Sarah Jones

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American Locomotive Company
Sarah Jones

The American Locomotive Company (ALCO) of Schenectady, NY, founded in 1845, was an important producer of locomotives and tanks for the war. In 1939, ALCO's output was $22,358. By 1943, in the midst of the war, it had increased by over 1800 percent to $428,905,600. During the first four years of the war, ALCO produced more than it had in the first twenty-five years of the 20th century. As Lieut. Gen. Somervell, the Commanding General, Army Service Forces, said "The American Locomotive Company has been in the forefront of our armament program."

On November 23, 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, the Schenectady plant received a contract to build medium tanks. They immediately began the conversion of their locomotive manufacturing buildings, dedicating thousands of square feet to the production of tanks. ALCO continued to assemble locomotives alongside the tanks. By April 19, 1941, the first of these tanks was successfully tested and approved by government officials. Having never before built a tank, ALCO was the first to produce a M3 "General Lee" tank that was satisfactory to the army. ALCO also manufactured the M4 "General Sherman" tank.

In 1942, William Lentz, the Schenectady plant manager, lobbied for a contract to build a tank killer. After obtaining the contract from the US government, ALCO began design and production of a tank destroyer, the M7, nicknamed "The Priest". The Schenectady plant designed and manufactured the first M7 in only nineteen days, using the M3 tank chassis. The M7 was equipped with a 105 mm howitzer which had a range of seven miles. It proved crucial during the battle of El Alamein in Egypt, in November of 1942. The British army surprised Rommel's forces when one thousand M7s burst suddenly on the scene and stopped the German advance through North Africa. Even though the M7 had been in production in Schenectady for months, not a word had leaked to German ears. Schenectady became known as "The city that kept a secret." Don Godard declared on radio station WEAF on January 4, 1943, "For months, thousands of employees of the American Locomotive plant up in Schenectady were engaged in the production of a secret weapon. Practically all of them knew what it was they were building - the most destructive anti-tank device the world had ever seen... It came to the Germans as a complete surprise. A complete surprise thanks to the fact that thousands of employees... were able to keep their lips buttoned up since June." The hard work done by ALCO turned the tide in North Africa. In all, ALCO produced approximately 6,000 tanks during WWII.

To thank the ALCO employees, representatives of the American and British Armies celebrated "M7 Tank Day" in Schenectady on April 10, 1943, the anniversary of ALCO's delivery of the M7 prototype. In a ceremony at Liberty Park, a time capsule, with a hammer used on the first M7 and sand from the Sahara, was buried under a stone marker. The highlight of the day was when tanks paraded down Erie Boulevard, featuring the M7.

ALCO also produced 1,086 steam and 157 diesel locomotives for the war effort. Many of these were used on the Trans-Iranian Railroad. In late 1942, Russia needed supplies because the Nazi U-boats had crippled the Murmansk sea convoy route. The US military repaired the old and inadequate Iranian Railroad and ALCO renovated 57 locomotives to run on it. The locomotives were delivered at the Persian Gulf and rode up to Tehran. The first locomotive reached Tehran in March 1943. Two ALCO locomotives that served on the railroad were the 8000 (Susquehanna) and the 8008. Both were requisitioned by the US government and were modified by ALCO to run on the Iranian tracks. By May 1943, the Russian requirement for munitions was exceeded by 18 percent. Many of the workers who operated the Trans-Iranian Railroad were trained at ALCO or were former ALCO employees now in the army.

The products produced at ALCO were vital to the victory of the Allies. The locomotives that were modified and built at ALCO supplied the Russians via the Trans-Iranian Railroad and the M7 tank killer was used to great effect in North Africa and in Europe. Many NY factories helped to arm the Allies, including those at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Watervliet Arsenal. Allied success in WWII was due in part to the great work and the dedication of the industries and workers of the State of New York.