by Maya Bornstein

Silver Nickel from the Second World WarPhoto by Kevin Dooley |

It is a well-documented phenomenon that precious metal prices have a tendency to spike during wartime and other periods of national or international crisis. This occurs due to the perceived instability of the time. The fear of economic decline drives people to invest in commodities instead of cash, as the former maintains a generally high value, while the latter is prone to more extreme fluctuations.

Though the upturn in the price of metals during World War II can be partially attributed to this, the increased demand for copper and silver for military production is the primary culprit.

Wartime Uses of Silver

During the Second World War, silver was particularly utilized by defense manufacturers. Chief uses included:

  • Coating – this involved putting a protective internal layer called electroplated coating inside drums, pails, and cans used for storing and transporting chemicals and even other corrosive materials in some instances. Silver was found to be far more resistant to corrosion by these materials than other metals and lacquer coats.
  • Tubing – used mostly in water lines, tubing made by the extrusion process was required to be far stronger than the pure tin tubes that had been created previously. Manufacturers discovered if they infused about 3.5% silver into the tin base, the alloy’s flexible power was much more effective than any product before that point.
  • Machinery and Weaponry – thanks to the immense strength of an alloy containing silver, the precious metal was highly employed in every aspect of warfare for production of submarines, ships, trucks, guns, shells, bombs, tanks, and planes. The use of silver was noted for improving both the performance and longevity of each apparatus.
  • Coins – during the war, production of items made from nickel and aluminum was severely wounded by the intense shortage of base metals. Manufacturers began using silver to replace those substances, as silver boasted the great durability and versatility. This was particularly prevalent in the mint industry between 1942 and 1945. Because metals like nickel and copper were more sorely needed for military manufacturing, the “war nickels” of that time were made from 35% silver. In good condition, most of these silver coins are worth about $1 apiece today, with the exception of the 1943-2/p coin which, at $50 or more, has long been cherished by coin collectors.

A Key Player in the War

Thanks to its incredible properties, silver became the wartime star in the United States and Canada, so much so, removal or limitation of the silver supply would have been a fatal blow to the national defense industry. The New York Times released the calculation that 80,000,000 ounces of silver were used in 1941, representing a 95% increase over the prior year.

These days, the use of silver in war production is necessarily limited by a much smaller supply of the metal. For its significant role in World War II, however, we have much to thank the precious material for – certainly silver holds a share of the responsibility for America’s victory.