On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within days, the U.S. began mobilizing for war against Japan and, in Europe, against Germany. The federal government needed money to manufacture weapons to pay the soldiers, sailors and marines in the fast-expanding armed services. In addition, the nation needed metal for the weapons, warm, sturdy clothing for servicemen—and more food to feed them all.
Wyoming citizens contributed to the war effort, many people purchasing U.S. war bonds—a form of lending money to the government. Statewide, officials initiated scrap-metal drives, and people donated books to be shipped overseas for American troops. “Victory gardens” were also popular; people could help fill the demand for food by planting vegetables in their back yards or in designated public plots.
Farming and ranching boomed, because the government set annual production goals, higher than before the war. With increased demand, prices rose for meat and crops. At first there was a labor shortage because so many men had volunteered for or been drafted into military service. However, the federal Tydings Amendment permitted essential agricultural workers to obtain draft deferments.
Coal and oil production also grew. In 1940, Wyoming’s oil production was 25.6 million barrels; by 1945 this had increased to 35.4 million. Coal production increased from 5.8 million tons in 1940 to 9.8 million tons in 1945. Refineries were also busy. Cheyenne’s Frontier Refining Company, though it took most of the war years to accomplish it, by April 1944 was producing 100-octane fuel, a high-grade gasoline that increased the range and performance of aircraft.
The federal government considered coastal areas prime military targets and so placed as much domestic war-related activity as far inland as possible. The Casper Army Air base trained bomber crews—a total of approximately 16,000 men—starting in September 1942. That same year, United Airlines moved its existing pilot training school to Cheyenne. An airplane modification center also operated on that site, adding new guns and instruments to B-17 and B-24 bombers.
Two prisoner-of-war camps were located in Wyoming, Camp Douglas and Fort Francis E. Warren. Together, these two camps could house more than 5,500 prisoners. Apparently, all the POWs in Wyoming were Italian or German. Small farmers and some timbering operations in the state used POW labor.
On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt legalized the removal of people of Japanese descent from designated military areas. Thus, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center—an internment camp near Cody, Wyo.—was established to house Japanese-American citizens whom the government removed from their West Coast homes. One of 10 similar camps elsewhere in America, by 1943 Heart Mountain had almost 11,000 residents, two-thirds American born. By Nov. 10, 1945, the last internee had left Heart Mountain.
Germany surrendered in May 1945, ending the war in Europe. Japan surrendered in August of the same year.