Disruptions to established trade routes during the early years of World War II left America in short supply of such materials as rubber and gasoline, and coordinated efforts to conserve these items were begun in 1941. As the fighting escalated, and with America's entry into the war, the demand increased for items that would be used specifically for the war effort, such as metals, rags, paper, and waste fat. Cut off from usual suppliers, it became clear that the country would have to reclaim the needed materials from used items.
Detailed plans for a national salvage effort were developed in Washington by the Chief of the General Salvage Section, Bureau of Industrial Conservation, Office of Production Management, and were issued on November 29, 1941, just prior to America's entry into the war. The governors of every state were asked to appoint state salvage committees which would operate as divisions of the state defense councils (later the state war councils). Each governor appointed a voluntary chairman for the committee who in turn selected an executive secretary to administer operations at the state level. Once cleared by Washington, the executive secretary was placed on the Bureau of Industrial Conservation payroll, and therefore occupied a dual role as both federal employee and state committee official. The state committees were federally funded.
In January of 1942 the Office of Production Management was subsumed into the newly created War Production Board. The country was divided into thirteen regions, each presided over by a Regional Director and a Regional Salvage Manager of the War Production Board, and these offices functioned as liaisons between the state salvage committees and Washington.
On December 19, 1941 New York State Governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed a committee, chaired by R. Murray Willard, to oversee salvage operations in the State. The committee appointed William Arnoldy as executive secretary, and the following month he traveled to Washington and became the first of the state executive secretaries to be sworn in. The committee operated out of Albany as the Salvage Division of the War Production Board; the War Production Board's regional offices were located in New York City. Salvage efforts at the local level were coordinated by voluntary committees which were appointed by the city and county defense councils. By 1945 paid field representatives of the Salvage Division--each usually having jurisdiction over nine counties--supervised the activities of the volunteer committees and the cooperating businesses and organizations.
Coordinating a salvage campaign which operated at the national, State, and local level was a major undertaking. Volunteer groups (such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), schools, and religious institutions had to be instructed as to what materials were needed and why; regional directors and committee members needed to be kept informed in order to answer questions and develop policy; and, since waste materials like scrap metal, waste paper, and fat were purchased by dealers before being sent on for further processing, the operations of the businesses carrying out those procedures needed to be monitored. Instructive and directive releases sent from Washington kept State leaders apprised of specific salvage needs, nationwide initiatives, quotas, and collection figures. Local committees were kept informed by releases issued at the State level but were free to establish policies as they saw fit since they received no directives from the State. Promotional material was distributed in the same way. Pamphlets, posters, radio scripts, and mats for newspaper and magazine use, designed to demonstrate the needs and methods of the salvage campaign and to persuade the public to cooperate in the effort, were channelled from Washington to the State and, finally, to the local level.
The end of the war in the summer of 1945 meant the end of the need for salvaged materials. The New York State Salvage Division office ceased operations on September 30, 1945, and national efforts were officially discontinued on October 31, 1945.