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While the United States would not enter the Second World War until December of 1941, American industry was being impacted by it as much as a year earlier. This impact extended to Colorado Fuel and Iron, which boasted the largest integrated steel mill in the American West. The company's fortunes had been steadily improving throughout the 1930s, but it was still operating at a low capacity until wartime production started up. 1940 saw the plant's usage capacity rise to 72.1%, a sizable increase from the previous 40%. Production jumped up to 97.6% in 1942, after the United States had officially declared on December 8, 1941. For the rest of the war, C.F. and I. was regularly operating at over 100% of its annual capacity, with employees working backbreaking overtime shifts to achieve these results. A group of 575 employees actually worked every day between August 1, 1944 and July 31, 1945. Throughout the entire war, C.F. and I. engaged in a desperate struggle to squeeze higher levels of production out of a shrinking workforce while also trying to maximize profits.

The Second World War sent money surging through the United States' industrial sector. As a part of that group, C.F. and I. saw its net income make the incredible rise from $1,744,869 in 1940 to $2,580,134 in 1942. However, part of the reason for this massive increase in profits was that the company was not properly applying wartime taxes. Remedying this reduced its profits by about half in 1943, though its income once again grew steadily after this (with wartime earnings post-1943 peaking at $1,954,979 in 1945). Still, the increases were significant, and C.F. and I. employees even got to see a share of the profits. This was especially true due to the fact that many employees were getting paid overtime for the extra hours they were working.

At the same time, the two groups were arguing over the money being earned from war production. The only time there was an actual strike over the issue was during 1943, when a national UMWA initiative was scheduled to shut down coal production throughout the United States. The Federal Government took over the mines to prevent work stoppage, and marked the end of strike activity among C.F. and I. employees during World War Two. Arguments about wages for the workers in the mill were ongoing from 1943-1945, though they did not go on strike over the issue. When a new contract was finally agreed upon, it gave a wage increase to employees that was retroactive to 1943. This meant that workers would receive additional pay for the work they had done from 1943 until the day when the contract was agreed. Despite the ongoing squabbles between the company and its workers, C.F. and I.'s employees were earning money and prestige on the home front for themselves and their company by working hard for the war effort.

While Colorado Fuel and Iron's wartime earnings were significant for itself and its employees, it was the recipient of a large amount of government aid in order to ensure it could manufacture enough vital products for the war effort. $11,000,000 dollars was lent to the company in 1943 in order to help it expand and modernize. The reason the U.S. government was willing to provide so much money for a plant in the Western U.S. rather than simply giving all the allocated funds to the giant steel companies in the East, was that it was worried over plant security. Plants on the coasts might be sabotaged or otherwise damaged by the enemy, while those in the interior (like C.F. and I.) thought to be much more secure. The fact that C.F. and I. guards were militarized into auxiliary military police during the war illustrates how seriously the U.S. government and industry were taking plant security. This security was actually part of the reason for C.F. and I. receiving an important contract to make 155 millimeter shells. That being said, the company made some advancements and innovations on its own that spread outward to other companies. When C.F. and I. was awarded permission to manufacture 155mm shells, its workers had been given no specialized tools for the project. As a result, they had to improvise their own methods, some of which proved to be so effective that the U.S. government adopted them as general practice. The wartime demand for steel required expensive new technologies and expansions to increase capacity, but there were occasions when improvisation led to unique advances.

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Workers at C.F. and I. made several products, the most common and important being steel rails and 155mm shells. Before the war, the company had been manufacturing rails en masse, but the market for them had been limited during the Great Depression. However, the Second World War revived demand for steel rails, in order to maintain the lines that had sprung back to life. Comparing the number of rails C.F. and I. produced during the war with the national amount indicates that (at least during the last two years of the war) the company was producing roughly 1/5 of all the rails nationwide. The exact number was about 450,000 tons of rails at C.F. and I. compared to around 2,000,000 nationwide. The other, more profitable main steel product the company was producing during the war was 155mm shell forgings. The purchase price per ton of shells was about three times that of rails. In other words, it was a patriotic product that also provided additional finances to the company. C.F. and I. often expressed pride in the fact that it was allowed to manufacture these shells, especially since the U.S. Government had awarded the company the contract because it was thought to be both reliable and secure.

That being said, production issues dogged C.F. and I. throughout the war, which was partially due to the regulation by the War Production Board. Created in 1942 to combat raw material shortages and coordinate wartime manufacturing, the WPB set up an institution that was called the Controlled Materials Plan. Under this framework, the Board governed how industrial firms, including C.F. and I., used important war materials like steel. Every item being ordered and produced had to be approved by the WPB. For the most part, C.F. and I. had few problems with the system. The contractor system that was part of the CMP was what gave the company the right to manufacture 155mm shells. At the same time, though, C.F. and I.'s allotment did not always increase when the company wanted it to. In 1944, Colorado Fuel and Iron had actually taken too many orders for its allotment, and the WPB refused to increase their steel allowance. The result was the delay of the company's fulfillment of its orders, and bitterness within its management. Still, the system operated without any problems for the most part, and C.F. and I. learned to work within its requirements.

The efforts of the employees of Colorado Fuel and Iron earned the company several awards, the most prestigious of these being the so called “E” Award. This prize was given out to steel companies in recognition of the efficiency of their steel production, and became a form of bragging rights for the best ones. U.S. Steel, for instance, proudly proclaimed the fact that it received the E Award in its official history, written in 1951. When C.F. and I. received it, congratulatory telegrams from its business partners flooded in, with many of them mentioning how happy they were to be in business with such a company. The employees got to take part too, since the Government sent pins to be given to individual workers. They would be singled out amongst their peers during the ceremony, giving them a reason to work hard. A great deal of publicity was given to the awarding of this prize by C.F. and I.'s company newspaper (“The Blast”), which ran stories on each of the four times it was given to Colorado Fuel and Iron.

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Its earning of the “E” award is actually a small claim to fame for C.F. and I., since only 820 steel companies received the award four times. To put this in perspective, the entire pool of steel companies that were able to earn at least one award amounted to about 5% of all steel manufacturers in the United States during the war. On the other hand, it is important to note that the award's criteria was not based on a company's production volume, but on its capacity usage/efficiency. C.F. and I.'s production volume was far too small to attract notice, since its steel output was substantially lower than any of the main manufacturers like U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel. On the other hand, C.F. and I.'s ability to avoid work stoppages and convince employees to work overtime was key to keeping production at levels that merited the award. As such, C. F. and I. should not be thought of as more vital to the war effort than other companies because it received the award, but its employees can be admired for their willingness to work so hard for their country. Indeed, the fact that Colorado Fuel and Iron's workers were prepared to put their wage grievances aside and work hard enough to earn their company awards is definitely worth noting.

While many C.F. and I. workers were doing excellent work on the home front during the war, almost 3,000 left the company to join the army. C.F. and I. kept tabs on the number of former employees it had that left to join the army. One of the reasons it recorded this is that it was federally obligated to track its employees that were serving in the armed forces so that it could offer them their jobs back once the war was over. They were also to be granted seniority for the years they spent in the services, just as if they were still working at their company. Some employees that went to war were awarded great honors for their efforts, and C.F. and I. was always ready to trumpet these successes. “The Blast,” C.F. and I.'s newspaper, contained numerous articles about employees-turned-soldiers that were given medals. One such employee was Cpl. Dan Tamez, a miner turned artilleryman who was extolled by the paper for winning the Silver Star. He received the medal for firing his gun until the last possible moment, when he spiked the piece and fell back. He and his two brothers were noted for having been awarded Purple Hearts, and all of them (as well as their father) had been employed in the Frederick Mine. In addition to providing news about employee achievements in war, the company newspaper gleefully reported to readers when the waves of employees returned home in 1945. At the same time, it solemnly noted that more Americans had died in industrial accidents during the war than in the actual fighting. It never gave specific casualty statistics for its employees, either at home or abroad. What can be said, is that only 1,421 employees would go back to working for the company.

By the end of the Second World War, Colorado fuel and Iron was a drastically changed company. Not only had it expanded, increased its wages, and developed ambitious plans for the future, it was also no longer under the control of the Rockefellers. The company had been sold to a coalition headed by Charles Allen Jr., who wanted to escort his acquisition to postwar prosperity. As the war was ending, there were worries about depression in 1946, but C.F. and I.'s leadership rushed to claim that the future looked bright for their company. In hindsight, these predictions turned out to be correct. C.F. and I. serves as a good example of how the war changed the West, in that it felt economically stronger than ever once the war was over. C.F. and I.'s profits had risen dramatically, it was expanding its plants and acquiring new companies, and its steel was in high civilian demand. There were even plans to merge with the holdings of Henry Kaizer and create an enormous steel conglomerate based in the West that could rival U.S. Steel, although these were more ambitious than realistic (they were also unsuccessful). In the short term, The Second World War brought Colorado Fuel and Iron into a golden age, which lasted through the Korean War.

Bibliography and Further Reading:

  • Fisher, Douglas A. Steel Serves the Nation. Lind Brothers, 1951.
  • Gropman, Alan L. Mobilizing U.S. Industry in World War II: Myth and Reality. Washington D.C., Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1996.
  • Hogan, William T. 3 vols. Economic History of the Iron and Steel Industry in the United States. Lexington, DC Heath and Company, 1971.
  • Nash, Gerald D. World War II and the West: Reshaping the Economy. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
  • Scamehorn, H. Lee. Mill & Mine : The CF&I in the Twentieth Century. N.P.: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.












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