Questions, Anyone?

Besser Co. in WWII

Q. Reader Steve Westrope asks, “What did Besser Company manufacture in World War II?”

A. Historian Bob Haltiner, in his book “The Town That Went To War”, described the war efforts of several Alpena manufacturing plants in WWII, including Besser Company. He wrote, “Within a few weeks from our entry into World War II, Alpena plants and factories were already converting to wartime production … Before the entry of the United States into World War II, the Besser Manufacturing Company already was prepared for war production. The majority of space at the company was for the production of Navy gun parts … the first war item made by the Besser Company. The manufacture of 3″ naval guns was a major part of the Besser Company operations from 1941 until the war ended. 3″/50 calibre, anti-aircraft guns, gasoline driven winches used on landing crafts, 90mm tank guns, steam deck winches and electric cargo winches all were part of the Besser Company’s wartime production.”

On March 16, 1945, Besser was awarded a $2,000,000 Long Range Gun contract “for the manufacture of 90mm guns for the army. The 90mm gun is a high powered gun with extremely long range and excellent armor piercing ability. It is mounted on a m-36 medium tank.”

“HOLDING THE HOME FRONT” was the headline on a Besser Manufacturing Company ad. It listed three areas, with the following descriptions.


Since June 1941 BESSER has been turning out Naval Ordnance material in ever increasing volume. At present 300 men are employed. Pre-war employees at peak were 100.


Concrete Block Machines have been furnished when needed to produce material for war building construction. Our government urges that concrete blocks be used to save critical lumber whenever possible.


Bulls Eye Flag has been awarded by U.S. Treasury Department for 10% of payroll contributed to the purchase of war bonds.”

A picture caption in “The Town That Went To War” states that on Oct. 9, 1945, the Army-Navy “E” flag award presentation program took place at the Besser Manufacturing Company. “The management and employees of the company were presented with the Army-Navy “E” Award by Commander H.S. Dilcher, Inspector of Naval Material, as an expression of appreciation by the military for a job well done. Commander Dilcher stated that the Besser Company was among the 5% of the industries in the U.S. engaged in war work that had been given the prestigious E Award. A telegram from the Secretary of Navy, James Forrestal, war received in conjunction with the award.”

Shoes on trees

Q. The “unanswered question” about shoe trees in the Oct. 19 Q&A column has had an unusual number of responses. Here are two more comments.

A. Reader Penny Pelleran writes that years and years ago her in-laws explained that the shoe tree on M-32 (near Atlanta) represented retirement, “retirement symbolism.” When someone retired, they would throw their work shoes into the tree since they wouldn’t need them anymore.

Reader Mary Bray, former Alpena News reporter, sent a slightly different explanation. She wrote, “Years ago I interviewed the family on M-32 west of Alpena where the shoe tree stands. If I remember correctly, the family owned a landscaping business in southern Michigan. One year at the end of fall, someone in the family brought his work boots up to the Atlanta property and threw them in the tree as a symbol that his work was done for the year. Other family members followed suit, and it became a yearly tradition. Of course, it also attracted other people who threw all kinds of shoes into the tree for no apparent reason.”

Please send questions and comments to or to “Questions, Anyone?” The Alpena News, 130 Park Place, Alpena, MI 49707.