Your wartime career

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Photo courtesy of RIT Archive Collections

This photo, circa 1943, appeared in a wartime promotional brochure touting RIT’s practical training in the Institute’s Machine Shop.

As the United States concludes the war in Iraq, it seemed appropriate to look at RIT’s activities during previous wars, particularly World War II, which had such an enormous impact on the country and the world.

Similar to preparations for World War I, Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute geared up for training of civilians and men who had not yet been called up for active military duty. RIT President Mark Ellingson promised that all academic programs would continue during wartime. At the height of the war, courses were held during the day, evening and night. Calling itself a “wartime training camp,” facilities were used for classes beneficial to war production and pre-induction classes for future wartime jobs in aviation, signal, engineering and other branches of the armed services. During this hectic time, many accommodations were made for the students and Ellingson promised that those students who were called up mid-way through a course “will have a place to begin again” after the war.

RIT Archives contain promotional brochures showing programs and classes that were offered. Your Wartime Career listed technical courses for men and women. Pitched to high school students, it encouraged them to consider what they would be doing “in the new world, after the war.” Highlighting rapid technological change brought about by the war, the brochure described how these new developments would create a need for young men and women “who are competent to become a part of this great, new technology.”

Pent-up demand for cars, refrigerators, construction materials and other products would provide plentiful work in the production of goods for peace-time use. Other promotional pieces noted a demand for technically trained women to replace men while they were at war. Potential students were exhorted to “Keep ‘em Flying” with vital war-production classes in areas needed to keep the military running efficiently such as mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, heat treating of steel, tool and die making, instrument making and the protection of buildings from bombs. Students could start coursework and use their new knowledge and skills for a commission or rapid promotion once part of the armed forces.

Toward the end of the war, GIs started to flood back to RIT. Working with the Veterans Administration, RIT established one of the first counseling centers in the country, supporting servicemen with psychological and aptitude tests to identify their interests and abilities. In all, RIT trained 733 disabled WWII and Korean War vets as well as 7,497 non-disabled veterans of both wars. More than 8 million veterans chose to attend school following World War II, and this fostered the economic boom the United States enjoyed during the decades after the war.