Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

This exhibit ran May 23, 2015 – April 29, 2016 at the California State Capitol Museum

Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

Called to Action: California's Role in WW2

About the Exhibit

The exhibit was open from May 23, 2015 – April 29, 2016 at the California State Capitol Museum. The exhibit displays highlighted the effect World War II had on California’s infrastructure, its people, social justice; and how its effects impacted Californians after the war.

California Transformed

Sunday, December 7, 1941.

History would never be the same after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. America’s entry into the Second World War (1939-45) would prove to be the decisive turning point in the greatest conflict of the Twentieth Century. The nation, and the state of California, would never be the same, either. World War II would bring monumental changes to the Golden State, change as had not been seen since 1848. After the Gold Rush, the next most transformative event in California’s history was “the War.”

Even as the dark clouds of war loomed over the horizons of Asia and Europe in the 1930s, many Americans were reluctant to enter into yet another World War. Many Californians, like their fellow countrymen, found comfort in isolationism and escapist media of the time. Still, some realized the inevitability of war and began to prepare the country and its people for its eventual outbreak.

The Golden State would be central to the national war effort. California’s fields and factories would provide the largest amount of food and war material in the country. Over 800,000 Californians would eventually serve in the armed forces and millions of Americans would be trained at California installations or be shipped out through California embarkation centers. Over one and a half million more would flock to the Golden State to fill the ever growing need for defense workers.

The rapid changes that the war set into motion between 1941 and 1945 would usher in a new era for California. The state went from a rural, agricultural way of life to an urban society based on industry and technology. The Golden State saw its pre-war economy transformed by this Second Gold Rush into the world class one that it is today.

WW2 collage
WW2 collage
State of Defense

State of Defense

September 1, 1939. World War II in Europe erupted. America was not prepared for war. The Army, which included the Air Corps, numbered only 188,000 Regular Army soldiers, 200,000 National Guardsmen, and 139,000 Reservists. Its strength was rated nineteenth in the world, just behind Romania. Twenty-six percent of the Army served overseas. It was an army designed for colonial policing, border patrols, and coastal defense.

The Army had only 329 obsolete light tanks and approximately 1,800, mostly obsolete, aircraft. Harbor defenses were of Spanish-American War era design and lacked overhead protection from aerial attack. Soldiers were supplied mostly with World War I weapons and equipment. Despite a building and modernization program that started in the mid-1930s, a large portion of the Navy, including all of its battleships, dated to World War I. Shipyards took over a year to build a destroyer and several years to build larger ships.


  • Mr. Daniel Inouye
  • Mr. Bob Mayer
  • Mr. Dan Collins
  • Mr. Steve Hayes
  • Ms. Pegi Hayes
  • Ms. Connie Clark
  • Mr. Don Falloon
  • Mr. William Hedge
  • Ms. Iris Dimond
  • Ms. Erin Chandra
  • Ms. Walt Thompson
  • Mr. Scott Griffith
  • Mr. Eric Davis
  • Mr. Colin Coate
  • Ms. Clair Campo
  • Mr. Michael Walker
  • Ms. Laura Jensen Walker
  • Mr. Larry Rehrer
  • California State Legislature
  • California Military Department
  • California State Capitol Museum Volunteer Association
  • California State Archives
  • California State Library
  • California Statewide Museum Collections Center
  • US Coast Guard Historian’s Office
  • US Army Center of Military History
  • US Navy History and Heritage Command
  • US Air Force Historical Research Agency
  • US Marine Corps History Division
  • Library of Congress
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • University of South Carolina
  • Mare Island Historic Park Foundation

“Called to Action: California’s Role in World War II” Exhibit ran May 23, 2015 – April 29, 2016 at the California State Capitol Museum. This exhibit is now closed.