History in the Hills: Antiques of our area

Every time I go on vacation, I usually seek out the local antique shop. Recently, I was in the Outer Banks with my family celebrating my 10-year anniversary, and I couldn’t help stopping at the local antique shop.

With about 10 minutes to spare before closing, I picked up a few World War II posters for a great price. The two I purchased were from 1942 and 1943. One was a print of Norman Rockwell, and the other was one encouraging the remembrance of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get these great posters as they were originals and very affordable. They didn’t know what they had.

These two posters made me think of our area during World War II and the struggles and hardships we went through at that time. Weirton Steel contributed greatly toward the war effort, and its admirable history is worthy of mention.

One of my favorite stories of Weirton during the war is when it rolled brass and other metals on the steel-rolling machines. This was important because no other steel mills at that time ever rolled those materials. Weirton Steel made that distinction first.

It is very difficult to separate the history of the city of Weirton from Weirton Steel, because at its core, Weirton was the mill for so many years. It was a company town, but not in the sense of those in the southern coal fields. For example, Weirton encouraged its employees to own their own homes, join their own clubs and be parishioners at their own churches. And at each organization, the mill would support those, making the employees and residents extremely loyal.

Another important contribution of Weirton Steel during the war was the production of the 8-inch Howitzer shell. This 200-pound high-explosive projectile was the only finished product made in our mills during the war. The record to produce this vital war material was more than 70,000 shells per month. This was a combination of the work between the Steubenville and Weirton plants. The Steubenville plant was the finishing plant where they would mark the shells as high explosives and paint them yellow among other processes.

There aren’t very many folks who remember those days, but we are fortunate that Weirton Steel produced a film called “Assignment Accomplished” in 1945.

Weirton Steel filmed this movie in color, and it explained the production of the shells from start to finish. I am not sure that if the United States were in another global conflict, we would be as prepared.

This film is available on YouTube, and it is worth the watch. Seeing firsthand how Weirton Steel answered the call for our country is inspiring. This is courtesy of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. The museum is full of artifacts from that time, including four shells. Two were restored to their 1940s appearance and the other two were used as elevator weights, as the story goes.

Each shell has its own identifying marks that, according to the film, indicates that “it was made by the men and women of Weirton Steel.”

These four shells are a testament to the ingenuity and dedication that Weirton Steel had toward the U.S. and the war effort. I wonder if the folks from that time would ever imagine how much we owe to their sacrifice. Today, their material culture is our antiques.

Maybe if I am lucky, I might find something from that time to make all the history come alive. It is the thrill of the hunt.


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