During the 1940s, Daytona Beach was not immune to the impact of the Second World War. When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, the area’s men were drafted and its women went to work, rationing and blackouts became law, stock car racing halted, and tourism in Volusia County came to an abrupt end. During the war, the Navy even took control over the Daytona Beach airport and Halifax Hospital was commissioned to treat injured service members.
In response to the wartime slump of Daytona’s tourist economy, city leaders turned to Mary McCloud Bethune, president and founder of Bethune-Cookman College, who called First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and recruited a Women’s Army Corps Service (WACS), later Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), training facility for Daytona Beach. Between 1942 and 1944, some 22,000 women received training in Daytona Beach, which generated a reported $5 per month in revenue for the city.
The Chamber likewise did its part to keep the tourist economy moving during the war, running ads promoting Daytona Beach as a vacation destination for civilian workers: “Like a soldier YOU need a civilian furlough.”
WWII, however, also represented a turning point in Florida’s growth. After the war, Florida witnessed an industrial boom, and many service members and their families made Florida their home.
Following WWII, Daytona found itself to be the site of one of the most historic moments in American sports: Jackie Robinson’s professional debut. In 1945, Jackie Robinson signed with the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top farm club. On March 17, 1946, Robinson took to the field at Daytona’s own City Island Ballpark, playing in his first pro game, and the first integrated game of baseball that the majors had seen. In 1989, the city memorialized this milestone by changing the name of the Ballpark to Jackie Robinson Ballpark, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
The post-war boom in Florida saw the relocation of a business, and a Chamber member, that has since become a Daytona Beach staple: Tom Cook Jeweler. Established in Georgia in 1892, Tom Cook Jeweler moved its operation to Daytona Beach in 1947, opening its Beach Street location.
In 1947, Bill France organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel with other influential racers and promoter to discuss the future of stock car racing. Big Bill believed that, in order to grow, the sport needed regulation—standardized rules, schedules, a championship. Thus, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was born. In 1948, the first official NASCAR race was held on the beach in Daytona.
“WAACs learn how to use rescue floats, Daytona Beach, 1942” Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
“Naval Air Station Daytona Beach, 1944” Photo courtesy of United States National Archives
“Oil/gasoline and savings bond stamps, 1943” Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/12024
“City Island Ball Park, 1946” Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/153612