• AWCI Centennial - 1940s

    The 1940s: Dormancy and Revival

    Decade Sponsored by:

AWCI's Centennial: The 1940s

“We have been endeavoring to whip this association back into shape.”
— Edmond F. Venzie, CPIA President


Japan attacked the United States, Harry S. Truman, a Democrat, became president, and the United States dropped an atomic bomb. U.S. unemployment dropped to 1.9 percent by 1943, and the United States enjoyed a postwar nationwide buying spree.


Manufacturers, including those that made wallboard, saw more of their production going to war uses. Gypsum board manufacturers boosted production during the 1940s.

To keep pace with demand, the government also subsidized prefabricated housing.

CPIA held its 23rd Annual Convention in1940 in Pittsburgh and 24th in 1941 in Buffalo. Official conventions stopped due to the war until 1947.

CPIA held its 23rd Annual Convention in1940 in Pittsburgh and 24th in 1941 in Buffalo. Official conventions stopped due to the war until 1947.

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The Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947 curbed labor strikes and banned the forming of more closed shops. Many construction sectors saw a decline in skilled labor. Some markets had six plastering jobs for every plasterer.

To address the labor shortage, contractors started using mechanical plastering tools. Contractors also started to use “stapling machines” to save time, AWCI’s Construction Dimensions says. The tools could attach metal lath corner reinforcement, for example, faster than conventional fastener applications.

AWCI Centennial Book

The Contracting Plasterers’ International Association faced big tests during the 1940s. Yet, derring-do and a smart focus on growing its membership got the association back on its feet. It was thriving by 1949. So was construction. Fast-track building techniques came into the mainstream. Gypsum manufacturers put their board products on the map. The stage was set for a showdown between plaster and wallboard. The changing needs of America would continue to impact construction in the decade to come.

View this decade’s complete content in the Centennial Book’s digital edition.

The approaches to construction were changing. Plaster covered 90 to 95 percent of all residential interiors in the early 1920s. By the mid 1940s, plaster’s share had dropped to 60 to 65 percent of home interiors.

AWCI: Action

In 1941, CPIA formed a national industry promotion committee. The committee included CPIA, the Metal Lath Association, the Gypsum Association, the Portland Cement Association, the Operative Plasterers, the Wood, Wire and the Metal Lathers and Finishing Lime Association of Ohio.

On Aug. 1, 1945, CPIA helped to form the National Foundation for Lathing and Plastering, Inc. The National Foundation was a three-way partnership—plastering’s answer to the advertising of substitutes.

Mercantile National Bank Building in Dallas

In 1942, A.A. Greer Inc. worked on the Mercantile National Bank Building in Dallas. The project featured fireproofing using lath, plaster and lightweight aggregate.

What did the National Foundation accomplish? It took a booth at the 1947 National Builder’s Show and gained exposure to 6,000 to 8,000 architects. It printed “Handbook of Recommended Specifications for Lathing, Furring and and Plastering” in 1949, and distributed it to architects.

The loss in death of Oscar A. Reum in 1945 and Eddie McDonnell in 1946 created a void in energy and leadership. The association came to life after some telephone calls in 1945 led to John H. Hampshire being elected CPIA president. A Cleveland convention in November 1947 saw a jump in participation—65 members attended that year.

In 1947, CPIA had about $8,000 in the bank. It had only 135 members and had experienced a setback. So, the association proposed raising dues to $100 a year with a $25 initiation fee for new members.

The 1947 CPIA membership generated about $13,500 in revenue from dues. New members’ fees totaled around $20,000. Would $33,500 be enough to fund growth? No, but 1947 convention attendees were optimistic.

By 1949, CPIA’s bank balance totaled $6,160, but it had spent about $25,000 beyond normal operating expenses to pay for an “organizer” to recruit members. Estimates put CPIA membership—135 in 1947—at about 500 by the close of the decade.

In September 1947, The Plastering Craft merged with Plastering Industries, an independent publication. Plastering Industries became the official publication of CPIA. Journeymen lathers, plasterers and hod carriers throughout the United States and Canada read it.

CPIA wanted to be sure that proper rules governed plaster repair work. So in 1949, the association issued a “Plaster Patching Clause” to the National Joint Cooperative Committee, a group of architects and general contractors. The association helped to settle at least 79 jurisdictional requests on behalf of its members.

Also in 1949, the National Apprentice Committee invited CPIA to appoint three members to the National Plastering Apprentice Committee. CPIA would work with union plasterers in setting up rules to govern apprentices. The National Plastering Apprentice Committee would file its rules with the Department of Labor to serve as a national guide for industry training.

CPIA’s executive board sought ways to halt “the ever increasing inroads being made by so-called Dry-Wall construction over lath and plaster,” stated minutes from a 1949 board meeting. CPIA’s board called for local chapters to launch “campaigns against Dry-Wall” throughout the United States and Canada.

The 1940s skilled worker shortage was extensive, and CPIA’s executive board accepted the invitation to join the National Apprentice Committee as a means to help rectify the shortage of plasterers.

AWCI: People

Long-standing president, Oscar A. Reum, died at the age of 78 in 1945. He had served as CPIA president for 26 years.

Reum was a forward thinker. American Builder says Reum was the third stockholder in the Celotex Corp., a British wallboard manufacturer. In fact, he shared in Celotex’s founding 20 years prior—when he was speaking against wallboard substitutes.

Eddie McDonnell was the association’s secretary and editor of its official magazine, The Plastering Craft. He died in 1946 after a brief illness. Faced with the loss of its editor, CPIA suspended The Plastering Craft.

And, a new generation was showing initiative.

John H. Hampshire. John H. Hampshire of Baltimore became CPIA president after Reum’s death. Hampshire’s efforts helped to revive CPIA after the war.

Edmond F. Venzie of The Venzie Corporation in Philadelphia served as CPIA president from 1946 to 1953. He infused $200,000 of personal funds into the association for “nursing the group back to life,” AWCI’s Construction Dimensions reported.

The energetic Edmond F. Venzie of Philadelphia became CPIA president in December 1946, serving in that office until 1953.

The energetic Edmond F. Venzie of Philadelphia became CPIA president in December 1946, serving in that office until 1953.

Al Beever of Detroit became secretary-treasurer after McDonnell’s death. Beever’s attention to detail helped turn around the association’s finances.

Joe D. McNulty of Chicago was first vice president. While we don’t know the sum, McNulty contributed a generous amount to keep the National Foundation for Lathing and Plastering afloat when it had only $315 in its bank account.

Johnny Boyle of Boston was second vice president. Boyle was especially helpful in expanding the association’s definition of contractors who could join as members. CPIA membership grew from 135 in 1947 to about 500 by 1950.

Third Vice President Terry Blazier of East St. Louis served on the association’s Resolutions Committee. He saw value in growing the association’s advertising revenue stream.

The 1947 CPIA convention changed Article 13 of the association’s bylaws to create an executive board of seven members instead of four. John H. Hampshire of Baltimore and William Goss of Chicago joined the board for one-year terms. Vic Shonka of Pittsburgh, Charlie Bonnell of Cleveland and Harry Niehaus of St. Louis carried two-year terms.