The War Years
Hannibal and the War Effort

In July 1940, one of the first industries in Hannibal to convert to wartime production was the International Shoe Company. That year, International Shoe employed twenty-five hundred workers, whose payroll totaled more than $2 million. In 1941, it began to convert its shoe production to the use of wooden heels (as rubber would be needed for the war effort). Up to fifteen thousand shoes were produced per day. The Bluff City factory also converted to defense manufacturing by producing men’s shoes. In 1943, it began rebuilding shoes for the United States Army, employing more than eight hundred workers who could refurbish as many as six thousand pairs per day.


Durasteel, which had retooled in early 1940 to produce lawn furniture, instead began filling an order for more than 100,000 M47A1 chemical bombs 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.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addresses a large crowd in Hannibal

Hannibal students collect donations for the war effort, circa 1942

A serviceman returns home, c1945

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hannibal joined the rest of the nation in support of the war. Civilian defense measures were practiced, including the use of camouflage. To prevent light from being seen during blackout drills, Hannibal housewives hung heavy, dark drapes and blinds in their windows. The Red Cross raised funds, and defense savings bonds were purchased from local banks. Rationing of sugar, coffee, meat, canned goods, butter, tires, typewriters, shoes and nylons was instituted. Victory gardens were planted. Metals for ammunition and rubber for tires on military vehicles were donated to the war effort. On Christmas Day 1942, the local telephone company asked residents to limit long-distance phone usage to enable servicemen to call home.


Donald M. Nelson, the son of a locomotive engineer that was born in Hannibal in 1888, was named by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to lead the War Production Board from 1942-1945. As director of the WPB, it was Nelson's responsibility to oversee the production of war materials by United States private companies, billions of dollars of items used by the U.S. and its Allies during the war. His 1946 book Arsenal of Democracy is one of the major works on the U.S. industrial mobilization effort during World War II.

Do You Know:


Hannibal was home to a German P.O.W. camp

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.

















By all accounts, the German POWs were well received in Hannibal. 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.