“The Devil’s Playground” was one of four Doc Savage stories written by Alan Hathway. This story, appearing in the January 1941 issue, played upon Hathway’s knowledge of current events and his prior experience as a newspaper editor.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression treaty named the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Nine days later, on September 1, Germany invaded Poland leading Britain and France to declare war on Germany two days later. In the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty Germany and Russia had divided up certain areas. Half of Poland was allocated to Russian with the Soviet Army invading Poland on September 16, 1939.
One of the consequences of these actions was an export restriction on certain strategic items by various countries, including the United States. One of these materials was nickel which was primarily used as an alloy in steel. The addition of nickel made steel harder and corrosion resistant.
Americans are probably most familiar with nickel through the five-cent coin. After the United States entered World War II, nickel was diverted from coin production and replaced with silver. From 1941 through 1945, the US Jefferson nickel was comprised of an alloy of copper, silver, and manganese.
“The Devil’s Playground” was published in January 1941. Nickel was one of the strategic materials often mentioned in newspaper articles during the prior year. The main concern was the exporting of nickel to neutral countries which would then be reexported to Germany or Russia. The treasure in this particular Doc Savage story is nickel which is being secretly exported in the guise of cast iron stoves.
The idea that nickel might be secretly exported to Germany was not something created for “The Devil’s Playground.”
Germany and Russia remained allies until Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
The importance of nickel as a strategic metal vital for the national defense was quickly recognized by the United States after its entry into World War II. The metal used in the common five-cent pieces was replaced with an easily recognizable special silver alloy starting in 1942. This would continue until the war ended. All nickel would go to the war effort. These coins are easily recognizable by the large mint mark that appears of Monticello on the reverse. It was the first time the “P” designation appeared on a coin issued by the United States Mint.