clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

GENEVA STEEL FILLED CRITICAL ROLE FOR U.S. IN WWII

Geneva Steel owes its existence to World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt first proposed a steel mill in Utah as a New Deal work program in 1936. The project never got off the ground and was eventually shelved.But in early 1941, as America struggled to keep the Allies supplied with food, ammunition, clothing and fuel, the need for expanded steel production became pressing. In November 1941, one month before Japan catapulted the United States into the war, the plans for a Utah mill were dusted off and given the go-ahead.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made the plant a critical priority.

By March of 1942 the government had purchased 1,600 acres of farmland owned by J.O. Stone on the eastern shore of Utah Lake as the site of the mill. A one-year construction schedule was thrown off by a series of fires at the plant.

Some 20 months were needed to build Geneva. And, at a cost of $205 million, the plant was the largest wartime project financed by the U.S. government.

Manning the plant was a problem. Advertisements for jobs appeared in major newspapers around the country.

The most remarkable job application arrived at the plant on Feb. 25, 1945. Three American airmen wrote, saying they were ready, willing and able to go to work at Geneva; they were Sgt. Mike J. Komo of Liverpool, Ohio; Sgt. Keith E. Kay of Santaquin; and Sgt. F.W. Hueson of Idaho Falls.

There was one small problem: company officials would have to come get them, as they were being held in a prisoner of war camp at Kriefagefangenenpost, Germany.

Because of the shortage of men to work at the plant, women made up 25 percent of the mill's work force during the war years.

The plant shipped its first order of plate in April 1944, 600 tons bound for the California shipyards, where it would be used to build Liberty ships.

Liberty ships kept Britain, and later the United States, supplied with goods during the war, battling German U-boats to bring food, fuel, weapons, ammunition and tanks to the Allies. They also served as troop transports, repair and hospital ships and oil tankers. In five years, the United States produced 2,700 Liberty ships.

Geneva's, and thus Utah's, contribution to the war was rewarded by naming some of those ships after famous Utahns and locales: the USS Joseph Smith, USS Brigham Young, USS Peter Skene Ogden, USS Jedediah S. Smith, USS Jim Bridger and the USS Provo.

In fact, two "gold star" mothers (women who lost sons in World War I) participated in the launching of the USS Provo in Richmond, Calif., on June 28, 1944. They were Vilate Rhodeback and Mrs. Harvey Mendenhall.

The mill also made steel that was used to produce shell bullets and casings at an Army ordnance plant in Denver.

But the engineers who designed the plant had an eye on the future as well; their plans for the mill included space that would be needed for converting the plant to peacetime production.

*****

(Additional information)

Life Magazine, in its 10th anniversary issue dated Nov. 25, 1946, hailed Geneva as the "new decade's answer to the gloomy '30s, when all but the most optimistic American conceded that the expansion was over and the frontiers closed."