The New York Home Front, 1942–45
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the worldwide conflict, thereby ending debate over American involvement. The government quickly mobilized the country for war.
Section Two starts with “Victory Begins at Home”—a look at how the “war emergency” changed the routines of daily life. Rationing, conservation of resources, civil defense activities, war bond sales, huge patriotic rallies, and the ubiquitous presence of service flags hanging in apartment windows meant that the war’s many sacrifices were omnipresent. Madison Square Garden hosted remarkable events like the 1943 pageant “We Will Never Die,” which marked growing public awareness of the Nazi campaign to murder the Jews of Europe. Business no longer proceeded as usual for institutions like the New-York Historical Society, where a Red Cross bandage-rolling center opened on the ground floor. A fascinating mix of objects and graphic materials, including ration cards, an air raid siren, V-mail, and an Army helmet prototype produced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recall these developments.“Production for Victory” focuses on the city’s extensive and diverse wartime production. In addition to the prodigious output of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, private companies in the city and surrounding region built and repaired ships and planes, outfitted soldiers, equipped defense factories, and published war propaganda and news. Defense jobs re-employed the city’s workforce, previously idled by the Great Depression. In addition, with so many men serving in the military, war production lifted barriers against the employment of women and, to a lesser extent, racial minorities for the duration. A wall of products “made in New York”— ships, M1 carbines, soldier rations, patriotic posters, and more—drive home the huge surge in productivity that characterized the war years. Three short films explore the round-the-clock activity at the mammoth Brooklyn Navy Yard and the challenges African Americans faced as they struggled for democracy at home and abroad. A display called “The Port of New York: Rear Echelon to the War front, 1944,” features a five-foot, push-button, interactive map of the city’s war-mobilized landscape, including war industries, defense fortifications, and military training bases, but particularly focusing on the “Port of Embarkation.” The shipment of men and supplies from the Port of New York was critical to Allied success. After the 1944 Normandy invasion, a ship left the harbor nearly every fifteen minutes. By war’s end, more than 3,300,000 men and women had shipped out from New York to the warfronts. Two short films play on video kiosks here—one focuses on the detention of enemy aliens at Ellis Island, and one follows Professor Kenneth T. Jackson as he tours key wartime sites such as Brooklyn Army Terminal.
The Battle of the Atlantic brought the war to New York’s shores, and the display of the same name explores the city’s role in the longest campaign of the war. To unleash the great port’s power and get men and material safely to North Africa and Europe, the battle against the German U-boats had to be won. The display features an 18-foot-long mural of an armed merchant convoy laden with supplies as it departs from New York harbor, a rare German Enigma code machine, and many more artifacts and stories.
New Yorkers also mobilized to entertain and welcome the servicemen and servicewomen visiting on leave or en route to war.
The “On the Town” display—presented as a Travelers Aid information booth for servicemen—showcases the inviting activities the city had to offer. Posters for the theater, visits to museums, invitations to roller rinks and restaurants, sightseeing discounts, free drinks at nightclubs, baseball tickets, and more, awaited those in uniform. William Henry Johnson’s painting of jitterbugging at the Savoy Ballroom is one element of the spectacular mix. Three short films explore in more depth how New York’s theatrical community interacted with the troops in places like the Stage Door Canteen and through productions like Irving Berlin’s This Is the Army and the homemade “soldier shows” that took place everywhere that American troops fought.