American World War II Heritage City Program

On December 5th, 2022 the National Park Service announced the designation of Manitowoc, Wisconsin as an American World War II Heritage City.

Located in northeastern Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan, Manitowoc, Wisconsin served a vital role in World War II. Most notably, the city is known for its production of twenty-eight submarines, which were ordered by the United States Navy for use in the Second World War.

The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, headed by Charles West, petitioned the Navy to build destroyers but were asked instead to build submarines, the most sophisticated technological platforms of the time, due to the availability of skilled craftsmen in the area. The company produced a total of twenty-eight Gato and Balao Class submarines between 1941-1945. The first Manitowoc-built submarine, USS Peto, was launched on April 30, 1942.

This company not only built the boats, but developed a jig to rotate the giant pressure hulls for welding to ensure the strongest weld by not requiring overhead work. It was widely known that welding in Manitowoc was far superior to anywhere else, and submariners were happy to be assigned to a Manitowoc-built sub.

The Speed Cranes that the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company developed were sent to Pearl Harbor after it was attacked on December 7, 1941. The cranes assisted in lifting sunken battleships. In addition, the company, having experience in crane construction, developed a tracked vehicle designed to carry sections of the pressure hull to the assembly area. Finally, Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company developed a floating dry dock to allow the submarines to be lowered under the various bridges encountered down the Chicago River and Sanitation Canal leading to the Mississippi River en route to New Orleans. 

At its height of production, Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company employed 7,000 people, including over 600 women who served as welders and in other capacities. The company had a reputation for producing quality vessels ahead of schedule, and at one point launched a submarine a month.

Beyond the shipyards in Manitowoc, companies such as Burger Boat, Aluminum Specialty Company, Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company, Heresite Protective Coatings and more produced thousands of items used for the war effort. Items such as meal cans, cooking sets, 90-gallon oil tanks for B-29 bombers, anti-corrosive for aerial torpedoes and more were all manufactured in Manitowoc.

Manitowoc also raised a substantial amount of money for the war effort through war bonds through rallies, shows and events held in the city. For example, in February 1944 a touring stage show called “It’s the McCoy” played at the Capitol Theatre in Manitowoc. The one-night show in Manitowoc obtained over one million dollars in war bond sales, second only to Milwaukee. Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company received the coveted Minuteman “Bullseye” banner for having 100% of workers participate in bond sales.

For more information, visit the National Park Service page.

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