World War II History in Wisconsin | BIG History | Wisconsin Historical Society

World War II History in Wisconsin | BIG History

WWII In Wisconsin, featuring Josh Sanford, Ho Chunk, US Pilot smiling at the camera

World War II History in Wisconsin

Sept. 2, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (1939-1945), a global war between the Allies (United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and China) and the Axis Powers (Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan). Roughly 320,000 Wisconsin soldiers served in the armed forces during the war. More than 8,000 Wisconsin soldiers died and another 13,000 were wounded.

Wisconsin citizens actively participated in the war effort both at home and abroad. Until the war ended, the daily challenges of wartime shortages of food, gasoline, and other essential goods were a part of everyone's life. At the same time, World War II expanded Wisconsin's industrial and agricultural resources, increasing production and employment levels while raising the standard of living and the state's economic security.

The Society has put together a page with stories, images, and artifacts from our World War II collections. These items just scratch the surface of the history of the war in Wisconsin. Please take an opportunity to explore these resources below.

Overlooked and Undervalued

History tends to focus on the contributions of white men during the war, overlooking and undervaluing the efforts of the more than 9,000 women and the contributions of Black, American Indian, Asian-American, and Latino-American. While the Society’s collection includes items honoring the service of these underrepresented women and men, it is important to acknowledge that the work to expand this collection to an equitable level continues.

Three African American field artillery soldiers (from Battery F of the 349th Field Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma) crossing a creek on a TD-18 diesel crawler tractor and 155 mm gun. The commanding officer of the 349th was Colonel A.L.P. Sands.

Three African American field artillery soldiers crossing a creek on a TD-18 diesel crawler tractor (TracTracTor) and 155 mm gun. The soldiers were from Battery F of the 349th Field Artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The commanding officer of the 349th was Colonel A.L.P. Sands. View the original source document: WHI 6630

Explore World War II History

Learn more about World War II and its impact on Wisconsin and beyond through these historical essays.

A group of soldiers kneeling around a large gun

Wisconsin in WWII

Robert Doyle emerges from a captured Japanese pillbox at Buna, Papua New Guinea.

Red Arrow Division

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Smoke rises from the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.

Pearl Harbor

Four women operating sausage-making equipment at the Oscar Mayer Company during World War II.

The Home Front

More Historical Essays

Richard Ira Bong | Dickey Chapelle | A League Of Their Own

Fascinating Items From Our Historical Collections

The Society has thousands of items related to World War II available to explore in our online collections. Here are a few highlights.

Sweater worn by Tadeusz Kowalczyk while a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp, c. 1940

Concentration Camp Sweater

Three white women receiving weapons training during World War II. Women are receiving training on the handling of a rifle.

Women During the War Oral Histories

The identification card of Signe S. (Skott) Cooper, 1st Lt., ANC. (First Lieutenan, Army Nurse Corps.) The card was issued SEP 25 1945. Her photograph is on the left, name and signatures on the right. When the card is reversed, the punched holes across the ID spell 'INACTIVE.'

Army Nurse Identification Card

Silver champagne bottle holder from the launch of the battleship USS Wisconsin, 1943

Champagne bottle holder from USS Wisconsin

More Historical Items

Rosie the Riveter Coveralls | Airplane ID Model

Compelling Images from the Society's Historical Collections

Seaman 1st class Tom Teeley with newsboy, Bernard Ehrmann, holding a copy of the Wisconsin State Journal with headline declaring peace in the Pacific. Celebrating V-J Day, August 15, 1945, the day on which the Allies announced the surrender of Japanese forces during World War II.

Photos of the War

Wartime poster advocating people to 'Join the Victory Farm Volunteers,' featuring an illustration of military planes flying over a man working with a Farmall M tractor and a McCormick-Deering combine (harvester-thresher) in a farm field. An International KB line truck is also in the background. The text on the poster reads: 'All Working for Victory. Farm Work is War Work!'


Portrait of Josh Sanford sitting in an airplane during WWII. Sanford served in the Army Air Corps during WWII and is credited with being the only Native American pilot to serve in China. Sanford eventually reached the rank of Captain, won the Fly Cross Award, and took part in at least 74 combat missions..

Native Pilot Sanford

Melkman Family at the Seashore in Holland, 1934. Left to right: Flora van Brink Hony Bader (nee Melkman), mother Duifje Melkman, brother Harry Melkman, aunt Rebecca Veerman and sister Annie Melkman at the seashore in Holland.

Holocaust Survivors

More Historical Images

World War II Prints | Raising Rabbits in Concentration Camps

Read More from the WHS Press

Check out these related books from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. They are available at your favorite book retailer, online, or through most e-book vendors.

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