1940 to 1950

Population: 4,488
Area: 3.4 square miles

World War II changed life in Renton forever. Renton jumped up from a fourth class city to a second class city basically overnight. When the Boeing Company came to town in 1941 to build planes for the war effort, $4 million in federal money came with it for housing and street improvements. This money was designed to meet the demands of a four-fold population expansion. This reality created both exhilaration and problems for the townsfolk already here.

A new fire station, hospital, an increased water-storage capacity, and immense housing projects in the Highlands and Cedar River Park seemed to spring up overnight. Widespread radio use allowed people to listen to their favorite programs and keep tabs on the progress of the war.

Pacific Car and Foundry began producing the first of 900 Sherman Tanks. Boeing concentrated on B-29s, producing over 1,000 by war’s end. Renton’s African-American population increased significantly, as workers were brought in from the East and the South. To protect war industries, anti-aircraft positions sprang up, along with the troops to support them.

Unable to accommodate all of its student body at one time, Renton School District found itself operating three shifts a day. Japanese Americans living in the greater Renton area were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war. Many Rentonites feared a bombing attack so black-outs and plane spotters were instituted. Amid the rumble of tanks up Cemetery Hill at night and the roar of B-29s during the day, daily life went on. Renton’s Rotary Club organized, beginning a long period of service within the community.

A brief postwar recession gripped the city’s industries, but it proved temporary. In 1947 the City of Renton purchased the Renton Airport from the federal government for just $1, and the Highlands housing that was meant to be temporary became permanent homes for many.

In the last half of the 1940s Renton promoted itself as the “Land of Opportunity,” citing easy access to everything from snow skiing to its new “wagon wheel”-shaped Renton Hospital. Many of Renton’s “Baby Boomers” proudly proclaim that they were born at McLendon’s, which now occupies the former hospital site. The Renton War Memorial Stadium was built on the site of the old Tonelli Dairy Farm.

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