July 29, 1942: Breaking records for the war effort
Since its invention more than a century ago, the phonograph disc has been abused, broken, burned and demolished for a number of reasons. We remember when several people got ticked off at a statement made by John Lennon in 1966 and decided to burn Beatles records. Then there was the infamous “Disco Demolition” in 1979, when a mountain of disco records was blown up at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
A much more sensible destruction of musical recordings took place here in Pittsburgh in 1942, when two young women broke discs for the benefit of a Sun-Telegraph photographer. Published under the picture was a caption urging people to donate their cracked, broken and worn out dance records so the materials in the discs could be recycled.
During the early years of World War II, the War Production Board ordered a 70 percent cut in the production of new phonograph records. Record production consumed about 30 percent of the nation’s supply of shellac, a resin desperately needed by the armed forces. Shellac was used in the making of signal flares and explosives, and it was applied as a coating on artillery shells.
Ancient discs of out-of-date melodies like “Remember the Days Long Ago, Maggie” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning” piled up at collections points.
Newer discs containing more contemporary tunes like “Jersey Bounce,” by Benny Goodman and Kay Kyser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” were sent to military camps where they were played for the entertainment of soldiers.
Pittsburghers did their part. Women brought discs to a “War Records Dance” at the William Penn Hotel in 1942 — the price of admission was five records. Service personnel got in free. The next year, an American Legion collection post counted 25,000 donated discs.
— Steve Mellon