During World War Two, the federal government poured money into military production. This money made its way to Western states primarily for two reasons: 1) the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor turned the nation’s attention to the potential vulnerability of the West; and 2) many Western states had space to build huge centers of military production. Read the article below to learn about how the war affected the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Gold Rush of 1849 turned California from a backwater into a state, but World War II set off forces that turned it into the biggest of the states, almost a world power in its own right.
The war brought new industries and new people to California in huge numbers. California yards turned out 1,867 ships in four years -- more ships than there are now in all the navies of the world; San Francisco became the principal port of embarkation for the war in the Pacific; millions of soldiers passed through Camp Stoneman in Contra Costa County; the state's population increased by nearly 3 million in four years.
The Bay Area's population jumped by a third -- half a million new people -- during the war years. . . .
In late 1940, when war seemed imminent, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser had offered to build cargo ships for the British. Kaiser had neither a shipyard nor any experience building ships. . . .
The federal government spent $5 billion on the wartime contracts in the Bay Area; shipyards employed 244,000 people, 100,000 of them at the Kaiser Richmond yards alone. . . .
When the war broke out, there was a huge shortage of workers, and by the time the war ended, it had produced sea changes in the way the country did business.
For one thing, the shipyard managers recruited in the South, among African Americans. California did not have a strong African American presence before the war. San Francisco had only 4,846 black residents out of a population of 640,000 -- less than 1 percent.
Most African Americans in the region lived in West Oakland, which was 16.2 percent black in 1940. Ten years later, it was 61.5 percent black.
“The great World War II migration is the most important event in the history of black people in the Bay Area, ” wrote Charles Wollenberg in his book Marinship at War.
“The region became a new black frontier. . . . The number of blacks in San Francisco more than quadrupled during the war, while that of Richmond and Vallejo grew over 10 times . . . by 1945, blacks had replaced Asians as the Bay Area's largest non-white minority and the chief target of prejudice and discrimination.”
Housing was another matter. . . . One answer was to build public housing: In the East Bay alone, 30,000 units of what were known as “the projects” were built. . . .
Much of this housing was segregated. It created what Johnson called "migrant ghettos.'' Thus, she says, “World War II transformed the urban geography of the East Bay.”
Source: Nolte, Carl. “Infamy, War -- And a Sea Change.” San Francisco Chronicle. May 9, 1999. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1999/05/09/SC44SC1.DTL
1. List 3 ways WWII changed the population of the San Francisco Bay Area.
2. What role did the ship-building industry play in these changes?
3. What do you predict might happen when the war ends and the demand for ships drops?