Elevator builders turned to wartime projects during World War II

Unknown, Gerald Osborn, William Osborn, Iver Salroth

Jerry Osborn (standing) with his father Bill Osborn (center) and Iver Salroth (right) in Galveston, Texas in 1945 during construction of Tillotson’s Fairmont building in Giddings.

By Kristen Cart

We have very limited information about the activities of Tillotson Construction of Omaha during World War Two. The other two elevator builders we profile, J. H. Tillotson, Contractor, and Mayer-Osborn, of Denver, Colo., began their operations after the war, but individuals working for both companies gained their experience during wartime, either at Tillotson Construction, or elsewhere.

Eugene Mayer, a partner in Mayer-Osborn Construction, previously worked in a partnership, Holmen and Mayer, based in Denver. Orrie Holmen was a University of Chicago-trained architect. Eugene’s sister Sheila was the wife of Joe Tlllotson. At some point after 1938, Joe left his brother Reginald in charge of the parent company, Tillotson Construction, of Omaha, and moved to Denver to start his own elevator business, accompanied by old Tillotson hands William Osborn and Bill Morris.

It would be fascinating to trace the wartime activities of each of these principal builders, if they can be learned.

Elevator photos026In the Tillotson company records, we found concrete elevator specifications beginning a few years before the War and resuming immediately afterward, but conspicuously absent were records of elevator construction during the War.

However, we know Tillotson Construction was active between 1942 and 1945. We found one snippet in an old newspaper, which we transcribed on the blog: https://ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com/2012/05/08/nebraska-firms-get-government-contracts/.

When we learn more about the activities of the company during that time, we will certainly write about it here. It is an open line of inquiry, and we are eagerly seeking more information.

8 comments on “Elevator builders turned to wartime projects during World War II

  1. That will be very interesting to read. Hope you find the WWII info soon.

    • kocart says:

      We hope so too. All of the people involved in those early projects, from our families, are gone now. We hope to find the wartime records they may have left behind.

  2. […] Elevator builders turned to wartime projects during World War II (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com) […]

  3. Mary Holmen says:

    Orrie Holmen was my father-in-law. I know that he was with the Army Corp of Engineers in WWII, and rarely talked about his experiences as he was behind enemy lines much of the time. I will see what further details I can dig up about his wartime experience.

    • santafekate says:

      Mary—I know you made this comment 9 years ago. But your father-in-law was a member of the Ghost Army, a World War II deception unit. I am currently working to write biographies of all of the men of the Ghost Army—looking at what they did after the war. It was a very interesting unit—and top-secret for 50 years after the war. Perhaps you have already learned about this unit in the years since 2013 but let me know if you’d like more info.

      • Mary Holmen says:

        Fascinating. I know that he was an architect in Denver in the 50’s and the 60’s, and then in Chicago. He passed away in 1984.

      • santafekate says:

        Do you know when/why he moved to Chicago? I know he was still in Denver in 1964 and that he was in Chicago by 1981. But I had no info on his life during those years.

  4. kocart says:

    Thank you for comment. The work that builders and engineers like Orrie Holmen did is very significant, but I don’t think history has paid adequate attention to their work. It sounds like your father-in-law had an incredibly vital role to play in the war, since his engineering ability was desperately needed overseas. My grandfather was a little old to go over and he stayed at home. The elevator builders did their part–even those that did not go overseas. But the guys that went over carried the greatest burdens. I am in awe of their sacrifices. I hope you had a good Veterans Day. Thanks for your contribution to this blog!

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