In the mid 1930s, the U. S. was suffering under of the Great Depression. Much of the federal budget was focused on projects such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that provided jobs for America’s unemployed. At the same time, events in Europe and Asia led the United States to believe that war was possible. As a result, President Roosevelt established a program under the New Deal to build new ships for the Navy, a program that provided additional jobs for American men.
In 1935, Roosevelt took further action. He proposed what historian Mary Beth Norton describes as the “largest peacetime defense budget in American history.” In 1938, Roosevelt proposed that Congress approve federal funds to upgrade the air corps. While maintaining the United States’ neutrality, Roosevelt prepared for war.
On Sept. 16, 1940, Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act, requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register. This peacetime draft, the U.S.’s first, provided a pool of men to serve should war be declared. After Congress declared war on Dec. 8, 1941, the U. S. undertook the massive task of raising and outfitting a military force.
New jobs in factories producing war materiel increased tax revenues, but these were not sufficient to fund the war, which ultimately cost an estimated $2 trillion in today’s dollars. In 1943, for example, the war cost the equivalent of $1.15 (approximately $25 in today’s dollars) per day for every adult and child in the United States, while tax revenues only provided 40 cents of that amount. To raise money to finance the war, the federal government sold bonds, as it had done during World War I.
During the Great War, Pettis County sold $4.5 million ($140 million in today’s dollars) worth of bonds, meeting the quota set by the federal government. During World War II, seven bond drives focused attention on raising money. Within each state, each county was given a bond sale requirement. Pettis County bond sales chairmen devised interesting ways tomeet the quotas.
The Sedalia Capital reported in January 1943 that the previous December’s goal of $58,950 ($1.4 million in today’s dollars) had been increased by 111 percent, as Pettis Countians had bought a total of $126,543 ($2.9 million in today’s dollars) worth of war bonds and stamps.
Children were encouraged to purchase War Savings Stamps, and rural schools competed with one another to see which school could buy the most stamps. In January 1943, County Superintendent of Schools Clyde Foster Scotten reported that the students in 40 rural schools had purchased a total of $1,035.10 (approximately $22,000 in today’s dollars) worth of stamps.
Parents were encouraged to purchase bonds for their children, and friends and family members were encouraged to purchase bonds as gifts.
On Jan. 14, 1943, the Smith-Cotton High School orchestra and band presented a concert in the school auditorium. Ralph Guenther, music teacher and director of the orchestra and band, made his last public appearance before reporting to Parris Island, S.C., for the Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School. The orchestra performed nine numbers, the band performed six numbers, and a group of baton twirlers demonstrated their skills.
The program, which ended with the band playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” began with a reminder of the importance of Victory Bonds. Principal Forest Drake introduced Frank Armstrong, president of the Band and Orchestra Parents’ Club. Armstrong then presented a Victory Bond to Randie Jean Guenther, Mr. Guenther’s infant daughter, in honor of Guenther’s service to Smith Cotton High School.
Citizens could purchase bonds throughout the community. Mrs. Chester A. Wright, a member of the War Savings Bond and Stamps Committee, organized local women’s clubs to sell bonds in booths set up at businesses on Jan. 23, 1943. The Democratic Women’s Club sold bonds at McLaughlin’s Furniture Store; the P.T.A. sold bonds at Thompson’s Grocery Store; the Sorosis Club sold bonds at Flower’s Dry Goods Store; the American Legion Auxiliary sold bonds at the Pacific Café; and the Republican Women’s Club sold bonds at Howard Roberts Store. In all, 19 clubs sold bonds.
Pettis Countians rallied to purchase war bonds. Next week’s column details one of the more interesting public displays coming out of the war bond drives.