California’s Infrastructure

Civilian Home Front Effort

Once the United States entered World War II, it had to feed its soldiers abroad as well as the people in newly freed countries overseas. At home, certain foods such as meat, sugar, coffee, and butter became scarce and had to be purchased with ration stamps. Gasoline, as well as rubber, was also rationed and any unnecessary travel was discouraged.

One way in which wartime rations were supplemented was the planting of victory gardens. Any available space, such as front yards or even town squares, was used to plant gardens that eventually accounted for one third of the vegetables available in the United States.

In order to increase the amount of resources needed to make planes, tanks, ships, and guns, scrap drives were organized to collect and recycle old paper, rubber, and metal. Even waste fat from cooking meat was collected in an effort to make glycerin for explosives. Scrap drives enlisted the help of everyone from young to old and was considered a patriotic duty of American citizens.

War gradens poster
Photo of WW2 airplane

Government Goes to War

California had two wartime governors during the Second World War: Culbert Olson (1939-43), a Democrat; and Earl Warren (1943-53), a Republican. They would square off against each other in the 1942 election over wartime policy. After winning, Warren – the former State Attorney General – would take the lead in seeing the state through the peak of California’s war production and the demilitarization of the post-war period.

The California State Legislature faced a busy wartime agenda of drafting a legislative program which supported California’s vital role during and after the war. Tragically, this included legislation that supported the Japanese-American relocation programs. In 1943, the Assembly and Senate also conducted a major Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California.

Over 213,000 federal employees and 28,000 state employees filled out the ranks of government workers during the war. Many were replacements for men who had enlisted in the war effort, who in turn expected to return to their former positions.

The Business of War

If the United States was the “arsenal of democracy,” then California was its main assembly line. In 1941, the Golden State already had some distinct advantages when it came to getting a major share of defense contracts. California had a large, preexisting economic capacity, experience with large scale public works projects, and a responsive labor force.

Overall, California wartime output amounted to seventeen percent of national production. Ten percent of all US defense dollars were spent in California. Defense spending also boosted local economies in what has been called “military welfarism.” Wartime spending pumped tens of millions of dollars into a statewide economy that had been ravaged by the Great Depression.

California was also the food basket for the war effort, supplying fourteen percent of the nation’s total production. California agriculture began to fully transition during the war years to its current industrial scale model. From $627 million in 1940, income in 1944 from California crops amounted to $1.7 billion, a 159% increase.


Invent for victory poster
Military photo in CA
Military photo in CA
Military photo in CA

Militarization of California

Well before the attack on Pearl Harbor, California was mobilizing for war. The Army began to acquire land to expand existing installations and build new posts, training areas, and airfields. The Pacific Fleet was deployed to Pearl Harbor in order to better counter the Japanese threat. Soon the sight of antiaircraft and coastal defenses, long convoys on the roads, and thousands of service members became common throughout most of the state.

The California National Guard was ordered to a year of active duty in the spring of 1941. The state government soon organized its own armed forces under the State Guard Act of 1940.

Over 75,000 Californians served in the State Guard while thousands more served in over 300, local licensed militia companies of the State Militia. Local governments also formed defense councils to coordinate their actions.

Thousands also served in the Civil Defense, Aircraft Warning Service, and other volunteer auxiliaries.