When asked to describe the traits they most admire in their mothers, sons and daughters will speak of unconditional love, self-sacrifice, and unwavering support.
One Sauk Valley mother from the past found a way to translate her support for her sons into an important innovation that helped the United States during World War II.
Her name was Vesta Stoudt.
She was born in Prophetstown in 1891, married Harry Stoudt, lived in Sterling most of her life, and died in 1966 at age 75.
During World War II, Stoudt, like hundreds of other area women, took a job at Green River Ordnance Plant near Amboy. The factory operated between 1942 and 1945. It manufactured cartridges and shells for use by the military.
As described in a story in last week’s SV Weekend, Stoudt’s job was to pack cartridges in boxes and then seal the boxes with thin paper tape. She left a tab loose on each box for soldiers in the field to pull to open it.
Trouble was, the paper tape tab would often rip off, making it harder for the boxes to be opened.
Stoudt, then in her early 50s, could imagine U.S. soldiers, perhaps under fire, scrambling to open the boxes she packed to reach the needed cartridges. That troubled her.
Likely on her mind were two of her sons, Clarence and Lowell, who served in the Navy at the time – one in the Atlantic, the other in the Pacific. Also on her mind was her youngest son, Harry Jr., who started high school in 1943. He would eventually serve a post-war stint in the Navy. Now 85, he was interviewed for SVM’s story.
Stoudt realized there had to be a better way to ensure easier access to those cartridges.
She came up with an idea. Rather than use weak paper tape, Stoudt envisioned a stronger tape that would be cloth-backed and waterproof. With that improved tape sealing the cartridge boxes, soldiers could grab the tab and rip it open the first time, every time.
Her idea was initially rejected by her supervisors at the ordnance plant, but Stoudt didn’t give up.
She decided to go all the way to the top – President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Stoudt wrote Roosevelt a letter. In it, she appealed for the government to investigate her idea for a stronger tape. She included a diagram of her idea.
And, thinking of her sons, she appealed to Roosevelt’s parental side:
“I have two sons out there somewhere, one in the Pacific, the other one with the Atlantic fleet. You have sons in the service also. We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open.”
The government took notice. Stoudt was informed that her idea had “exceptional merit” and that it had been forwarded to Johnson & Johnson, which developed and produced a thin, cotton tape believed to resemble her concept.
Stoudt later received a monthly war workers award for her “outstanding service.” According to last week’s story, some people believe her idea eventually led to the creation of duct tape.
What impresses us is how this Sauk Valley mother kept up the fight for the safety of her sons, and all soldiers, until she succeeded.
“We can’t let them down,” she wrote to FDR.
Vesta Stoudt didn’t let them down.
On this Mother’s Day, we salute her memory. Her story is an inspiration.