Syracuse Gears Up for World War II as U.S. Declares War on Japan

On December 8th, 1941, the United States declared war on the Japanese Empire just one day after the attack at Pearl Harbor marking the entrance of the U.S. into World War II. The U.S. would declare war on Germany on December 11.

Before the outbreak of World War II, factories located in Syracuse and Onondaga County, NY, made shoes, typewriters, air conditioners, washing machines, and many other civilian products.  Military preparedness was low on the nation’s list, but shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor President Franklin Roosevelt set very challenging goals for many American manufacturers, including, 125,000 airplanes, 120,000 tanks, and 55,000 anti-aircraft guns by 1943.  Several local manufacturers answered the President’s call for making war material between 1941 & 1945:

  1. Easy Washing Machine Company – Anti-aircraft Gun Mounts
  2. Syracuse China Corp – Ceramic Anti-tank Landmines
  3. C. Smith & Corona Typewriter Company – Rifles
  4. General Electric – Radar Systems
  5. Brown-Lipe-Chapin – Browning Machine Guns
  6. Crouse Hinds – Airplane & Ship Signaling Lights

At the Onondaga Pottery Company, the most significant and secretive wartime operation  was the development and production of the M-5 anti-tank landmine and the M-7 pocket mine.  Working in conjunction with the Army’s ordnance dept., Richard Pass, company president, selected specialists from O.P. Co. and Pass & Seymour to develop a non-metallic landmine that the enemy could not detect with electronic mine sweepers.  Army specifications stated that the landmine had to work in any type of soil, as well as under water, and it had to remain intact under the feet of infantry soldiers but explode under the slightest weight of moving vehicles. Production began in July 1943 and lasted fifteen months until October 1, 1944 when the military met their quotas for landmines and fuses.  The project was kept secret until the Rochester Ordnance District released information to the public on July 28, 1944.

Once landmine and fuse production ceased, company officials turned the production space back to making civilian ceramic items.  Syracuse China continued to produce ware until it closed in 2009.  At its closing, the Onondaga Historical Association acquired the remnants of the 138 year old establishment: business records & documents, decals & other designs, tools, and tens of thousands of pieces of ware.  Although the company has closed and Syracuse China is no longer made in Syracuse, its legacy continues at the Onondaga Historical Association.  Visitors may still see 138 years of company history and revel in the fact that Syracuse was once home to a company that made the world’s best china, as well as one of World War II’s “secret weapons.”