Louisville during World War II

Drill arranged for stake notching in shell machining department, Vogt Machine Company, 1942. Vogt was commissioned to manufacture 105mm and 90mm shells. From the Vogt Machine Company Records, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. During World War II, the Louisville, Kentucky area threw itself into war production. Existing facilities were put to new uses and new factories were built to accommodate new production. Louisville’s contribution was primarily in the areas of vehicles (including airplanes), artillery and related products, and rubber. For example, DuPont opened a $30 million plant in Charlestown, Indiana, to produce smokeless powder for artillery, and the Naval Ordnance Plant rose next to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s Strawberry Yards. The United States Navy purchased the Howard Shipyards, across the river from Louisville in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and contracted the operations of Jeffersonville Boat and Machine Company. These companies built submarine chasers and landing craft that were used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and in the Pacific Theatre. Curtiss C-46 planes were built at one of Louisville’s airports, with parts from Louisville’s Reynolds Metals and American Air Filter plants. Louisville’s Ford Motor plant produced more than 100,000 jeeps over the period of the war. The Vogt Machine Company committed itself to war production, turning out hydraulic fittings, marine boilers, and other equipment.

Louisville’s best-known industries – baseball bats and distilleries – also turned their production to wartime products. Hillerich and Bradsby Co., known for the Louisville Slugger bat, turned to making gunstocks for M-1 carbines. Distilleries turned out industrial alcohol, which was needed for synthetic rubber.

Parkway Place housing for war workers, Louisville, Kentucky, 1943. From the Caufield & Shook Collection, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. Louisville became a major producer of synthetic rubber during World War II. Synthetic rubber was in high demand since by the middle of 1942 the Axis powers controlled most of natural rubber supplies. DuPont, B.F. Goodrich Co., and National Synthetics Rubber Co. all had plants in Louisville, in an area that came to be known as Rubbertown. At peak production, in 1944, Louisville produced 195,000 tons of synthetic rubber.

This stepped-up war production required additional workers, and the influx of people created a housing shortage. Two housing projects were built to accommodate the defense workers, one at Sheppard Square and one at Parkway Place.

Women training as machinists at Dupont Manual High School, Louisville, Kentucky, 1942. From the Caufield & Shook Collection, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. Women played an important role in filling the need for more workers. While traditional gender roles cast the ideal family as consisting of a male breadwinner and a female who took care of the home, the war effort required maximum use of human resources outside the home. This gave women opportunities in areas traditionally considered the province of men.

Regardless of where they worked, Louisville’s citizens contributed to the war effort by buying bonds, recycling rubber and metals, and by conserving food and other necessities.

United States Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, Kentucky, 1937. From the Caufield & Shook Collection, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. Fort Knox, located 40 miles southwest of Louisville, served as a training center for National Guard troops, ramping up its graduation rate to 64,000 thousand enlisted men per year. The United States Bullion Repository, established in 1936 and located adjacent to Fort Knox (and usually referred to simply as “Fort Knox”) provided safekeeping for gold and irreplaceable cultural artifacts from the United States and Europe, including the U.S. Constitution and the Magna Carta.

Louisville provided big-city entertainment for personnel from Fort Knox through commercial venues as well as through the Service Club.

V-12 military officer training program

In 1943, the U.S. Navy initiated a program to expedite the production of officers: the V-12 program. This program supplemented the graduates produced by the Naval Academy at Annapolis and the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School. University of Louisville was one of 131 colleges and universities selected as a site for V-12 training. The future officers entered undergraduate programs as well as professional programs in medicine and dentistry. Other institutions had V-12 students focusing on chaplaincy. More than 125,000 men enrolled in the V-12 program between July 1, 1943 and June 30, 1946.

University of Louisville V-12 participants in histology laboratory, circa 1943. From the College of Arts & Sciences V-12 photo display, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. For the United States Navy, this was a means of producing much-needed officers in the face of the Second World War. For colleges like University of Louisville, it was a lifeline at a time when many if not most of their male students departed to serve in the Armed Forces. In 1943, the university’s enrollment was 2,030 – of which 970 were “V-12s.” But the commitment was deeper than that: as University of Louisville President Einar Jacobsen put it, “…while the University could rightfully feel before that it was making a significant contribution through the training of young men and women for all phases of the war effort [i.e., in medical and dental programs], it now has a deeper sense of responsibility because it has direct control of the educational development of this large group of potential officers.”

University of Louisville President William Asa Kent served on the civilian committee that advised on the development of the V-12 program, and thus was instrumental in ensuring that University of Louisville participated. Dr. Kent died before his work bore fruit, but work continued under the leadership of President Einar Jacobsen.

University of Louisville V-12 participants in chemistry laboratory, circa 1943. From the College of Arts & Sciences V-12 photo display, University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. V-12 institutions were required to provide housing, meals, and athletic facilities and training in addition to academics. For University of Louisville, that meant constructing its first dormitories; prior to World War II, the university was strictly non-residential. The buildings were named for four University students who died early in the War: Bethel Veech Otter, Robert Leopold, Herbert Hugo Menges, and Robert Gabriel White. Financial support for this construction – about $200,000 – was provided by the City of Louisville, the Jefferson County Fiscal Court, and more than 70 local businesses. After the war, the University made good use of these buildings. Menges Hall, for example, served simultaneously as a dormitory for Southern Police Institute participants and the home of the School of Business. When construction began on Schneider Hall in 1955, the buildings were relocated to the current site of the Chemistry Building. They were razed in 1979. The mess hall survived longer, ultimately serving as the Fine Arts Annex. It was demolished in 1993 to make way for new construction.


How did we win together?

Conscription, Volunteers.

See more

Hospitals and Medical Staff.

See more

Factories in the Rear.

See more

Outreach Activities.

See more

Newspapers, Magazines, Documents, Awards.

See more

Everyday Life.

See more