Date With History to explore 'Chicago's Arsenal of Democracy'

  • Learn how over 1,400 Chicago companies converted from peacetime to war production in the early 1940s in the next "Date With History" on Thursday, Dec. 1.

    Learn how over 1,400 Chicago companies converted from peacetime to war production in the early 1940s in the next "Date With History" on Thursday, Dec. 1. Courtesy of First Division Museum

Updated 11/17/2022 6:50 PM

The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park continues its Date with History series on Thursday, Dec. 1, with "Chicago's Arsenal of Democracy."

The presentation by historian Jerome M. O'Connor will begin at 7 p.m. (CT). He will discuss the mobilization of our region's factories to support the U.S. military during World War II.


The public can attend the free lecture in person or online. If attending in person, at the Cantigny Park Visitors Center, registration is not required.

Online viewers should register at to receive a Zoom link.

More than 1,400 Chicago companies converted almost overnight from peacetime to war production in the early-to-mid 1940s.

It was the first major introduction of women into the labor force and ranks as the most successful mobilization of brains and muscles in American history.

The presentation will feature rare images from the era, including the factories as they were and as they are now, plus the largest war factory ever built.

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Historian Jerome M. O'Connor of Elmhurst
Historian Jerome M. O'Connor of Elmhurst

O'Connor, a U.S. Navy veteran, is the author of "The Hidden Places of World War II: The Extraordinary Sites Where History Was Made During the War That Saved Civilization."

He has been a professional journalist since his 20s while simultaneously building a firm specializing in international travel and study programs for professional associations.

His 1978 Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine feature was the first to reveal -- seven years before opening to become one of London's most visited museums -- the intact existence of Winston Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms.


O'Connor's contribution to the history of World War II included cover features for leading special interest magazines, including the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and Naval History, World War II, British Heritage, and others. In 2001, before the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy, he was given the U.S. Naval Institute's "Author of the Year" award for revealing the near-intact existence of Nazi German's five massive U-boat bunker bases along the French Atlantic coast.

His disclosure of Bletchley Park, where 12,000 British codebreakers broke the Nazi Enigma cipher device, was the first to discover the intact but ignored enclave in the British countryside.

O'Connor, a South Side (Englewood and Chatham) native, graduated from Mount Carmel High School and Loyola University. He is a longtime Elmhurst resident who spends his winters in Naples, Fla.

The First Division Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is free with paid parking of $5 per car. Visit for more details.

The First Division Museum, part of the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation, promotes public learning about America's military heritage and affairs through the history of the "Big Red One" -- the famed 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. The museum's main exhibit hall, First in War, transports visitors to the trenches of World War I, the beaches of World War II, and the jungles of Vietnam. A second exhibit hall, Duty First, explores the 1ID's history in more recent times.

The Robert R. McCormick Research Center, open to the public, houses the museum's library, archival and photo collections. Tanks from every era are outside the museum, along with artillery pieces and a personnel carrier. Memorial markers and commemorative statuary pay further tribute to those who served.

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