World War Two and Transformations of Wood and Forests

This post is contributed by Maddie Connolly, a SCARC Student Archivist, and a senior majoring in archaeology, and minoring in French and history. Her Honors thesis focuses on redware ceramics in medieval England that were excavated from a witch’s house!


macicaKatie Macica recently became the 29th researcher to complete a tenure of work sponsored by the OSU Libraries Resident Scholar Program. Macica is a PhD candidate from Loyola University, Chicago.

Macica’s research focuses on the impact of World War II on regional industrialization. Specifically, she looks at how war-time industries coincided with and influenced local economies throughout the war as well as how policies and practices in place before the war affected the circumstances within which war-time industries were established and managed. She is particularly interested in the role and development of local Pacific Northwest industries throughout the war effort. To this end, she came to OSU to utilize maps and documents from SCARC’s collections that pertain to economic and industrial development during the first half of the twentieth century.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Pacific Northwest region of the United States was relatively isolated geographically from the war effort and from contemporary military and industrial centers of production. The region was home to a significant forestry and forest products economy, which Macica noted underwent a period of internal change at the start of the war, as characterized by a move toward sustainability practices and away from complete extraction. The start of the war came on the heels of the New Deal-era environmental movement which increased awareness about the impact of extractive industries like forestry, agriculture, and mining — the region’s major local economies at the time.

Initially, the forest products industry weakened as its workers were pulled by the draft or moved on to jobs in other industries that were considered more necessary for the war effort. By the end of the war, however, forest products from the Pacific Northwest were in use throughout the war zone. Macica’s research focuses on the shift of the Pacific Northwest forest products industry from relative insignificance to an indispensable source of production and resources for the war effort.

As the war dragged on and metal resources for aircraft, ships, and storage and housing facilities dwindled, the demand for forestry products increased. Wood was used in place of metal wherever possible, particularly in certain components of military aircraft and ships, and as molds, scaffolds, trusses and other construction materials. Its strong forestry economy enabled the Pacific Northwest to ultimately become a hub of shipbuilding and aircraft construction during the war, as easy access to plentiful forest products and to ample hydroelectric power from the Willamette and Columbia rivers facilitated military industry and sped the construction process. Wood products were also commonly used in place of metal in the construction of military storage facilities and housing for military workers.

In her resident scholar presentation, Macica emphasized, despite the enormous demand for Pacific Northwest forest products, the extraction of forest resources did not reach its peak during the war years. All-out exploitation was, for one, prohibited by the National Park Service, which refused to allow the destruction of national parks in order to harvest materials for the war industry. Environmental conservation efforts inherited from the New-Deal era also helped to limit the exploitation of national forests to supply the war effort.

Shipyards in Portland, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, and aircraft production centers in Seattle made up the bulk of the wartime industrialization of the region. These industries were drawn to the region primarily because of its abundance of forest products, but also because local waterways were being harnessed to provide hydroelectric power and house shipyards.

Macica’s research indicates that wartime industries in the region literally laid the groundwork for continuing industrialization in the Pacific Northwest after the end of the war. The shipbuilding and aircraft construction industries relied on pre-existing local economies and natural resources, which enabled regional development to continue without interruption in the post-war years, since industrialization was not dependent on outside financial support or resources.


residentscholar_logoThe Resident Scholar Program provides research support for visiting scholars from around the world. New applications are accepted every year between January and April.  More information can be found here.

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