The Home Front: Manitowoc County in World War II

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The Home Front: Manitowoc County in World War II is a digital collection of photographic images, oral histories, published sources and documents, artifacts, and other resources which help to document and explain the history of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin during the period from 1939 to 1947—both the more universally shared home front experiences and activities as they played out in this specific county, and those more unique activities which especially defined the area during the War.

In many respects life on the “home front” in Manitowoc County during the World War II years mirrored that in countless other American communities. Men enlisted or were drafted. Women went to work. People coped with rationing and bought war bonds. There were scrap drives and victory gardens, black-out drills and USO dances.

But some of Manitowoc County’s World War II experiences were unique, at least for a fairly small county in the nation’s heartland. Most notably, the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company built 28 submarines for the U.S. Navy, side-launching them into the Manitowoc River and sending them via inland waterways to the Gulf Coast at New Orleans. Manitowoc Shipbuilding also produced LCT landing vessels which were tested in practice “invasions” on Lake Michigan beaches in the northern part of the county. Burger Boat Company built vessels for the Navy, including wooden minesweepers. Other companies in Manitowoc, Two Rivers, and other county communities manufactured war goods ranging from airplane parts to condensed milk in camouflaged cans. Employment boomed. A federal project built hundreds of housing units to accommodate some of the newcomers, and bus lines were established to transport workers to Manitowoc from other northeastern Wisconsin cities. Submarine crews stationed in Manitowoc for training as their vessels were being built brought more diversity to the community, and the Coast Guard had a strong presence. Hollywood celebrities came to tour the shipyards and promote war bond sales. German prisoners of war worked on county farms. Manitowoc even claimed credit for establishing a new “Citizenship Day” observance that for a time gained national recognition.

Among the resources included in this collection are 38 issues of The Sojourner, a unique monthly newsletter that was published in Two Rivers, Wisconsin from April 1942 through December 1945. The Sojourner documents home front activity in Two Rivers, Wisconsin as well as stateside and overseas postings and experiences of Manitowoc County servicemen, particularly those from Two Rivers. More than just a hometown paper, The Sojourner provided a forum for local military personnel to keep in touch with “home” and with each other through letters in the newsletter, which was mailed to more than 600 Two Rivers servicemen stationed around the globe. The “entity” responsible for creating this newsletter and keeping the ever-changing mailing list up to date was a group of young women—mostly girls—from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, who called themselves the “Civic Understudies.” The Two Rivers Vocational School printing instructor served as an “advisor” for this publication, although it was not an official school publication. Initially, the Civic Understudies did their own fund-raising by holding dances etc. to support the publication. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars post provided additional financial support. The first two issues were not titled. The Civic Understudies held a contest for servicemen to name the newsletter. A Two Rivers resident collected, compiled, and organized the newsletters in 1992.

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Collection Background

The Home Front: Manitowoc County in World War II is a joint project of the Manitowoc County Historical Society, the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, the Manitowoc Public Library, and the Lester Public Library in Two Rivers. These institutions began planning the project in 2003, with the goal of preserving and improving access to images of life in Manitowoc County during the war years. The actual work of gathering, identifying and publishing the items to the “State of Wisconsin Collection” site began in the summer of 2004 and continued through 2008. Funding and in-kind contributions for the project were provided by the four participating institutions along with the Manitowoc and Lester Public Library Foundations and the Ruth St. John & John Dunham West Foundation, Inc. The Two Rivers Historical Society underwrote the cost of digitizing The Sojourner.

The “Home Front” does not exist as a distinct physical collection of materials. Rather, the documents, photographs, newspapers, and other resources being digitized for the “Home Front” collection have been drawn from the general holdings of libraries, museums, historical societies, and other agencies and organizations in Manitowoc County, or borrowed from private individuals. Organizations providing special assistance to this project include Kiel Public Library, Holy Family Memorial Medical Center, Manitowoc Herald-Times-Reporter, and the Two Rivers Historical Society.


The Manitowoc Local History Collection is collaborative project completed by the UWDCC and the IMLS LogoManitowoc Public Library.

The Manitowoc Local History Collection was funded, in part, through 2005, 2006, and 2007 Library Services and Technology Act(LSTA) grant. This grant provided financial support for public libraries to digitize and make available online, their local library resources. For more information about LSTA grants in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Division for Libraries and Technology or visit the LSTA grant Web site at