Steiner Donates Vintage Film for War Documentary

Steiner Electric is very proud to have provided footage for the production of the WWII documentary “City at War: Chicago,” a film that examines what Chicago was like during the second world war.

At the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) called on the country to become “an arsenal of democracy” – to become producers of war materiel to help defeat the Axis powers — Germany, Japan, and Italy.

A new documentary, “A City at War: Chicago,” looks at how Chicago became a well-oiled production machine, with every man, woman, and child contributing to the war effort. John Davies, the executive producer, along with his co-producer Brian Kallies, says the film explores “just about everything that happened in Chicagoland during WWII.”

The documentary utilizes rare film footage, vintage propaganda movies, period posts, stills and other articles from the period to show viewers Chicago’s transformation into an “arsenal of democracy.” Several key elements that helped the producers achieve the “look” they wanted were donated from the Steiner family archives. These items, which were donated by Rick Kerman of Steiner Electric, included old 8mm and 16mm footage, and other articles either filmed or collected by his grandfather George Steiner during the war years.  “We used that all over the film and it really helped us illustrate some points,” says Davies. “It’s vintage and it really gave the movie a look.”

 Steiner family film footage that was used in the documentary, included:
  • Steiner employee sendoff office party for Manny who soon would ship out to serve our country.
  • Film of Rick’s aunt, Elaine Steiner, standing along the Lake Michigan shore watching as a luxury yacht passes by her. The ship was made by the Henry C. Grebe & Co., a Chicago yacht building company, who would retool its factory to make wooden hulled mine sweepers used in WWII. (The boats would tow a device that produced a magnetic field that triggered magnetic mines. The hull was made from wood so as to not magnetically attract the  bombs.)
  • A backyard scene showing sailors and marines relaxing. It is unknown whether they were on leave or enjoying a few final days before receiving their orders, but the footage was used to illustrate a story shared by author Harry Mark Petrakis.  The Chicago-based novelist described watching returning veterans tell soldiers who hadn’t shipped out as yet, “wait, wait, your turn will come.”
  • Also donated from the Steiner archives were original front pages from WWII-era newspapers and gas-ration stamps issued to Steiner Electric.

Rick explained, “Our friendship with Davies and Kallies goes back many years, most recently the filmmakers produced Steiner’s humorous video: “Tommy Tomagain: Steiner is There, starring Tim Kazurinsky.” When they mentioned their upcoming WWII documentary project, it was the excuse I needed to restore my grandfather’s home videos dating back to the early 1930’s and WWII news reels.”

The shots helped illustrate the prominent role that Chicago and the surrounding communities played in the buildup to WWII. Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly attracted government investment in more than 1,400 companies that re-tooled to support the war effort.

The first aircraft landing on USS Wolverine occurred during September 1942. From 1943 until the end of the war in 1945, the USS Wolverine and its sister ship, the USS Sable, were used to train 17,000 pilots, landing signal officers and other navy personnel.

During these war years, Chicago was a major US Navy training area for Navy Air, Carrier, Surface and Submarine Services. An estimated one third of the military personnel serving the Pacific theater were “boot camped” at the Naval Air Station Glenview in Chicago, according to Davies.

The Glenview air station trained aircraft carrier pilots on two carriers docked next to Navy Pier (see picture). The first aircraft landed on the USS Wolverine in September 1942 and between that initial flight and the end of the war, approximately 17,000 pilots, landing signal officers and other Navy personnel were trained on the deck of the Wolverine, and its sister ship, the USS Sable.

Another example is the Orchard Place Douglas Plant (ORD) facility, at which the Douglas Airplane Co. built more than 600 of its C-54 Skymaster aircraft. The facility was so massive that it would later become O’Hare Airport.

“Possibly as much as 30% of all U.S. materiel used to support the war effort was manufactured in and around the City of Chicago,” Davies told the Daily North Shore community web site. “That included a range of items like food, parachutes and tanks.”

The one-hour documentary, narrated by Bill Kurtis, will air in Chicago on WTTW Chicago Channel 11, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, at 7 p.m. and WTTW Prime at 10 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *