Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
Who would have thought that women’s hosiery could ever become a valuable asset to the war effort in the 1940s? Women in the city, the country, and even throughout the world had enjoyed the luxury of silk and then nylon stockings. But once the war years were upon us, women in the United States responded to the appeal by the government for discarded silk and nylon hose. Instead? Rayon, a synthetic material that was a lot less sheer, that was “heavy” because it did not “breathe” like silk or nylon and thus was uncomfortably warm in the summer months, encased women’s legs. The Office of War Information recorded that eighty-five per cent of hosiery worn by women would be made of rayon with an eye to wearing quality rather than sheerness, and price ceilings would specify the range of quality grades. In addition, stockings averaged one inch shorter than the same styles of pre-war silk and nylon hose because of rayon’s ability and accommodation to stretch easily. I well remember how my mother detested rayon hosiery, but accepted it as part of the war effort that lay in women’s hands.
And women did donate washed silk and nylon, worn out or discarded hosiery in substantial amounts throughout the country. The Jamestown Post-Journal reported that retail stores in the city cooperated, and local agencies assisted in gathering this much needed material. Jamestown’s department stores, such as Bigelow’s and Nelson’s, as well as chain stores that stocked hosiery for months displayed barrels for depositing silk and nylon hose with signs that read “Axis Graveyard” or “Stockings for Defense” and “Uncle Sam Needs Silk and Nylon for War Materials.” If that last slogan is a puzzle for this generation, let me remind you that powder bags for heavy caliber guns, such as those used on American battle ships, parachutes, and other vital war products were manufactured from the silk and nylon that was reclaimed—almost one hundred per cent– from discarded women’s hose.
The Jamestown Salvage and Victory Committee, chaired by Richard P. Shearman, was influential in promoting this part of the city’s salvage program. Shearman commended the women of Jamestown “for the good job they have done in supporting this effort.” In a short article, the Post-Journal noted that “if these stockings salvaged recently throughout the country were placed end to end, the total salvaged hosiery would stretch 14,211 miles—enough mileage for a flying fortress to go from New York to Tokyo, continue along the circle route and take generous stop-over privileges in Berlin and Rome before joining General Eisenhower at Casablanca.”
Another material needed for the war effort that was salvageable by the city-wide Salvage and Victory program was tin from collapsible tubes; in fact, thousands of pounds of tin were recovered from empty toothpaste and shaving cream tubes! As Chairman Shearman stated: “One empty toothpaste or shaving cream tube does not mean very much, but get them all together and the results are voluminous. Let’s pep up this part of our Salvage for Victory program.”
Scrap metal was also an important war-time commodity that Jamestonians generously supplied. Brooklyn Square became the city’s repository for scrap metal and rubber for the war effort. This WW II scrap drive was located in the Square at South Main and Harrison Streets near the Broadhead Building, and Jamestown’s citizens contributed 28,653 tons of metal and rubber. In addition, “to help swell Uncle Sam’s scrap metal heap” the Ira Lou Spring Post, American Legion, turned over almost its total collection of WW I relics in November 1942 that included “18 German rifles, 26 German sabers, three German machine guns [as well as] bayonets, helmets and shell cases.”
Needless to say, from silk to metal, from luxurious women’s items to the spoils of war, Jamestonians did their part in furthering the war effort that led to victory.