1917 – Long Beach and WWI

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1917 – Long Beach and WWI

News stories from the local press





Long Beach lads march off to war

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson announced what many believed was inevitable—war between Germany and the United States.  The war in Europe had been raging since July 1914, but it was Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and an attempt by Germany to get Mexico to join the war in return for the territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, that prompted Woodrow Wilson’s action.  At a patriotic rally held in the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium on April 4, 1917, the entire German population of Long Beach expressed full accord with the United States and President Wilson.  Arthur Falkenhayn, who had served in the German army in his youth and now was a florist, presented a little red white and blue bouquet to all in attendance.

On April 6th war was officially declared by the United States and Washington was quick to act to protect itself from alien enemies.  On April 16th, the Long Beach Chief of Police received instructions from the capitol advising it was unlawful for aliens to have any firearms, weapons or implements of war in their possession.  They were also prohibited from access to any kind of signaling device or any form of cipher code.  Also, five hundred forty-one Long Beach men immediately joined the American Protective League which rounded up pro-Germans and draft evaders.  According to the Daily Telegram of December 20, 1918, Long Beach had the best per capita record of catching and convicting pro-Germans than any other city in the west.



On April 3, 1917, a telegram was sent to Long Beach from Sacramento telling of a rumored plot to blow up the big suspension bridge at the entrance to Long Beach harbor. County sheriffs joined Long Beach police in search for any hidden explosives or bombs. Officers were posted to patrol the area looking for suspicious activities. No trace of dynamite was found but the bridge was discovered to be inadequately protected, according to authorities. After the first examination of the bridge property an investigation of the California Shipbuilding Company’s yards was made. A need to increase guards at both locations was recommended.

On April 17th soldiers fired at a fleeing suspect found loitering near the reservoir at Long Beach. National Guardsmen, on guard duty at the reservoir, discovered the suspect lurking in the shadows. When told to halt, he fired at one of the guardsmen with a revolver. Immediately both guardsmen rushed the man. He fled. When the guardsmen saw that he would escape they both opened fire. One of the guardsmen sent a description of the man to authorities. All outbound cars from Long Beach were stopped and several suspects were questioned. It was believed by the guardsmen that the man had been attempting to gain information on the water supply system of Long Beach, or that he had already been supplied with this information and was attempting to damage the system.

On April 25, 1917, a fire broke out at the National Kelp Potash plant in the harbor.  The factory was completely destroyed.  At first it was felt the fire had been caused by a gas explosion resulting from the installation of a new gas system at the facility, but later it was determined to be a bomb. Government investigators concluded German saboteurs were at work in the Long Beach harbor district seeking to cripple Uncle Sam by destroying plants where gun powder ingredients were manufactured.  The secret service said they did not feel the fire had been set by paid or official agents of Germany, but by fanatical hotheads who thought they were helping the Fatherland.  Others felt differently—they were sure it was the result of German secret agents.

It appeared the bomb had been placed in the furnace room of the kelp-potash plant while men were installing a new gas main.  When they left to get additional equipment the building was left unattended—the perfect time for saboteurs to sneak in and plant the incendiary devise.   Investigators found the remains of the bomb matched those which had been used in the east by German agents in attempts to blow up U. S. ammunition plants. Detectives said they had information other kelp plants as well as shipyards in the harbor were targets.  They felt this was merely the beginning of sabotage activities and that Long Beach must launch a home guard campaign to protect its industries from German attack.

In May, Rudolf von Flammerdinghe former first lieutenant in the Death’s Head Hussar regiment in Prussia was arrested as a spy. He was believed by the federal authorities to be the head of an elaborate espionage system.  In order to prove his innocence he told federal officials of a sensational plot to blow up the Long Beach shipyards. According to Flammerdinghe, four Los Angeles Germans were involved in a scheme to destroy the shipyards, all of which were under contract to build boats for the U. S. Navy.  Flammerdinghe claimed he heard the four men plotting in the lobby of a downtown Los Angeles hotel and then followed them for several blocks where he witnessed them purchasing 1200 pounds of a high explosive powder to complete their mission.

Flammerdinghe’s allegations followed accusations made against him by Lieutenant Frank F. Wolf, a former member of the German aviation corps. According to federal authorities, Wolf revealed Flammerdinghe was the head of German espionage in America, recruiting German sympathizers from around the U. S. to act as agents for the German cause.  Wolf went on to describe how Flammerdinghe had the entire United States divided into districts and that through this alleged spy system he knew of military movements made by Americans. The headquarters for these operations was in Mexico.

In an attempt to refute Wolf’s claims, Flammerdinghe revealed much about his life. “I was born and educated in German East Africa,” he said. “My father was a major general in the German army. I received an engineering education at the University of Heidelberg and came to this country in 1909. I am an expert in the use of chemicals and high explosives. In 1914 I went back to Germany to fight in my regiment, but I was captured by the British and interred in an English concentration camp. I escaped from the English camp by bribing a guardsman and fled to America as a stowaway.  I reached the United States in 1915 and traveled on a tour inspecting the mining districts of the United States. I am thoroughly informed as to mining resources of this country. I then went to Oatman, Arizona, where I worked in a mine.  It was there I heard that Wolf was in Los Angeles. I told him to come to Oatman and I would get him a job. He came to Oatman, but he would not take a job. He spent his time traveling about the country, and one day disappeared. The next I heard of him was when he was arrested in San Francisco as a spy suspect. I left Oatman later to visit my sweetheart, in San Diego. While visiting at her home the federal officers arrested me.” (LA Herald 5/15/1917)

According to  local federal authorities, incriminating papers were found in the possession of Flammerdinghe.  Flammerdinghe may not have been the master spy that Wolf said he was but Flammerdinghe was interred at Fort Rosecrans on suspicion of communicating with the German government.

In September 1918, the Long Beach Press  indicated there was an attempt to either blow up or set fire to the Long Beach Shipbuilding plant. Due to the vigilance of  U. S. troops on guard in the local harbor district, the attempt was thwarted.  According to Captain Victor C. Lewis, a man was seen creeping along on the ground near the shipyards by a watch guard at 3 a.m. on the morning of September 19, 1918.  The soldier challenged the prowler, at the same time warning other guards to be on the lookout for the intruder.  Spotting the suspect, a guard told the prowler to halt, but the man refused, dashing across the street and hiding behind a building.  Two guards immediately opened fire, aiming to kill, but the fleeting figure escaped.

There were many stories about a planned German-Mexican invasion from Lower California.  In September 1918 the Long Beach Press reported an organized effort on the part of a gang of Mexican field hands to interfere with the sugar beet harvest.  Several hundred Mexicans, it was claimed, had been employed for the beet harvesting.  When the beets were ready to be picked the Mexicans refused to gather them, leaving the sugar beets to spoil.  Supposedly this “gang” would go from ranch to ranch, doing the same thing.  It was unclear, however, whether they had been bribed by factory representatives to keep down the supply, thus driving the prices up, or whether it was a case of German sabotage.

Fear was rampant, but citizens of Long Beach responded to the war with a patriotic fervor—war gardens and liberty bond drives took off over night.  All this activity helped take anxious minds off of the coming of June 5th, “Registration Day,” the day all men had to sign up for the Army draft.


The Draft

Long Beach draftees

Isidro Canlas stayed up all night on June 5, 1917 to make sure he would be the first man to register for the draft in his precinct.  Canlas, a native Filipino employed by contractor George LaShell, felt it was his duty to contribute to the welfare of the country that had taken him in.  He told the Long Beach Press:

        Maybe I don’t understand the Flag so well as the men born under it, but none loves it  more.  I saw a people freed from bondage by it.  They were my own people.  I so love this Flag that when I got big enough I traveled 8000 miles to make sure that I might always  dwell under its protection.  I was only 10 years old when the American soldiers came to our country and my racial prejudice was against the Yankees; but I liked the soldiers themselves, and as I grew in age and wisdom I learned to love the cause for which they fought.  (LB Press 6/5/1917)

In 1906, Canlas moved to Denver where one of those American soldiers who fought in the Philippines, George La Shell, hired him.  When La Shell moved to Long Beach in 1910 Isidro Canlas followed.  While here, Isidro fell in love with Lydia Davolos, a beautiful Mexican.  When the couple went to the county seat to get a marriage license they were turned down.  Canlas was classified as a Malay, an inferior to a Mexican, and told it was illegal for them to marry.  Even his friend and employer George La Shell couldn’t pull enough strings for the pair to wed.  Eventually the couple went to Tijuana, Mexico, where they were united as man and wife.  Despite the fact that a clerk in Los Angeles felt he was unfit to marry a girl from Mexico, Canlas continued to support America.

C. S. Wing, born in China in 1892, was the first Chinese man from Long Beach to join the service.  When asked to provide a photograph for the newspaper, Wing said he was glad to serve in the Army, but was afraid of how his wife and child would survive financially if something should happen to him.  He asked that the photo, the only one he had, be sent back to his family for them to remember him.

The Germans were quick to take advantage of racial bias in America.  On April 4, 1917, the Long Beach Press reported German secret service agents in the south were trying to foment an uprising of African Americans against white Americans.  At a meeting of Mexicans, African Americans and Germans in San Diego in April 1915, the Germans promised African Americans a place on a social footing with whites.  The plan was known as “the plan of San Diego,” and included turning the state of Texas into a black republic. (LB Press 4/4/1917 )

On June 5, 1917, 2,823 local men registered for the draft. At 6 a.m. on July 12th, the local newspaper began to receive the numbers drawn at Washington for the draft.  A continuous stream of people eagerly scrutinized the posted lists of numbers and names of the men who were drawn.  Twenty-six year old James Francis Collins, a civil engineer, was the first Long Beach man called by conscription.  He was not the first Long Beach lad, however, to enter the armed forces; many, such as aviator Earl Daugherty, chose to enlist in another branch of the service instead of being forced to join the army.  Another, Hall W. Watts was one of the first to register for the draft.  He died in France in August 1918.

Long Beach’s draft board  was officially known as “Local Board Division No. 1, Los Angeles County, State of California.” It was one of the largest boards in the state because of the industries under its jurisdictions.  Its record for efficiency later made it one of the top ten draft boards in the United States, according to the book Long Beach in the World War.

On September 5th, a parade and ceremonies on the Virginia Hotel lawn were held to honor the first nine Long Beach men to leave for Army service.  The mayor pinned flags upon the coats of the selected men and the Reverend Henry Kendall Booth spoke.  The rally ended with the singing of “America.” Later that day, the first five percent of Long Beach’s draft quota boarded the soldiers’ train on their way to northern camps.


Pro Germans

Not all Americans were happy about the war with Germany.  George A. Doster was labeled a disloyalist and charged with disturbing the peace of fellow employees at the Edison electric plant by uttering seditious remarks.  He created a sensation in local court on June 14, Flag Day, when he changed his plea to “guilty” in the midst of the trial before all the evidence was in.  He was sentenced to ninety days in jail and a fine of $200.  Benjamin Krohn received the same sentence in August 1918, after being arrested by officers of the American Protective League.  Krohn’s crime was tearing down a picture of President Wilson and stomping on it.  Witnesses testified that Krohn declared that “President Wilson is a d…. fool and ought to be shot.”  In the course of the hearing others reported that Krohn expressed a wish that the Germans would wipe out the Americans and that he hoped the Germans would sink every American transport.

In October 1918, 74-year-old August Bartz of 620 Coronado Avenue, pleaded guilty to a charge of uttering seditious remarks.  Further disloyalty was expressed by the fact that though his estimated worth was more than $65,000 he had only purchased one $100 liberty bond.  He is reported to have said:

  1. President Wilson is a ….. and that he should be forced to eat some of the substitutes we have to eat.

  2. That when the newspapers quote victorious advances of the allies we can’t believe a d… world of it.

  3. That he probably would be hounded to death by those d… liberty bond solicitors.”

  4. That he would not display an American flag and that it made no difference to him who wins the war. (LB Press 10/3/1918)

Despite pleas by his wife and step-daughter to deal lightly with him because of his age, he was fined $500 and sentenced to spend three months in jail.  If he hadn’t been 74-years-old he would have been sentenced to six months in jail.


Draft Dodgers

Edgar Kienholz

Long Beach athletic circles were startled when the name of Edgar H Kienholz, athletic coach and head of the physical training department of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, was listed as “failing to respond” for military examination. Kienholz had left Long Beach shortly after June 5th for his father’s ranch in Alberta, Canada, and when he was re-elected Poly coach for the coming year no word was heard from him. He later said he didn’t want to leave his new bride. His case was turned over to the federal authorities. Eight other men were also posted as “failing to respond.” Kienholz later returned to Long Beach and despite the appeals of Superintendent W. L. Stephens and Principal David Burcham, who felt that finding another with Kienholz’s skills would be next to impossible, Kienholz was drafted.  He returned after the war to resume his old job.

Roscoe Gue, his wife Bessie and father Dollamarter were jointly charged with conspiring to obstruct the draft law.  Roscoe’s number was drawn in the regular draft process and he was classified 1-A. One way to avoid the draft was to be married and needed at home.  He quickly married.  Following the hasty wedding, he filed an affidavit alleging  his wife was in frail health and needed his support; but attaches of the American Protective League, who investigated the case, charged the woman was hale and hearty and up to the day of her marriage capable of making her own living.  Later on Roscoe’s father, Dollamarter Gue, filed an affidavit claiming he was dependent on his son for his support, but it was later found that he was an insurance adjuster making a good salary.

In late August 1918, a “slacker drive” was held to catch alleged draft dodgers.  John B. Erwin, a local shipyard worker, had lived in Long Beach two years.  He registered for the draft in Arizona and then returned to Long Beach without having kept in touch with the exemption board with which he registered.  Frank Davidson was arrested on similar grounds, except he was alleged to have registered in Los Angeles when he should have registered in Long Beach, thus evading service until caught in the roundup.


Nurses Help Overseas 

Nurse Netta Parker in uniform

When the U.S. entered World War I there were 403 Army nurses on active duty including 170 reserve nurses who had been assigned to duty with General John J. Pershing’s 1916 expedition on the Mexican border. One month later six base hospitals with more than 400 Army nurses sailed for France for service with the British Expeditionary Forces.

Katherine Knight

Rapid mobilization of nurses was possible because the Red Cross Nursing Service (RCNS) had 8,000 trained nurses ready to serve in hospitals and on battlefields. The RCNS supplied 20,000 nurses before the war ended. Many of these nurses were attached to base hospitals, a concept developed in 1915 by Dr. George Crile and enthusiastically supported by the Surgeon General and the military. Under the base hospital plan, a civilian medical center provided a fully staffed and equipped field hospital which would be transferred to military authority when needed. The American Red Cross provided expertise, funding and organization to assist civilian hospitals in this project and administered the base hospital from the time it was ready for active service until it was actually mobilized under Army command. When the U. S. entered the war, 25 base hospitals were ready for immediate deployment. Los Angeles Base Hospital Unit No. 35, however, wasn’t commissioned until March 1918.  Among those who served were Long Beach nurses Katherine Knight, Alice MacCulloch, Mary E. Taylor, Elizabeth C. MacDonald, Olga Renius, Katherine Miller, Erma Coons, Sylvia Vanasek, Mabel Grant, Mayme Karaus, Mary Cunningham, Elizabeth Lewis, Julia Klapetzky, Emma McCulloch, Etta Parker, Nella Hill, Isabelle Gage, Kathryn McKenzie, Cleo Peters, Mary Young, Bertha Grant, Esther Webb, May Joy, Hannah Thompson, Hilda Smeal and Priscilla Reece.  Hilda Smeal, who lived with her mother Mary, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for heroic service in driving an ambulance under fire on the battlefields of Picardy and Champagne. When the war was over she continued to serve in the motor transport service in France. Many gave up lucrative businesses to enlist.

Elizabeth MacDonald (220 E. 7th) and Olga Renius (811 Linden Ave.) had successfully run the East Side Maternity Home which they sold for the opportunity to go to France as Red Cross nurses.  According to Elizabeth MacDonald’s personal information in the Public Library’s Long Beach Collection, Base Hospital Unit 35 left Los Angeles for Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 16th 1918. The unit left New York August 8th 1918, landing in Southampton on August 16th.  From there they were sent directly to their base hospital center at Mars-Sur-Allier, France.  Her letters home survive in the library’s history files.  On October 24, 1918, the Long Beach Daily Telegram printed the following:

            Our hospital is new and we are full up with patients.  They are not very sick, but are sent us from an evacuation hospital, and are classified, some to return to the front, and some to be sent home.  I feel more sorry for the weak fellow to be sent home than for the one to return to the front, because of the long trip.

In October 1918, Elizabeth C. MacDonald was erroneously reported dead.  In January 1919 she wrote:

           We have another Lizzie in our hospital and same last name — the only difference was in weight and disposition.  She took sick and died last October.  When Washington was wired that a Lizzie had died it did not seem to make any difference to them who died—so they picked on me and wired my poor sister that I was dead.  Two days ago a letter arrived in France from my sister, asking where I was laid away.  Can you imagine how she feels? Of course, she thinks I am gone, or at least she thought so until she received a letter from me which she must, in the course of time.*


Women in the Military

Yeomanette recruiting poster, 1917

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels took advantage of the fact that the 1916 law which created the Naval Reserve used the word personnel rather than male when referring to Navy Yeoman and authorized the enlistment of woman as Yeoman (F) on March 19, 1917. Within a month the Navy swore in the first officially recognized enlisted women in U. S. history. The 11,274 Yeoman (F), popularly known as “Yeomanettes,” who served in WW I were recruited to “Free a Man to Fight.”

In order to enlist women had to be between 18 and 35, unmarried, in excellent health, of good moral character and neat appearance. The Navy preferred women who were at least high school graduates with office experience and superior clerical skills. The women did not attend boot camp but were simply sent to their duty stations where the majority performed clerical duties including typing, stenography, bookkeeping, accounting, inventory control and telephone operation. A few became radio operators, electricians, draftsmen, pharmacists, photographers, telegraphers, fingerprint experts, chemists, torpedo assemblers and camouflage designers. The Navy quickly realized that their women in uniform generated positive publicity, so the Yeoman (F) were taught to march and drill and were often paraded at patriotic rallies, recruiting campaigns, war bond drives and troop send-offs.

At the insistence of Secretary Daniels the Yeoman (F) received the same pay as male Yeoman, $28.75 per month, (less twenty cents for hospitalization) and $1.25 per day subsistence allowance. Most received a housing allowance to secure their own quarters because Naval housing for women was not available. The majority of Yeoman (F) served in the U. S. but a few were sent overseas. The women were not offered the option of remaining in the Navy after the war and by July 1919 all Yeoman (F) had been discharged.  Fifty-one Yeoman (F) died on active duty between 1917 and 1920, 20 of them before the Armistice was signed. A few were killed in accidents, most died of influenza. All received military funerals.

The Yeomanettes from Long Beach included Katherine Gilbert who served in the War Department in Washington D. C.; Catharine Baird who was on the staff of Major Hoffman at the American Embassy in Brussels; Josephine Brown McClure stationed at nearby Ft. McArthur as a music conductor; Elsie Britsch, assigned to the Navy Department Allotment Office, later transferring to the U. S. Naval Air Station in San Diego.

Librarians, because of their experience in cataloging and recording were recruited to fill positions in the ordnance department of the army at Washington, D.C.  Helen Courtwright, Gladys Hanna and Marian Quinn of the Long Beach Public Library resigned from the library on March 2, 1918, and announced that they would leave for the east immediately to take up work in the ordnance department.



Frank Lambert killed in action October 1917 in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

In June 1918, Long Beach received word the city had lost its first soldier to the perils of war.   Donald E. Erickson, 1636 E. 6th Street, had died on a battlefield in France.  His mother, a widow, was supported by her three sons—Donald, Derrell and Fred—before the war.  When they asked her if they could enlist she readily gave her consent.  When asked to express her feelings, Mrs. Erickson replied: “Each must die in time.  None can die a more glorious death than this; but, oh, it’s hard to feel it all, all the time.” (LB Press 6/20/1918)   Another Long Beach lad was reported dead the following week.  Captain G. Tupper, 334 Atlantic Avenue, had died while in Camp Kearny, never having made it to France.  He was Long Beach’s first influenza victim.

Ivan Leo Price, killed November 3, 1918 in France. The Pullman, Washington Post of the American Legion is named in his honor.

Death came closer to home when the body of Charles Mowry, was found at his sentry post in the harbor.   The 20-year-old Army volunteer was aroused from sleep the morning of July 31, 1918 and sent to his post, the searchlight tower guarding the municipal docks. At 3:43 a.m. a shot was heard and members of the guard hurried to the scene where they found Mowry stretched out on the platform of the wharf with a ghastly wound in his head and his still smoking rifle by his side.  The official report said Mowry had stumbled to his post half asleep, neglecting to put the safety on his rifle.  Somehow the rifle accidentally discharged, the bullet entering his left eye and coming out at the base of the brain.  Others weren’t too sure of the “official” report.  They thought the government was trying to keep the public calm in light of sabotage activities in the harbor.


Industry Growth, Housing Shortage

Those remaining in Long Beach found some local industries, such as fish canneries, taken over by the government.  Other business interests such as the woolen mills, potash plants, and shipyards grew at an astounding rate.  Many supplies such as lumber and other building materials were requisitioned for the war effort. However, it became almost impossible to keep up with the housing needs of the workers and their families who were coming to Long Beach to work in the burgeoning industries.  The Los Cerritos area, which had been subdivided a few years earlier, grew at a tremendous rate.  Encouraged by the success of Los Cerritos, a new twenty acre tract known as Bixby Heights was placed on the market in January 1917.

Located on part of the Rancho Los Cerritos, the Bixby Heights tract was subdivided and platted into city lots 50 x 130 feet in size.  It had paved streets, sidewalks, curbs, electricity, gas and water.  A clause in each deed provided no building could be erected that cost less than $2000.  Lots ranged in price from $500 to $1200.  The outbreak of the war in Europe slowed development, but a few homes did get built prior to America’s entry into the war.


Balboa Film Studio 

Everyone was eager to help the war effort.  Herbert M. Horkheimer, who had started the Long Beach studio with his brother Ellwood in 1913, began a movement to organize motion picture players throughout the nation for Red Cross work.  Realizing the many spare hours film folk had between scenes, Horkheimer felt they could be making garments and surgical dressings. He hoped his idea would spread and that there would be a Red Cross auxiliary in every studio in the picture industry.  He organized a committee which included the Laskys, D. W. Griffith, and Mrs. Cecil B. De Mille to carry out this work with the Red Cross and wired President Wilson for his endorsement of the project.

Horkheimer also arranged to take his entire working force on fishing expeditions every Sunday during the sardine run.  This was to help increase the sardine pack of Southern California, which canneries were shipping to the Allies at the rate of 5000 cases a day. Any money made by studio employees was turned over to the local fishermen to improve their equipment.


Helping the Boys Overseas

Local women’s groups, the Red Cross, and many other organizations began a campaign to knit socks for the boys overseas.  It was not an easy task.  Certain rules had to be followed, because if they were not blood poisoning, the loss of a foot, or even death could result.  In July 1918 the following instructions were issued: (LB Press  7/22/1918)

  1. Don’t wind wool tightly. It will lose its elasticity.

  2. Don’t forget that a man may not have a chance to change his socks for several days, and a lump or knot brings a blister. If the blister breaks, blood poisoning may result in the loss of a foot or even a life.  We cannot afford to lose our men through negligence or ignorance.

  3. Don’t make double heels, bad washing and sterilizing shrink them into a hard felt-like lump.

  4. Don’t finish off the toe unless you can make it smooth, free from all lumps, if you can’t let some friend finish it for you.

  5. Don’t knit bands of color into top of sock without first boiling the wool for ten minutes in salted water and rinsing thoroughly. This is to set the color and prevent blood poisoning.

  6. Do wash socks before turning them in; use good pure soap; lay socks on flat surface to dry; do not hang them up, as they are apt to stretch in length.

  7. Do not say, “I know it is not right but I guess it will pass if it is not right.” Please make it right before turning socks in.


Profiting From the War

Long Beach experienced a sudden claim to fame during World War I.  It wasn’t the Neff submarine, the production levels of local shipyards, or the success of its film studio, it was potash.  Long Beach was the potash center of the nation.   Potash, derived from kelp, had many uses.  It could be used as fertilizer.  Aluminum and silica could also be derived from it.  But more importantly it was needed to make explosives.  When hostilities broke out with Germany, the Germans had been in control of the potash industry worldwide.  Now, with the Germans out of the picture, the price of potash skyrocketed from $55 a ton before the war to $1500.

American Potash plant at Long Beach harbor

By the middle of 1917, however, most kelp-burning potash factories located in Long Beach harbor were looking to pull up stakes and move elsewhere.  The industrialists had miscalculated how fast a kelp bed would grow and had already deforested the seaweed groves in the area.  But investors had made quite a bit of money.  H. Claude Privett and Howard W. Judson, for instance, had bought a practically abandoned plant for a song, refurbished it at small expense, and in two years had cleared $100,000.

By 1919, and the end of the war, the kelp potash industry in California was virtually dead, as was much of the marine life that had called the kelp forests home.  Production was profitable when the Europeans were out of the picture, but the end of hostilities forced prices to drop and companies extracting potash from kelp (a comparatively expensive process) were forced to quit.

One industry that expanded during the war continued to grow—fish canneries.  By 1915 canned tuna had won a place as a staple food in the nation’s markets.  It was not only nourishing, but it tasted good and packed well.  The Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor area was becoming the center of the industry.  In 1910 there had been one canning plant, by July 1915 there were twelve.

Three hundred motorboats were committed to tuna fishing and it was becoming an attractive and profitable occupation.  Orange growers, bank clerks, carpenters, and men in various other occupations were trying to get into the “tuna game.”  They were lured by stories, founded on fact, of fabulous returns for their investments.  Crews of the smallest boats could run up to a take of $3300 to $7500 in the five months’ season from June 1 to November 1.  Quite a lot of money for the time.

The canneries surrounding San Pedro Bay were state-of-the art.  The Van Camp Sea Food Company, at San Pedro for example, was equipped with big conveyors which would unload five tons from a boat in five minutes.  Once in the cannery, the fish was placed into cookers  which boiled out the oil and loosened the bones.  The meat was then lifted out in big hunks and packed in salad oil and salt.

Cannery workers

The Southland’s fish industry centralized during the war to allow for maximum productivity.  A canners’ clearing house was formed which included all of the canners from San Pedro to San Diego.  The central organization controlled the fleet of tenders which gathered the catch at sea from the fishing boats.  The clearing house then distributed the catch to each of the canning factories in proportion to the capacity of the plants.  The new arrangement reduced the overhead expenses of the canners in maintaining separate fleets.

When the industry was new, tuna, or “chicken of the sea,” was the only fish canned by the various packers.  Then albacore was tried, and found delicious.  Until March 1917 tuna and albacore were the only fish used in canning, but sardines and barracuda quickly became staples in the industry.  Practically every variety of edible fish that migrated to local waters or made its permanent home in Southern California could be packed and sold by the canning industry.  Long Beach’s infamous whaling captain, J. D. Loop, even came up with a way to can and preserve whale meat.

Following the war, the fish canneries continued to grow.  In 1920 a million dollars worth of tuna and thousands of dollars worth of sardines would be shipped around the world from the San Pedro Bay harbor area.



Daily Telegram (DT) and Los Angeles Herald (LAH)


1 (LAH) – Because of the continued agitation by a faction of the church population of Long Beach, some members of the board of education of that city were said today to have indicated that they will favor abolishing the folk dancing exercises as taught in the public schools, although a referendum vote of the people last year upheld this branch of instruction.

2 (LAH)  – After killing a fifty-foot California gray whale three miles off Point Vicente, Captain John Loop appeared at Long Beach today with five tons of whale meat and ten pounds of blubber which he will put on the market. The fresh whale meat will be placed on the Los Angeles and Long Beach markets by a Long Beach packing company and will probably be sold at 15 cents a pound.

4 (DT) – A new bridge is completed: built by Street Department at Pico and State Street.

8 (DT) – A big packing plant secures site on harbor: Curtiss Olive company purchases seven acres.

19 (LAH) – A request to be paid for their services in administering the affairs of the Long Beach schools was presented to the city council today by members of the board of education. In the past they have served without pay. The members of the board of education requested that they be paid $10 a month for each meeting they attend, with a maximum of five meetings a month.


9 (DT) – “Father of Long Beach,” Jotham Bixby, dies.

14 (DT) – New residential tract opens: Bixby Heights.


28 (LAH) – Gaining the distinction of being the first “war brides,” two Long Beach girls were married to youthful members of Company H, Seventh regiment, it was revealed today. Miss Margaret E. McGinnis, 19, was married to Harry V. Oliver, 22, and Miss Mabel Hook, 17, was wedded to George Means, 18. The couples were engaged to marry and when the call to arms came they decided to hasten the weddings. Oliver and Miss McGinnis were married in Los Angeles, while Means and Miss Hook were married in Long Beach. Immediately after the weddings the brides returned to their parents’ homes while their husbands went to the Long Beach armory.


2 (DT) – Burnett Branch Library opens.

6 (DT) – War officially declared by U. S.

9 (LAH) – A big patriotic rally will be held at the Municipal Auditorium at Long Beach tonight. There will be a parade before the meeting.

14 (LAH) – Mayor Lisenby of Long Beach today appealed to Governor Stephens for authority to arm the home guard organization at the beach city. More than 200 guards have been enrolled, and arrangements have been made to supply the men with rifles. The home guards have been drilling three nights a week at the beach.

18 (LAH) – A plan to place all vacant lots in Long Beach under cultivation, with boys from the high school doing the work, was formed by the high school students today. The lot owners will receive half of the crop if they will pay for having the lot plowed and buy the seed for the students. It was stated a number of lot owners have agreed to the plan, and the school authorities will give the students credits for their garden work.

– Plans for establishment of a plant at Long Beach for the construction of swift little U-boat chasers for the United States government was announced today.

19 (DT) – ASPCA organized in Long Beach to prevent cruelty to animals.


7 (LAH) – United States Marshal C. T. Walton today urged all alien enemies who live near any plant producing munitions of war to make application to his office for a permit to live in such a locality, in accordance with the President’s proclamation concerning the activities of alien enemies. If any alien enemies do not obtain a permit from the marshal to live near such a plant they must either move from the vicinity by June 1 or be summarily arrested. This applies to alien enemies living within a half mile of the fort at the harbor and the shipyards at Long Beach.

9 (LAH) – Mayor W. T. Lisenby of Long Beach was re-elected at the primary election held in that city yesterday.

31 (DT) – Long Beach chapter of the DAR organized.


4 (DT) “Caerulea” home-made: first high school annual printed in Poly’s own shop.

5 (DT) – Registration Day. All men must register for the draft.

7 (DT) – Fish canneries are requisitioned by government.

11 (DT) – Miss Fannie Bixby, daughter of Long Beach pioneer, issues pamphlet protesting against the war.

14 (DT) – Banks announce they will be open until 10 p.m. to receive Liberty Bond subscriptions.

15 (DT) – Long Beach responded loyally to call of nation for war funds: exceeded her quota of $800,000 by subscribing $932,000.

30 (DT) – Baby parade held at the Pike.


17 (DT) – California governor Stephens visits Long Beach. He is amazed at the growth in the harbor district.

19 (LAH) – The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce today adopted resolutions asking the Board of Education in that city to postpone the opening of high school for two weeks past the regular time next fall. The directors of the Chamber of Commerce said that many of the high school students would be working harvesting fruit and that if they were called from the task ranchers would be short of labor.

20 (LAH) – In anticipation of becoming one of a chain of sites for government aviation stations along the coast, the city of Long Beach will erect hangars and repair shops on a triangular strip of harbor land, the dimensions of which are 300 by 2000 by 150 feet.


10 (DT) – Exemption Board issues second call for draft: 126 local men pass out of 203 examined.

11 (DT) – Annual picnic of Iowans brings thousands to Bixby Park.

13 (DT) – Harnessing ocean tides for commercial use: Molander Power Company has complete plant installed on pleasure pier.

15 (DT) – City Commissioners refuse use of Municipal Auditorium to those criticizing the government.

23 (DT) – Third call is made by local Exemption Board: 450 more men receive notice to report for draft physical.

27 (LAH) – An ordinance compelling fair girl bathers to wear long cloaks wrapped about them while lounging on the sand, is under consideration by the city officials of Long Beach. Girl bathers have declared that it would interfere with their personal liberty.

– Announcement was made today that the California Shipbuilding plant and the Craig Shipbuilding works, both at Long Beach, have been taken over by the federal government.

(DT) – Pretty name for the new pleasure pier: will be known as the “Silver Spray” pier.


5 (DT) – First draft recruits leave. Parade held in their honor.

7 (DT) – Aerial swing on Silver Spray Pier opens.

8 (LAH) – “Christian Pacifists,” who planned to hold meetings in Long Beach on October 1 and 2, have been informed that any attempt to hold such a meeting will be dealt with severely by the authorities. The Long Beach commissioners denied the pacifists the right to use the municipal auditorium and informed them that any attempt to hold a meeting in a private hall would be frowned on.

17 (LAH) – The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce held a sunrise session in the city bean patch today. Within a short time the Chamber will gather in its harvest and it is expected that they will get 1000 pounds of beans.

24 (DT) – Library system for soldiers and sailors: million dollar campaign begins. Long Beach expected to raise $450.


18 (DT) – Cornerstone of new St. Luke’s Episcopal Church laid.

24 (DT) – Greatest patriotic rally in history of Long Beach held in city auditorium.

27 (LAH) – Long Beach, which was asked to raise $1,440,000 for the second Liberty Loan, today passed its allotment by subscribing for $1,645,000 worth of the bonds.


1 (DT) Local aviator Frank Champion falls to his death in Japan.

      – Charter for creation of Long Beach Rotary signed.  J. J. Mottell, a mortician, first president.

3 (DT) – Parents responsible for curfew violation: will be fined or imprisoned for allowing their children on streets after 9:30 p.m.

6 (DT) – Work at the canneries remains at a standstill because of strike of local Japanese and Italian fishermen.

10 (DT) – Limits placed on sugar buying.

13 (DT) – Tuesdays designated as Conservation Days. Meat should not be eaten or sold.

14 (DT) – Long Beach workmen show their loyalty; send word to President that industries needed for war uses will have no strike troubles.

15 (DT) – Red Cross auxiliary in all film studios is plan of H. M. Horkheimer to utilize spare time of movie picture folk.

16 (DT) – Only 13 slackers in 1766 men called for draft.

24 (DT) – Long Beach Woolen Mill gets $1,000,000 contract from government.

30 (LAH) – The proposition to import 200,000 Chinese laborers for the duration of the war received the endorsement of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce today. The endorsement is subject to a guarantee that the Chinese be returned to their native land at the conclusion of hostilities.


3 (DT) – Canneries resume sardine packing: Italian and Japanese fishermen end long strike.

6 (LAH) – A police body guard was assigned to Reverend W.  E. Biederwoif, who raised a storm of protest by denouncing the Red Cross who are sending cigarettes and playing cards to American soldiers. Reverend Biederwoif, who is conducting an evangelistic campaign in Long Beach, reported that threats of personal violence had been made against him.

15 (DT) – Unpaid vacation for Municipal Band to enable Commissioners to raise pay of police and firemen.

17 (LAH) – Between 5000 and 8000 cases at fish will be shipped daily to the allied forces in Europe from Long Beach.

26 (LAH) – Unpatriotic literature “calculated to spread German propaganda” has been barred from the Long Beach Public Library. A dozen books were condemned by Miss Zaidee Brown, the librarian, and were taken from the shelves. Among the books were writings on the war by Hugo Muensterberg and Kuno Francke, the Germanistic Society of Chicago, Fritz von Frantzine and Dr. Theodor Schleman.

30 (DT) – Rainfall of 1917 is lightest in history.


* In 1921 librarians at Long Beach Public Library were responsible for gathering information from those who had fought in the war.  A questionnaire was filled out and a photo requested. The end result was a book “Long Beach in the World War” which can be found at Long Beach Public Library. However, not all the information gathered could be put in the book.  The original submissions and photos can be found in the library’s Long Beach Collection.

You will find more about Long Beach and Southern California’s participation in World War I in my book Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales.  Also check my earlier blogs for 1914, 1915 & 1916 on what Long Beach was doing for the war effort before America entered the conflict.

For additional historical information click on: More Long Beach History . You will also find links to Seal Beach and Signal Hill history by clicking on Seal Beach History  and Signal Hill History.