Chicago Goes to War, 1941-1945 (exhibition)

1992–93 exhibition at the Chicago Historical Society on the impact of World War II on Chicago. Among the topics covered in the exhibition is the resettlement in the Chicago area of Japanese Americans from wartime concentration camps. It was one of several major local exhibitions that appeared around the 50th anniversary of World War II and that included aspects of the local Japanese American story.

Curated by University of Illinois, Chicago Historian Perry Duis and Chicago Historical Society Curator Scott La France, Chicago Goes to War filled two large galleries encompassing 6,300 square feet and included nearly 1,000 artifacts, along with seven video productions and oral history stations, and an accompanying catalog titled We've Got a Job to Do: Chicagoans and World War II .

The exhibition was divided into four main sections, along with a brief introductory section that used a map on the floor to tie Chicago to world events and noted the debate over U.S. isolationism and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The first section, titled "The Domestic War," looked at the way daily life in Chicago changed during the war, through the recreation of a "typical" house. Pictures and letters from overseas servicemen lined the walls, and the kitchen illustrated the impact of food rationing and victory gardens; visitors could open drawers to see additional photographs, wartime toys and games, and loose period magazines. "The Neighborhood War" took a broader look at war's impact outside the home and was highlighted by a 1942 Hudson—among the last passenger cars before wartime restrictions kicked in—used to illustrate blackout modifications. The section also included the work of civil defense organizations and various community groups and included the experience of African Americans and Japanese Americans through objects (including the first issue of the Chicago Shimpo ) and a video titled "Two Wars to Win." "The Production War" section looked at Chicago's role in manufacturing war goods and included B-29 bomber engines and many other locally produced items. The impact of military personnel and programs in the city was noted in the final section, "Liberty Town."

In the lone academic review, Valerie A. Metzler wrote in The Public Historian that the exhibition "... depicts superbly how Chicagoans met the challenges that war brought to its households, neighborhoods, and businesses." [1]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Lewis, Russell. "Chicago Goes to War." USA Today Magazine (July 1993): 50. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.

Metzler, Valerie A. "Review of Chicago Goes to War, 1941–1945 . The Public Historian 15.3 (Summer 1993): 98–100.

Overmyer, Deborah A., and Geoffrey J. Giglierano. "American Museums and Executive Order 9066: Who Has Told the Story, The Story That Was Told." In Alien Justice: Wartime Internment in Australia and North America . Edited by Kay Saunders and Roger Daniels. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000. 234–54.


  1. Valerie A. Metzler, "Review of Chicago Goes to War, 1941–1945 ," The Public Historian 15.3 (Summer 1993), 99.

Last updated Dec. 14, 2023, 5:22 p.m..