When the United States first began inducting young men into the armed forces during World War II, almost thirty percent were rejected as physically unfit. To help alleviate this, the New York State War Council formed the Office of Physical Fitness, which, in conjunction with the State Education Department's Division of Health and Physical Education, developed, coordinated, and assisted the State Physical Fitness Program. Initially the office worked to promote and assist physical education activities among secondary school children. Almost immediately the program's scope widened to include all school-age children, registrants for the armed forces, war industry workers, and civil defense volunteers.
Directed by Dr. Hiram A. Jones and with a small field staff, the program sought to encourage the development of motor skills, strength, stamina, courage, and morale through organized sports and exercise regimens. By improving people's health, the office hoped to produce better soldiers and improve the efficiency of workers in the defense industry by reducing sick time. While public school facilities were primarily used for programs, other institutions employed included religious organizations, parochial schools, industrial plants, and municipal and state parks. In addition to organizing activities, the office also educated people on physical fitness through pamphlets and movies and promoted regular medical, dental, and eye examinations. Over five million people were served by the program during the war.
In August 1945, with the war's end and Dr. Jones's death in an auto accident, the program was suspended. In December, its activities within public schools and the distribution of its pamphlets were resumed. In March 1946, the office was absorbed into the State Education Department's Division of Health and Physical Education.