At the onset of World War 1, the US Military was in need of a large amount of clothing for all branches of the armed services, and very quickly. The US Government did have private manufacturers for uniform clothing, but Government itself manufactured more uniforms than it secured from any single outside source during World War 1.
There were two government uniform factories. One was located at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot, and the second was at the Quartermaster Depot in Jeffersonville Indiana. The Jeffersonville Depot produced army shirts, breeches and outer clothing. It expanded in size to cover 10 square blocks during the war, and it became the largest shirt manufacturing plant in the world.
The Jeffersonville Uniform Factory, which was just across the Ohio River from Louisville Ky, was established in February 1918. Louisville already had several operating clothing and cotton mill factories. Many experienced workers were easily secured to work in the government factory, with wages offered for the all women production force starting at $50 and up to $80 per month. The factory operated two shifts of eight hours, and produced 750 woolen coats and 1,500 pairs of woolen trousers per day. The factory employed approximately 2000 workers at it’s peak.
The Jeffersonville plant also installed the most modern “woolen cloth shrinking equipment” in the United States. At the cost of $50,000 to install, it could treat 10,000 yards of wool per day. The US Army plant in Jeffersonville was able to make uniforms at a cost of 25% less than those purchased from private manufacturers. The cost to produce a woolen Service Coat was $1.02, and a pair of Breeches cost .54 cents.
The great demand for clothing and skilled seamstresses was so strong in 1918, that the US Army implemented a program of hiring expert seamstresses to work and teach out of their homes. The new sewing women, who had volunteered to work from home, were recruited through newspaper ads, and the assembled sewing force grew to approximately 20,000 women operatives, which were located in practically every town and village throughout southern Indiana and northern Kentucky.
This new sewing force increased the output of shirts from 600,000 per year at the QM Depot, to 8,500,000 per year. Each home worker was supplied with one complete shirt to be used as a template, and was provided the shirt material from the Jeffersonville factory. The material was pre-cut to a pattern, and bundled in sets of 10 shirts. The completed shirts were inspected by the factory, and cleaned before being shipped out.
Manufacturing at the Jeffersonville Shirt Factory continued at full capacity until the end of the war, where production was halted in November of 1918.
Copyright, CZTHS 2018