its peak, including many women.

Pieces of the planes were produced by local companies, which would then be assembled at the Republic plant. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the Evansville Republic Aviation plant in April 1943.

The Republic plant officially closed in January 1946, though production had slowed many months earlier. The building was purchased by International Harvester, but that lasted just a few years before it was sold again to Whirlpool.

By August 1945, the LST construction was shut down almost completely. On the night of Jan. 26, 1946, a warehouse at the shipyard caught fire, which quickly spread. Only a few buildings survived, and those were razed soon after.

The war production facilities brought in thousands of people, many of them still feeling the effects from the Great Depression. Some homeowners rented out space to friends or family members who needed a place to stay. Others lived in trailers with the barest of necessities.

The post-war years brought a struggle to Evansville, which lost as many as 10,000 jobs between 1950 and 1957. But when the need was the greatest during the war, Evansville stood out as one of the greatest contributors to help achieve victory.

To learn more about Evansville’s LST 325 Memorial, visit lstmemorial.org.

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