Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II

Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II

“Prairie Forge” by James J. Kimble is the One Book One Nebraska selection this year. Intended to encourage Nebraskans to discuss a single book statewide, the One Book One Nebraska program began in 2005. It has even expanded to include teen and children’s selections as well.

Kimble describes Nebraska’s effort to collect and recycle scrap metal for war munitions in 1942. Japan had been the US’s largest scrap iron importer prior to 1940. The Japanese bought over 8.5 million tons of American scrap iron between 1934 and 1940. When the United States entered the war, they needed scrap iron to make everything from ships to bullets. However, earlier nationwide scrap metal drives produced lackluster results.

“Omaha World Herald” owner Henry Doorley took it upon himself to implement a three week state-wide scrap metal campaign, one that would unite Nebraskans in friendly competition with each other. He proposed that each county contribute 100 pounds of scrap iron per citizen. The newspaper pitted county against county and kept a running total to encourage rivalry. With a well-planned campaign and prizes for the counties that turned in the most scrap iron, the race was on.

“Prairie Forge” is one of those non-fiction books that is both authoritative and readable, it’s even funny at times:

In Omaha “[OWH staff reporter]...Ernest Jones embarked on a quest to see ‘how much scrap iron could be collected...in an eight-hour day.’ Thinking strategically, he decided to track down obsolete safes in the downtown area. In that day’s evening edition, he reported that by knocking on business doors and following numerous leads, he had found 18 tons of derelict safes, and somewhat unexpectedly, four tons of farm machinery. ‘I still have until 6 o’clock tonight to go on with this drive,’ he wrote, ‘so if you‘ve got one of these old clunkers...why don’t you call me or leave word [that] the salvage committee can have it?’ ‘If you haven’t a safe,’ he added impulsively, ‘I’m not finicky; [an] old iron bridge, a bank vault, or a locomotive is just as good.’...In addition to safes, callers dutifully provided tips on a few abandoned bridges and even an unused locomotive.”

If you would like to be part of the statewide conversation about “Prairie Forge: the Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Drive of World War II” by James J. Kimble, the Food for Thought Book Group will be discussing it June 24, 2021. Let us know ahead of time and we will get you a book!