‘Chicago and the homefront in World War II’ wraps up Wednesdays @ One spring season in St. Charles

The spring season of “Wednesdays @ One” events concludes May 1 when author, investigative journalist and educator Jerome M. O’Connor sheds light on how Americans on the homefront helped win World War II.

Presented at the historic Baker Community Center in downtown St. Charles and produced by the Norris Cultural Arts Center, “Wednesdays @ One” events are offered free of charge, thanks to the sponsorship of Colonial Café. For online registration, visit

Historian Jerome M. O'Connor of Elmhurst

O’Connor’s program, “Chicago and the homefront During World War II,” is particularly timely, as the 80th anniversary of D-Day approaches on June 6.

O’Connor takes a look back to Chicago and the homefront during World War II, and the contributions of everyday people and businesses to the war effort.

After Pearl Harbor, American industry ended all peacetime production to become the war’s “Arsenal of Democracy.”

Chicago’s large labor pool, central location and expansive rail network made it the nation’s most important manufacturing and distribution hub.

Over 1,400 Chicago area companies converted into war production, including some odd industrial bedfellows. Radio Flyer ended production of its famous little red wagon to make fuel containers. Cretors & Co. stopped producing popcorn wagons, and started making shell casings. Galvin Manufacturing (Motorola) and Hallicrafters made half of the military’s electronic equipment. Four massive plants supplied or assembled engines, torpedoes and entire aircraft.

Victory gardens were on every vacant lot, even on rooftops. Canning kits extended the life of garden produce, contributing 40% of all manufactured foods. Every household rationed all essential goods, with ration books becoming another form of currency.

A 1943 poster by the Office of War Information titled “Can All You Can. It's a Real War Job!” Courtesy of Prints & Photographs, Special Collections, Library of Virginia

O’Connor’s program will include rare images of these same companies from then to now and describe how the homefront and the war front combined into a once-in-history, war-winning effort. Included will be insider views of the still-existing tunnels in the world’s largest war plant, now Ford City Mall.

O’Connor is the award-winning author of “The Hidden Places of World War II.” A Chicago area resident, certified Chicago tour guide, and college continuing education instructor, he deeply researches and lectures about the little-known, overlooked, or underreported people, places and great events of modern history.

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