The War Production Board, or WPB, proved to be a one time agency of the United States Federal Government which was established to order and oversee World War II production and materials procurement from January of 1942 by an executive order of the then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The chairman of the board obtained broad and wide ranging powers over the economic output and production of the entire United States economy, factories, and facilities. Two different men served as chair of this important war effort board. Donald M. Nelson served from 1942 to 1944. He was succeeded by final Chair Julius A. Krug from 1944 to 1945.
The War Production Board expanded the national peace time economy and converted it to serve in the ultimate production of weapons of war to assist the young men who fought in Europe and the Pacific theaters. Controls were established that gave priority of production to such scarce materials delivery and which prohibited industrial activities that were then deemed to be less significant or unimportant to the war efforts.
The board may only have existed and operated effectively for three years, but in this span of time, it directed or oversaw the production of an astonishing $185 billion in supplies and weapons. This represented fully 40 percent of all munitions and ammunition production in the world during the years of the Second World War. By way of comparison, Great Britain, Russia, and all the other allies combined produced 30 percent of all war materials while all of the Axis powers including the Nazis and Japanese only managed to produce 30 percent of war time materials.
It was on January 16, 1942 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Production Board by implementing an Executive Order numbered 9024. This new WPB then replaced the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board as well as the Office of Production Management. It started by rationing important and limited commodities such as heating oil, gasoline, rubber, metals like copper and aluminum, steel, plastics, and paper.
As such the WPB was converting industries from peacetime production to wartime output, creating important national priorities in distributing services and goods, and stopping all non important production nationwide. The board became dissolved at the conclusion of the war with the final defeat of the Japanese in 1945. The Civilian Production Administration then replaced it in an effort to reconvert production back to a normal market forces controlled peace time economy in late 1945.
Thanks to the efficiency of this board, the war effort in both Europe and the Pacific proved to be ultimately successful. The chairman and his council decided to channel production into a set military hardware production and distribution. This led to a quarter of all national output going into the production of warplanes, while another quarter became allocated to naval warships. Other munitions and civilian needs comprised the balance 50 percent of national production and output.
The War Production Board proved to be so effective on a national and local scale because it operated through 12 regional offices as well as over 120 field offices scattered throughout the country. There were also statewide war production boards that worked hand in glove with the federal board. The state boards kept critical records on state levels of war production facilities and factories. They assisted state based businesses in obtaining loans and war production contracts.
This board also engaged in patriotic propaganda efforts to rally American citizens around the war effort. They had slogans such as “Give us your scrap metal to help the Oklahoma boys save our way of life.” It created important national efforts like nationwide scrap metal drives that happened on local levels all throughout the United States with impressive results. As an example, the national scrap metal drive from October of 1942 produced so much metal that it amounted to almost 82 pounds of scrap metal on average per American.