Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II

In 1940, with German U-boats blockading all commerce across the Atlantic Ocean, a fireball at the Crown Cork and Seal factory lit the sky over Baltimore. The newspapers said that you could see its glow from Philadelphia. Rumors of Nazi sabotage led to an FBI investigation and pulled an entire industry into the national security web as America stood on the brink of war.

Cork Wars traces this fascinating story through the lives of three men and their families, who were all drawn into this dangerous intersection of enterprise and espionage. At the heart of this tale is self-made mogul Charles McManus, son of Irish immigrants, who grew up on Baltimore’s rough streets. McManus ran Crown Cork and Seal, a company that manufactured everything from bottle caps to oil-tight gaskets for fighter planes. Frank DiCara, a teenager growing up near the factory, would soon have to support his family with a wartime factory job. Meanwhile, Melchor Marsa, Catalan by birth, managed Crown Cork and Seal’s plants in Spain and Portugal—and was perfectly placed to be recruited as a spy.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with surviving family members, personal collections, and recently declassified government records, the book weaves this by turns beautiful, dark, and outrageous narrative with the drama of a thriller. From the factory floor to the corner office, Cork Wars traces shifts in our ideas of modernity, the environment, and the materials and norms of American life. World War II buffs—and anyone interested in a good yarn—will be gripped by this bold and frightening tale of a forgotten episode of American history.

Independent Publisher Book Award winner for world history!


Praise for ‘Cork Wars: Intrigue and Industry in World War II

“An absorbing and illuminating read. Taylor’s prose pulls the reader in from the first and never lets go.”
Maury Klein, author of A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II

“Impressive … reads like a thriller … particularly timely as we step lightly though portents of possible similar corruption and conspiracy. Brilliant writing!”
Grady Harp, in San Francisco Review of Books

“Taylor gives a vivid slice of life from that time that speaks to ours. A landmark achievement!”
Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America

“Immigrants, spies, and businessmen populate David Taylor’s fascinating history of the important role that cork played in World War II. Next time you hold a wine cork in your hand, it’ll be hard not to think of a Baltimore factory and a story stretching from Maryland and California to Portugal and Morocco.”

Meredith Hindley, author of Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II

“This well-researched, well-told story takes readers into a world of espionage, industrial ingenuity, and American resilience. A compelling history with surprising breadth.”
Robert Whitaker, author of The Mapmaker’s Wife: A True Tale Of Love, Murder, And Survival In The Amazon

“Richly researched history, delivered with a novelist’s heart.”
Mark Athitakis, author of The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt

“Drawing upon deep research and deft storytelling, David A. Taylor builds a compelling narrative. Cork Wars captures the drama of three families whose lives are bound up with a precious forest product—and the urgency of war.”

Mary Otto, author of Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America

“An exciting true narrative of spies, intrigue, submarine warfare, soldiers, sailors, tree farmers, and assembly line workers, all caught up in history and skillfully shown in their individuality. Cork Wars is a tale you won’t want to miss.”
Bernard A. Weisberger, editor of The WPA Guide to America: The Best of 1930s America As Seen by the Federal Writers Project

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True Stories Behind ‘Cork Wars’

Frank DiCara’s story of growing up in Baltimore when Italian-Americans came under suspicion as the U.S. entered World War II:

Melchor Marsa’s story of taking his family to work in Spain and Portugal for business during some of the most turbulent years in the twentieth century:

When Cork Was Modern

Lessons in Chess and Business tells how a young academic accepted a challenge at chess on a ship and got more than he bargained for: an entry into international commerce for a future U.S. Treasury Secretary


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