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P-47 Thunderbolt Factory

Thunderbolt Side One temp Thunderbolt side 2 temp

Location: Evansville Wartime Museum, 7503 Petersburg Rd., Evansville (Vanderburgh County), Indiana 47725

Installed 2023 Indiana Historical Bureau, Evansville Eastside Lions Club, Indiana Lions Foundation, Lions District 25-E Special Projects, VFW Post 1114, American Legion Kapperman Post 44NB

ID#: 82.2023.1

This marker replaced damaged marker 82.1995.1 P-47 Thunderbolt Factory.


Side One

Republic Aviation Corporation, known for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane, opened a factory near here in 1942. Allied Forces relied heavily on the P-47 in Europe and the Pacific during WWII because of its speed, durability, and versatility. The plant earned three military awards for excellence in production and received a visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Side Two

Evansville’s defense industry brought an influx of workers and significant growth to the city, transforming its economy, housing, and infrastructure. Republic’s local workforce, about half of whom were women, produced over one-third of all P-47s in WWII. Postwar, Republic closed the facility. The factory reopened in 1946 and operated as a refrigerator plant until 2010.

Annotated Text

Side One

Republic Aviation Corporation, known for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane, opened a factory near here in 1942.[1] Allied Forces relied heavily on the P-47 in Europe and the Pacific during WWII because of its speed, durability, and versatility.[2] The plant earned three military awards for excellence in production[3] and received a visit from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[4]

Side Two

Evansville’s defense industry brought an influx of workers[5] and significant growth to the city, transforming its economy,[6] housing,[7] and infrastructure.[8] Republic’s local workforce, about half of whom were women,[9] produced over one-third of all P-47s in WWII.[10] Postwar, Republic closed the facility. The factory reopened in 1946 and operated as a refrigerator plant until 2010.[11]

Note: All newspapers accessed via unless otherwise noted.

For more information on the Republic Aviation Corporation plant see the Republic Aviation News volumes accessible at the Indiana State Library. IHB staff relied heavily on these publications for the marker. Key articles are fully cited below.

[1]“New Program Here Offered to Save Jobs,” Evansville Courier, September 17, 1941, p. 1; “Our War Job,” Courier and Press, March 1, 1942, p. 8; “Plane Factory to be Rushed at Evansville,” Indianapolis News, March 23, 1942, p. 5; “City Gets New Airplane Plant: Building to Start Here Immediately,” Courier and Press, March 22, 1942, p. 1; “Ceremony to Start Work on Airplane Plant,” Courier, April 5, 1942, p. 1; “Meeting of Two Businessmen 17 Years Ago Paved Way for City to Get New Plane Plant,” Courier and Press, April 5, 1942, p. 13; “New Plane Plant Here is Dedicated to Victory: Civic Leader in Ceremonies,” Evansville Press, April 7, 1942, p. 1; “Local Republic Officials Made Vice Presidents,” Evansville Courier and Press, April 22, 1942, p. 5; “First Thunderbolt Plane Produced Here Gets Test: Crowd Cheers at Takeoff,” Evansville Press, September 19, 1942, p. 1; “Is Producing in 5 Months After Start: Evansville Labor Making the Thunderbolts at Republic,” Evansville Courier, October 25, 1942, p. 42.

Republic Aviation Corporation and the U.S. War Department chose to build the plant in Evansville due to the efforts of political leaders, including Evansville Mayor Wiliam H. Dress, and several businessmen (Namely C. Nelson Smith, vice president of the Hoosier Lamp and Stamping Corporation, Louis A. Ruthenburg, president of Serval Inc., Rufus Carnes of International Steel, and A.J. Hoffman, of the Hoffman Construction Company). The Department of Defense sought a Midwest location to avoid the vulnerability of placing a defense factory on the coastline. Republic chose Evansville due to its existing labor population, presence of manufacturing and educational infrastructure, and the city’s demonstrated organization and commitment to hosting the plant. According to the Evansville Courier, the federal government had organized a plan with the city to help “alleviate threatened industrial unemployment” by prioritizing Evansville when awarding war contracts.

The plant was located in a previous farm field immediately south of the Evansville Regional Airport. Starting April 7, 1942, construction commenced at a rapid pace and the factory was finished in August of 1942, three months ahead of schedule. However, P-47 construction was already underway before the plant was finished, with employees working in garages, rented factory space, and other facilities. Evansville’s first P-47, “The Hoosier Spirit,” flew from the plant on September 19, 1942. Read news coverage of the Hoosier Spirit at “First Thunderbolt Plane Produced Here Gets Test: Crowd Cheers at Takeoff,” Evansville Press, September 19, 1942.

[2] “Republic’s P-47 Thunderbolts Roar into War Over Europe,” Evansville Press, May 10, 1943, p. 1; “New P-47 Fighters Now in War Action,” New York Times, May 11, 1943,; “P-47 Performance is Praised by AAF Pilots,” Republic Aviation News, May 21, 1943, p. 1; “8th Air Force Lauds Thunderbolts: Superiority of P-47 Praised by Generals,” Republic Aviation News, June 25, 1943, p. 1;  “Thunderbolt Fliers Detail Victory over Focke-Wulfs,” Evansville Press, June 26, 1943, p. 1; “P-47 is Officially Rated Better than Focke-Wulf,” Evansville Press, June 27, 1943, p. 16; “P-47’s Battling Japs in the Pacific!” Republic Aviation News, September 17, 1943, p. 1; “P-47 Scores in Two Theatres,” Evansville Press, November 3, 1943, p. 5; “Pilot Praises ‘Majorie’ a P-47 which can ‘Take it,'” Republic Aviation News, April 14, 1944, p. 6; “Bigger, Faster, Tougher: Details of New Model P-47 Thunderbolt Revealed after Spectacular Combat Results,” Evansville Courier, June 2, 1944, p. 1; “P-47’s Form Two Thirds of All U.S. Fighters in War,” Republic Aviation News, June 9, 1944, p. 3; “Alexander Kartveli, P-47 Designer, Dead at 77,” New York Times, July 23, 1974,

The P-47 was the Allies’ primary fighter-bomber aircraft in World War II and flew over half a million sorties in both Europe and the Pacific. Designed by Alexander Kartveli, the plane boasted a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine, turbosupercharger system, and eight .50 caliber guns. Later designs of the P-47 also had a distinctive “bubble” canopy which offered a wider field of view for pilots. Nicknamed the “Jug” as either an abbreviation of juggernaut or because it looked like a jug of milk, the P-47 first saw combat in the Spring of 1943 and was soon considered superior to its Axis counterpart the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. It performed a variety of missions, including as a bomber escort and close air support and excelled in short or medium-range combat. Pilots repeatedly praised the plane for its “ruggedness” and ability to absorb otherwise catastrophic amounts of damage and remain airworthy.

[3] “Raiders Win Army-Navy ‘E’ I.D. [Indiana Division] Gains Highest Production Honor,” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 1; “Your Army-Navy ‘E,’” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 2; “Army, Navy Honor Raiders,” Republic Aviation News, May 26, 1944, p. 1; “Raiders Win 2nd ‘E’ Award: Achievement lauded by Marchev,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 1; “I.D. Earns 2nd Army-Navy ‘E’ for Outstanding Work,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 2; “Raiders Win 3rd Army-Navy “E’ Republic Aviation News, May 25, 1945, p. 1; “Army-Navy E Award,” Naval History and Heritage Command, September 15, 2020,

The Army-Navy “E” Award was a national military honor awarded to facilities who demonstrated “excellence in production.” According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, less than 5% of national plants eligible received this award, making it one of the highest home front honors. Plants were judged on an array of criteria, including quality and quantity of production, low rates of absenteeism, training of labor forces, and conservation of strategic materials. The Evansville plant earned three “E” awards during its operation. The first “E” was awarded on April 8th, 1944, the second November 17, 1944, and the third in May of 1945.

[4] “Camera Highlights of the President’s Visit to the Indiana Division on Tuesday, April 27,” Republic Aviation News, May 21, 1943, p. 4-5; “Roosevelt visits Evansville; Sees P-47 Dive at 500 M.P.H,” Indianapolis News, April 29, 1943, p. 1; “Evansville Aircraft Plant Receives Visit of President,” Muncie Evening Press, April 29, 1943, p. 9; “FDR’s ‘secret’ visit was no secret to many,” Evansville Press, April, 29, 1943, p. 1; “Roosevelt Visit Here Revealed,” Evansville Press, April 29, 1943, p. 1; “President’s Visit to City Described in Belated News,” Evansville Courier and Press, April 30, 1943, p. 1.

On April 27, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) visited the Evansville plant as part of a 17-day, 20-state tour of America’s defense industry. Intended to be a “secret,” visit, the trip was hardly kept from the locals who gathered at Union station for his arrival. FDR came into the station at 4:22 PM from St. Louis and, while he did not speak to the gathered crowd, his famous Scottish Terrier, Falla, appeared on the platform. FDR met Governor Henry F. Schricker and they traveled by motorcade to the plant. FDR met with plant workers, watched an air show demonstrating the P-47’s abilities, and helped present awards to distinguished workers. Before his departure, Republic Aviation presented the President with a scale model of a P-47.

[5] “Business Girls Club is dropped by the Y.W.C.A,” Evansville Press, March 10, 1942, p. 14; “Jobs for 58,000 in City by May or June,” Evansville Courier, January 20, 1943, p. 1; US Census Bureau, Indiana- Race and Hispanic Origin for Selected Cities and Other Places: Earliest Census to 1990,,populations%20shown%20in%201960%20censu.s; James Russell Harris, “Rolling Bandages and Building Thunderbolts: A Woman’s Memories of the Kentucky Home Front, 1941-1945,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 100, no. 2 (Spring 2002), p. 168; James L. MacLeod, Evansville in World War II (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015), 83-99.

Government defense contracts awarded to Evansville businesses led to a large influx of workers from neighboring states, including Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. The Evansville Press stated that Evansville officials expected an “influx of possibly 40,000 workers” to the city and The Evansville Courier notes that by January 20, 1943, industrial workers in the city jumped from 21,000 pre-war to 41,000. Additionally, comparisons of the 1940 and 1950 Census show a population increase from 97,062 to 128,636. Many workers found temporary housing in Evansville but, due to a housing shortage, others had to commute daily from almost 80 miles away. For lived experiences of a worker at Republic who was not an Evansville resident, see “Rolling Bandages and Building Thunderbolts,” an article sharing the lived experiences of Mildred F. Harris, a worker at the Republic plant from Kentucky.

[6] “Evansville Sets Example for Nation in Preparing to Train Defense Workers, Evansville Press, June 5, 1940, p. 9; “Local Mechanic Arts School Shows Nation Way to Defense,” Evansville Press, February 23, 1941, p. 56; “Republic Aviation to Offer Training,” Evansville Courier, May 15, 1942, p. 56; “Applicants Sign for Defense Course,” Evansville Press, May 19,1942, p. 9; “Mechanic Arts School has Prominent Part in War Work Training Program,” Courier and Press, July 2, 1942, p. 9; College to give Classes in War Work,” Evansville Press, September 12, 1943, p. 5; “Republic School Has Vitale Role in P-47 Production,” Republic Aviation News, October 29, 1942, p. 6; “Day War Training Classes Planned,” Evansville Courier, October 15, 1943, p. 21; “College Offers Day Industrial Classes,” Evansville Press, October 15, 1943, p. 4; “College will Stress Aviation,” Evansville Courier, November 3, 1944, p. 1; “War Plants Make Equipment Gifts,” Evansville Courier, February 21, 1946; James Lachlan MacLeod, Evansville in World War II (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015); David E. Bigham, “The Evansville Economy,” Traces of Indiana And Midwestern History 3, no. 4 (Fall 1991), 26-29; Hugh M. Ayer, “Hoosier Labor in the Second World War,” Indiana Magazine of History 59, no. 2 (June 1963), 95-120.

By the conclusion of World War II, nearly 50 different Evansville companies had received over $580 million in war defense contracts. Beyond Republic Aviation, companies performing war work in Evansville included Sunbeam, Chrysler, Serval Inc., and the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Co. Shipyard which produced landing ship tanks (LSTs). Companies recruited directly from the Evansville population and from Illinois and Kentucky.

In addition to the influx of wartime dollars and employees, Evansville employees also had access to a variety of educational opportunities. Evansville College (now the University of Evansville) partnered with Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Education to offer tuition-free classes in engineering, science, mathematics, aircraft drafting, and other industrial skills. Republic Aviation played a key role in these classes, often providing the faculty and expertise to teach them. Notably, women were especially encouraged to enroll. In addition to supporting the night classes, Republic Aviation offered in-house classes for war workers focused on specific skills for building P-47s like riveting, reading blueprints, and more. For high-schoolers, the Mechanic Arts School offered a robust War Work Training Program to prepare students for industrial, defense-related jobs upon graduation. The Mechanic Arts School also offered night classes to adults seeking a defense job and, by 1940, offered 1,200-night classes including chemistry, painting, electrical maintenance, metal finishing, and more. Many workers continued to utilize their manufacturing skills post-war and found similar industrial jobs as the country transitioned to a peacetime economy.

[7] “Plan 300-Unit Home Program,” Evansville Press, May 6, 1942, p. 1; Advertisement for Room and Board, Evansville Courier, June 28,1942, p. 18; “Architects’ Drawing of First Local Housing Project,” Evansville Press, February 14, 1943, p. 3; “Maley Home First in City Converted for War Workers,” Evansville Press, March 26, 1943, p. 1; “$200,000 Henderson FHA Units to Provide 40-50 Residences,” Evansville Courier, April 8, 1943, p. 12; “War Housing Will be Moved,” Evansville Press, July 21, 1945, p. 1; “Worn-Out Tires Bringing Climax in Housing Here,” Evansville Courier, November 27, 1943, p. 1; “U.S. Housing to be Liquidated,” Evansville Press, August 16, 1945, p. 1.

The influx of workers put an incredible strain on the city’s housing supply. In response, the Federal Housing Authority financed several housing projects and apartments to ease demand. Trailer parks with mobile homes also formed to accommodate war workers. Still unable to fully meet the immense pressures of the housing crisis, many employees were forced to either board with a local family or commute up to 80 miles a day across state lines to the factory. For a more in-depth overview of the housing crisis and Evansville’s response, see MacLeod, Evansville in WWII, 83-99.

[8] “City Bus Changes Loom Due to War Plants; Extra Service to Morganfield,” Courier and Press, March 29, 1942, p. 1; “Airport Building Project Revived,” Courier and Press, March 31, 1942, p. 1; “Airport to get Tower for Radio Plane Control,” Evansville Courier, May 1, 1942, p. 1; “Sewer Project to Cost $14,570,” Evansville Courier, June 10, 1942, p. 16.

In addition to the building of new industrial plants, many of which were bought by companies and transitioned to private factories post-war, Evansville also bolstered their local infrastructure to accommodate the new wartime industry and workers. Changes included building new housing, laying down new utility lines for the factories, increasing public transportation, and improving the Evansville Regional Airport to accommodate the increased traffic.

[9] “Women Meet Test,” Evansville Courier and Press, October 25, 1942, p. 42; “Two-Job War Worker,” Muncie Evening Press, November 5, 1942, 13, p. 13; “War will Open 13,000 More Jobs here for Women,” Evansville Courier, September 4, 1942, p. 1-3; “Bill to Legalize Night Shift for Indiana Women Argued,” Evansville Courier, January 20, 1943, p. 1; Velma Bettag, “My Day,” Republic Aviation News, January 29, 1943, p. 4; “Diary of a Riveter,” Republic Aviation New, February 12, 1943, p. 3; Ad for Republic Aviation Jumper Slacks, Republic Aviation News, March 26, 1943, p. 4; “War Mothers Organized at Republic Plant,” Republic Aviation News, April 29, 1943, p. 20; “Meet Madge Reising, A Gal Who Really ‘Goes to Town,’” Republic Aviation News, July 23, 1943, p. 6; “First Woman Restricted Radio Operator in this Regions is Republic’s Naomi Johnson, Republic Aviation News, September 3, 1943, p. 3; “First Woman Ever to Fly a Thunderbolt is One of Two Girls Landing Here in P-47’s,” Republic Aviation News, October 15, 1943, p. 6; Republic Aviation ad for workers, Evansville Press, November 11, 1943, p. 32; “New Plan for Child Care Offered,” Republic Aviation News, November 26, 1943, p. 3; Republic Aviation “Help Wanted-Women” ad, Evansville Press, January 13, 1944, p. 27; “WASPs Assigned to Ferry Thunderbolts from ID,” Republic Aviation News, September 1, 1944, p. 3; James Russell Harris, “Rolling Bandages and Building Thunderbolts: A Woman’s Memories of the Kentucky Home Front, 1941-45,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 100, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 183.

Women made up almost half of the workers at the Evansville plant and referred to themselves as “Raiderettes.” They were educated in the same training courses as men, and many held managerial or supervisory positions. Common jobs included office work, assembly line production, plane inspection, and writing for the company newspaper. Some women even trained and learned to fly the P-47s and transport the planes from Republic to military bases as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Women-centered social clubs, committees, sports leagues, and more were active at Republic Aviation and made key contributions to the company culture. After the plant’s war contracts ended, women disproportionately lost their positions compared to men.

[10] Alfred Marchev, “A Message from Republic Aviation Corporation to Our Thousands of Loyal Friends,” letter published in Evansville Courier, February 1, 1946, p. 6; Jamie Martorana, “Remembering Old Times at Republic,” Newsday, November 11, 2000, p. 24; David Kindy, “Why the P-47 Thunderbolt, a World War II Beast of the Airways, Ruled the Skies,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 24, 2020,

The Evansville plant produced approximately 6,242 of the 15,683 P-47’s manufactured during the war; the other planes being produced in the original plant at Farmingdale, New York.

[11] “5 Plants Hit by Cancellations,” Evansville Press, August 15, 1945, p. 1; “Cancellations Take 10,650 Off Pay Rolls,” Evansville Courier, August 16, 1945, p. 1; “Leftover P-47s are Being Finished Up,” Evansville Press, August 20, 1945, p. 3; “Good Luck Republic,” Evansville Press, August 22, 1945, p. 8; “All Production at Republic Plant Comes to End,” Evansville Courier, August 22, 1945, p. 4; “Local Plants Listed for Sale by U.S.,” Evansville Press, August 23, 1945, p. 4; “Last P-47 Leaves Evansville Port,” Evansville Press, September 27, 1945, p. 6; “International Harvester Buys Republic Plant Here,” Evansville Press, January 5, 1946, p. 1; “Harvester Plant Jobs Hits 3000,” Evansville Press, August 14, 2023, p. 1; “Dallas Russell Obituary,” Evansville Press, January 16, 1990, p. 15; “Irvin H. Deken Obituary,” Evansville Press, August 18, 1975, p. 19; “Whirlpool will close Evansville plant,” Courier & Press, August 28, 2010,; Brook Endale, “P-47 Thunderbolt could be official state aircraft,” Evansville Courier and Press, January 14, 2021, p. A3.

January 4th, 1946, local newspapers reported that International Harvester would buy the plant for a bid of $5,648,000 and would use the plant to make refrigerators, milk coolers, and freezers, hiring approximately 3,500 workers. Many Republic Aviation plant workers returned to the plant to work for International Harvester. Numerous obituaries of Evansville residents show workers having been employed at both Republic Aviation and later International Harvester. In 1955, Whirlpool LLC bought International Harvester and the plant continued manufacturing refrigerators under the Whirlpool brand, operating until the plant’s closure in 2010. The presence of both International Harvester and Whirlpool played a major role in the development of Evansville’s reputation as the “Refrigerator Capital of the World.” To commemorate Evansville’s contribution to building the P-47, in 2021 Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill naming the Hoosier Spirit II, a refurbished P-47 located in Evansville, as the official state aircraft.


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