War Production Board

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The War Production Board (WPB) was established in 1942 by executive order of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The purpose of the board was to regulate the production and allocation of materials and fuel during World War II in the United States of America. It rationed such things as gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, and plastics. It was dissolved shortly after the victory over Japan in 1945.


The War Production Board was initially modeled on the War Industries Board and according to Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., it looked like an "NRA reunion." (National Recovery Administration) [1][2]

Mired in mismanagement, Donald Nelson was initially made head of the War Production Board in January 1942. Nelson proved inadequate to the task, so in February 1943, the Secretary of War and other administrative leaders joined in asking President Franklin Roosevelt to replace Nelson. Roosevelt took no action for 18 months.[3]

Powers and Responsibilities

During World War II, the government needed to ensure that the armed forces and war industries received the ever-growing resources they needed to win the war. The War Production Board (WPB) assumed that responsibility. The WPB decided which companies would convert from peacetime to wartime production and allocated raw materials to key industries. The WPB also organized nationwide drives to collect scrap iron, tin cans, paper, rags, and cooking fat for recycling into war goods. Across America, children scoured attics, cellars, garages, vacant lots, and back alleys looking for useful junk. During one five-month-long paper drive in Chicago, school children collected 36 million pounds of old paper, or about 65 pounds per child.

The head of the War Productions Board, Donald M. Nelson from 1942-1944 and Julias A. Krug from 1944 to 1945, had great and wide reaching control over the economic affairs of the United States. Over its three-year lifespan, the board supervised the manufacture of $185 billion worth of weapons and military supplies. It offered businesses lucrative contracts to switch over to war productions; large commercial farmers also had incentives for war production. Labor unions offered "no strike pledges" during the war, although few were kept, and taxes in general were raised, all in an effort to get the country prepared for war. It was quickly dissolved in November 1945, after the defeat of Japan. The Civilian Production Administration was set up in order to take over the reconstruction aspect with the WPB would have overseen.

Soviet penetration

Soviet intelligence penetrated the War Production Board including several members of the Perlo group, including its head Victor Perlo. The Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy in 1995 referred to this as a serious attack on National security by the Soviet Union, with considerable assistance from an enemy within. The head of the Silvermaster group, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster also penetrated the agency. The following list are American citizens who were engaged in espionage activities on behalf of the Soviet Union while working for the War Production Board. Its code name as deciphered in the Venona project is the "Depot".


The WPB, along with other wartime committees which regulated spending and production, helped to reduce the potential for economic catastrophe after the close of WWII.

In 1943, the WPB hired Harvard Business School Professor Thomas North Whitehead to tour the nation and find out how Americans were reacting to rationing and controls. Whitehead reported that "the good temper and common sense of most people under restrictions and vexations was really impressive... My own observation is that most people are behaving like patriotic, loyal citizens."

Other WWII Era Economic Agencies


  1. The FDR Years - On Roosevelt and His Legacy
  2. Unto a Good Land - A History of the American People, Volume 2: From 1865
  3. Henry L. Stimson, ;On Active Service in Peace and War, with MacGeorge Bundy (Harper, 1948), pgs. 492 to 495.

War Production Board