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Make It Do – Scrap Drives in World War II

Perhaps nothing represents the community-minded patriotism of the US Home Front in World War II better than the scrap drive.

Seventy-five years ago, the United States began its first major national scrap drive – for rubber.

Enemy conquests cut off supplies of crucial raw materials such as tin and rubber, and the need for products made from these materials skyrocketed due to the war. Since useful materials often ended up in the trash can or languished unused in homes and on farms, the War Production Board encouraged scrap drives throughout the war.

Rubber DriveUS poster, World War II

Rubber was vital for war use, and acute shortages affected the United States from early in the war (See “Make It Do – Tire Rationing in World War II”). From June 15-30, 1942, the United States held a nationwide rubber drive. People brought in old or excess tires, raincoats, hot water bottles, boots, and floor mats. In exchange they received a penny a pound. Although 450,000 tons of scrap rubber was collected, used rubber was found to be of poor quality.

Scrap Metal Drives

Metal shortages were also critical (Make It Do – Metal Shortages in World War II). In 1942 citizens scoured their homes, farms, and businesses for metal. Housewives donated pots and pans, farmers turned in farm equipment, and children even sacrificed their metal toys. Many people removed bumpers and fenders from their cars for the war effort. Communities melted down Civil War cannons and tore down wrought iron fences, sacrificing their history for their future.

These drives were often great community events, with performers, speeches, and opportunities to throw your scrap metal at a bust of Hitler.

Competitions were held to see which town, county, and state produced the most scrap, and the winners boasted of their feats. These drives had mixed results. Used aluminum was found to be useless for aircraft, but used tin, steel, and copper were easily melted down and reused.

Tin Can DrivesUS poster encouraging tin can collection, WWII. Read more: "Make It Do--Metal Shortages in World War II" on Sarah Sundin's blog.

The use of tin packaging was greatly reduced during the war, due to the use of alternative packaging materials and to rationing of canned goods. However, consumer use of tin continued throughout the war, and this irreplaceable resource needed to be recovered.

Most communities collected tin cans once a month. In some towns, people places boxes of cleaned and crushed tin cans by the curb for collection, and other towns had central collection sites. Youth groups, especially the Boy Scouts, were highly involved in these drives.

Paper Drives

The need for paper increased during the war. The military’s love for paperwork could be blamed, but the military also used lots of paper packaging for supplies. On the civilian side, paper packaging had replaced tin for many products.

A paper drive in mid-1942 brought in so much paper that mills were inundated and actually called for a stop. However, by 1944 an acute paper shortage existed.

The lumber industry was hard-hit by the manpower shortage caused by the draft. Lumberjacks went on strike, demanding a higher meat ration, which they did not receive. Many of these men left for higher-paying jobs in the defense industry.

Publishers found their paper allotment cut by 15 percent. Newspapers, magazines, and books were printed on fewer pages with thinner paper and narrow margins. Paperback books had been introduced in 1939 and also allowed for less paper. However, more scrap paper was needed.

The children of America stepped up. The Boy Scouts and local schools organized regular paper drives, often coordinated with the tin can drives. The War Production Board started the Paper Troopers program, designed to sound like “paratroopers,” to involve schoolchildren in the effort. Participants received arm patches and certificates for collecting certain amounts.

ResultsUS poster, World War II

Scrap drives were a vital part of the American war effort. While not all scrap materials proved useful, many did and provided a small but significant source of material. Most importantly, these drives galvanized the Home Front and made each individual, even children, feel like a crucial part of the war effort.

6 Responses to “Make It Do – Scrap Drives in World War II”

  1. Janice Laird

    Great post! I remember reading a teen novel of my mother’s from that era in which there was a contest for the best scrap-collecting idea. The fashionable heroine challenged girls to collect used keys and to wear them on a piece of string as bracelets. It became a fad, and she won the contest. But the jingling keys were probably as annoying as this year’s spinners!

      • Janice Laird

        I found it! Puppy Stakes by Betty Cavanna (1943). I wonder if my mother still has the copy I read.

  2. MJ Graham

    Janice, thank you SO MUCH for coming back with the name of the book (and author). You reminded me of what an entertaining author we had in Betty Cavanna, who died in 2001, at the age of 92.

    Years ago, I read “Paintbox Summer” and fell in love with the story and author. I’m now on a hunt to find and read all of her books. Thanks again!