Minn. companies helped fight WWII in surprising ways

Cargill Ship in Shakopee
A ship built by Cargill in Shakopee, 1944.
Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

On June 16, 1945, the USS Wacissa set sail down the Minnesota River on its way to war. The ship was built in Savage, one of many Cargill produced for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Cargill's core business was food, not ship-building, but the Navy liked its location -- far enough inland to be insulated from a Pearl Harbor-style attack. The company made 18 ships during the war, some of which are still sailing today.

Cargill was one of many Minnesota companies that contributed to the war effort in surprising ways. Here are some others, courtesy of St. John's University historian Annette Atkins.

3M: Because of its background making adhesives, 3M was enlisted to make "wet or dry strips." These strips of sandpaper were sticky on one side, and were used on the edges of plane wings and ambulance runners so that people could stand on them without fear of slipping.

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Hormel: Food was in high demand all over the world, and the US had a responsibility to feed its own citizens as well as those of allied countries whose domestic agriculture had been disrupted.

Hormel had been manufacturing Spam since 1937, but in 1941 it became an important part of the Lend-Lease program, which sent food and supplies to allied countries. A similar product called Tushonka was produced in Sioux Falls, S.D. and sent to Russia.

General Mills and Pillsbury: Both companies grew and processed food and they helped to teach households to survive on rations. In addition to food, General Mills used its Mechanical Division to make precision tools such as gun sights.

University of Minnesota: In 1941, professor Ancel Keys, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota was commissioned to develop the K Ration, a prepackaged set of meals that soldiers could carry with them. The meals had to provide energy without being too heavy, and to achieve this each one had a candy bar. Many soldiers developed a liking for sweets, and sugar, which had not been a standard part of most diets before the war, was suddenly in high demand. That would prove a boon to Minnesota's sugar beet farmers.

(MPR intern Rose Friedman contributed to this report.)