In 1941, as it had it 1917, the United States found itself embroiled in a world war for which it was woefully unprepared. Our armed forces lacked all manner of arms and other implements of war and were in the unenviable position of having to play catch up with the other belligerent nations who had already been at war for several years. In a surprisingly brief period of time, however, the vast industrial might of America began to get in gear, and staggering quantities of war materiel, ranging from canned rations to aircraft carriers, began flowing from our factories.
By the time of “V-J” Day in August 1945, the United States possessed the strongest and best equipped fighting force in the history of mankind. The contributions of American industry in defeating the forces of tyranny cannot be overstated.
Many firms that, prior to December 7, 1941, had never produced war materiel were soon turning out vast numbers of arms and other implements of warfare. One of the best examples of how U.S. civilian firms adapted to the production of military equipment is the M1 carbine. Adopted in late 1941, the “U.S. Carbine, Caliber .30, M1,” was made in greater numbers than any other U.S. military small arm during, or prior to, World War II.
The M1 carbine was primarily intended to be a replacement for the .45 pistol in the hands of officers and other military personnel whose primary duties often precluded the carrying of the standard service rifle. Designed by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and adopted after an exhaustive series of trials and tests, the carbine was a lightweight (about 5½ pounds) semi-automatic shoulder arm that fired a .30-cal. cartridge ballistically comparable to a .357 Mag. handgun cartridge. While significantly less powerful than the M1 Garand rifle, which fired the .30-’06 Sprg. cartridge, the carbine was more effective than the .45 pistol at all but point-blank range. Almost immediately upon its adoption, the carbine proved to be popular with the majority of users and larger numbers were manufactured and issued than originally anticipated.
In order to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable task of producing millions of carbines in a relatively brief period of time, the U.S. Army Ordnance Department sought a number of prime contractors from the civilian sector. As was the case during World War I, America’s industrial might and managerial acumen rose to the occasion. Eventually, 10 prime contractors were selected for carbine production.
Surprisingly, the only prime contractor that had manufactured firearms prior to World War II was Winchester. The other various makers were an eclectic mix of entities whose pre-war products included postal meters, automotive components, typewriters and other office machines. One of the more interesting firms to manufacture M1 carbines during World War II is the focus of this article, the Rock-Ola Mfg. Co.
The Rock-Ola Scale Co. was founded in 1927 by David C. Rockola. As the years passed, the small Chicago firm grew and began producing other products. In 1932 the name was changed to Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp. Mr. Rockola indicated that he added the hyphen as people were prone to mispronounce the name. By the 1930s, Rock-Ola was manufacturing a wide array of products including scales, parking meters, pinball machines and furniture. However, in the eyes of the public, the firm became most closely associated with coin-operated jukeboxes. Large numbers of Rock-Ola jukeboxes were in use from the mid-1930s into the 1950s and well beyond....