Kewaunee Ships of War, Kewaunee Public Library

During World War II, Wisconsinites contributed to the war effort in many ways. Wisconsin’s shipbuilding industry flourished in communities along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, where manufacturers such as the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and Globe Shipbuilding of Superior built submarines, cargo ships, and other vessels for the United States military. In 1941, the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was founded in the small community of Kewaunee, Wisconsin, located on the Lake Michigan side of the base of the Door County Peninsula. Between 1941 and 1946, Kewaunee Shipbuilding employed more than 400 workers and delivered 80 vessels to the United States government for war use. The company, now know as Kewaunee Fabrications, continues to operate in the community as a subsidiary of Oshkosh Corporation.

In addition to its significant contribution to World War II, Kewaunee Shipbuilding also played a small role in the Cold War. In 1944, the company completed FS-344, an 850-ton Army cargo ship. Beginning in 1967, the ship was used by the U.S. Navy for intelligence gathering under a new name, the USS Pueblo. In January 1968, while surveilling Soviet and North Korean communications, Pueblo was captured by North Korean forces. The ship’s crew was held as prisoners of war for nearly a year, and the ship itself remains in North Korea, now on view as part of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

The Kewaunee Public Library has recently made available online nearly 300 photographs from three albums donated to the library by John Robillard, a former employee of Kewaunee Fabrications. The photos, known as the Kewaunee Ships of War collection, document the history of the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company from 1941-1946, including ships under construction, ship christening events, and the interiors of completed ships.

The library collaborated with numerous community partners to complete the Kewaunee Ships of War project. Local partners included Tom Schueller of the Kewaunee County Historical Society; Nathan Roets, social studies teacher at Kewaunee High School; and the InfoSoup Memory Project sponsored by Outagamie Waupaca Library System. On October 16, 2013, more than 70 community members and 150 local high school students attended a public presentation about the project at Kewaunee High School, which featured a panel of former Kewaunee Shipbuilding employees and WWII veterans. The Kewaunee Ships of War project was funded in part by a $2,000 grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s Greater Green Bay Area Humanities Fund. Scanning of the photographs was completed by Northern Micrographics of La Crosse.

Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering built tugboats as well as large cargo vessels. This image shows rings built around ship hulls in order to roll them upright after welding. According to local history, the rings were necessary because the company only had one crane available due to wartime shortages. Kewaunee Public Library.

Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering built tugboats as well as large cargo vessels. This image shows the rings built around smaller ship hulls in order to roll them upright after welding. According to local history, the rings were necessary because the company only had one crane available due to wartime shortages. Kewaunee Public Library.

Shipyard band performs at a ship christening celebration, 1941-1946. Kewaunee Public Library.

Throughout the war, ship christenings at Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering were an opportunity for the entire community to come together and celebrate local pride and national patriotism. Here, the shipyard band performs for a crowd at a ship christening event. Kewaunee Public Library.

Florence Ratajczak smashes a bottle of champagne to christen a new ship, 1941-1946. Kewaunee Public Library.

Florence Ratajczak smashes a bottle of champagne to christen a new ship, 1941-1946. Kewaunee Public Library.

Christening of FS-344 (later known as USS Pueblo) in the Kewaunee harbor, 1944. Kewaunee Public Library.

Christening of FS-344 (later known as USS Pueblo) in the Kewaunee Marina, 1944. Kewaunee Public Library.


Explore the Kewaunee Ships of War collection from Kewaunee Public Library. 

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