Emma Weisner

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North Minnesota Shipyards
Emma Weisner

The Shipyards of Northern Minnesota

The shipyards of Northern Minnesota were instrumental in the success of the Allied forces in World War II. Shipbuilding was a tradition in the area dating back to the early 1870s, and when WWII started the Navy took advantage of Minnesota's superior shipyards.

Northern Minnesota was home to several important shipyards during the war, the biggest being Cargill Inc., located in Savage, Minnesota. Before the war, Cargill primarily built ships and barges to haul wheat and grain, but the United States Navy turned it in to a large shipyard because of its prime location. During WWII, Cargill built 22 ships for the war effort. Their first ship was the USS Agawam, launched in 1943.

The shipyards also improved life on the home front, employing 3,500 Minnesotans. The Twin Ports (Duluth, MN and Superior, WI) were also home to extremely important shipyards. There were six yards in the area, and together they produced over 230 vessels for service in WWII. The most notable yards were Marine Iron and Shipbuilding, Inland Waterways, Zenith Dredge Company, Scott-Graff Lumber Company, and Industrial Construction Company.

During the war, women were allowed to work in shipyards for the first time. They made up a quarter of the shipbuilding work force, and took the place of men who had gone off to fight in the war. Public events were often held at the shipyards to increase morale at home. One such event, the "Quint Fleet Launching," took place in the Twin Ports. A group of young quintuplets, the Dionne Sisters, launched 5 boats made by Walter Butler Shipbuilders, Inc. in to the Twin Ports. The Dionne Quints were the world's first surviving quintuplets and possibly the most famous children in the United States at the time. Over 15,000 people attended launching. This was a widely publicized event that brought attention and glory to the Minnesota shipyards.

The Northern Minnesota shipyards were strategically placed to avoid foreign attack, like that of Pearl Harbor. Northern Minnesota was an extremely safe location for shipyards. Resources and production facilities in the area were highly diversified, and an attack on one shipyard would not affect the other military industries in Minnesota, like iron mining and steel mills. Also, the shipyards were widely dispersed across Northern Minnesota, so an attack would likely only be detrimental to one shipyard. Regardless of the perceived safety of Northern Minnesota, there was constant military presence at the shipyards to protect both the workers and the ships. FBI officials were permanently stationed in the area to monitor port security and investigate espionage allegations.

As WWII was ending, the number of military contracts for the United States Navy and Coast Guard decreased. The shipyards and docks of Northern Minnesota either converted to commercial shipping, or closed altogether. Although many of the yards are no longer existent, their legacy lives on. Without the shipyards of Northern Minnesota, the Allied forces would not have been able to win such a decisive victory. Minnesota was absolutely necessary for the Allied triumph in WWII.