Think what Detroit meant in 1945 and what it represents today.
Once the very symbol of American prosperity and the American Dream, Detroit has run out of gas.
For decades the Motor City was the greatest manufacturing city in the world, unmatched in industrial strength, no more so than during WWII.
Detroit was the place that America once knew as the Arsenal of Democracy. “Like England battles were won on the playing fields of Eton,” Walter Reuther of the UAW famously said, “American’s were won on the assembly lines of Detroit.”
Obama bailed out the auto industry four years ago, reviving a once flourishing industry, but there was a time when the Detroit Auto Industry basically bailed out the US Government.
During WWII Detroit was at the center of the greatest concentration of applied science and technology the world had ever seen. Factories broke every previous production record and poured forth a flood of goods, unleashing American productive and technological genius.
The wartime transformation of Michigan’s automotive industry and its massive contributions to winning the war are well worth remembering.
Arsenal of Democracy
A year before America entered the war, while Hitler ominously goosestepped across Europe, President Roosevelt challenged the nation to become the worlds “arsenal of democracy.” In a speech delivered at the end of 1940, FDR made a “call to arm and support” the Allied Powers, imploring Americans to stand up as the arsenal of democracy as though it were their own war.
As American industry rushed to respond, GM, Chrysler, Ford and others rose to the occasion in a big way, producing both “guns and butter” until out of the blue came December 7, 1941 and the industry shifted to all out war supplier.
After Pearl Harbor what had been defense production became war production as the car manufacturers turned entirely to the manufacturing of military trucks, planes, engines, weapons, and ammunition.
Torpedoes Before And After
Oldsmobile Volume Producer of Fire Power for USA
“Ever since a year ago last March (1941) Oldsmobile has been a leading mass production arsenal for the USA,” we are proudly informed in this 1942 ad from Oldsmobile .
The copy goes on to explain, “Long before Pearl Harbor, months before the nation went on a full-time war basis, Oldsmobile men and machines were pouring out “Fire Power “ in volume.”
“Thousand upon thousand deadly automatic cannon for Americas fighter planes! Millions of high-caliber shell for the field artillery and for tanks! Today Oldsmobile offensive is getting results. Oldsmobile “Fire Power is dealing powerful blows to the enemy.”
“Oldsmobile’s on the Offensive! –with a vast non stop production drive that has already speeded thousands of cannon and millions of shell to our armed forces everywhere.”
“Keep ‘em fighting” is Oldsmobile’s biggest job in 44 years! Keep em fighting will be the war cry- and the determination- of every Oldsmobile worker until the war is won.”
Pay-off for Pearl Harbor
“Three years ago the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor found America unprepared to defend its rights.” begins this 1944 ad from Cadillac.
“Yet even at that early date,” the copy explains, “Cadillac was in its third year of building aircraft engines for military use. The Allison engine is used to power such potent fighters as the Lightning, the Warhawk, the Mustang, the Aircobra and the new Kingcobra.”
“In addition to our work on the Allison which has included more than 57,000,000 man hours of precision production we assisted Army Ordinance engineers in designing the M-5 Light tank and the M-8 Howitzer.”
“We are building other weapons which utilize some of Cadillacs peacetime products. We can’t talk about all of them yet- but we are confident they will prove significant addition to Allied armor.”
A Crushing Superiority
In a speech to Congress in January 1942, FDR called for “a crushing superiority of equipment” setting a staggering production goal for America. Civilian production was soon halted and manufacturers converted to war production.
A month later, the last big shiny American cars rolled off the assembly lines, and car loving Americans would have to make do with their pre-war models for the duration.
What were once busy factories, bloomed into enormous plants that made parts for planes, cars, ships and tanks,
Vital To Victory
Ol’ Tojo, may have thought he hit us below the belt, gloating that: “American’s exercise of freedom to choose” had made us soft and weak and unfit for war making…but boy what a sucker he turned out to be! Masters of mass production, Americans began retooling to become masters of mass destruction. Manufacturers were working night and day, turning radios into radar, and Fords into fighter plane. American manufacturers sure weren’t pullin’ any punches. They were working head over heels, night and day, building essential war materials.
More, Better, Sooner
By 1943 , “More, better, sooner” was the war cry of Detroit’s soldiers of production.
“We have a job to do..the biggest job that has ever faced the minds and muscle of American industry”, stated the copy an ad that ran in 1942 that pretty much sums up the determination felt by all American workers.
“ This is the time for our workers to prove we have earned our reputation as the worlds masters of mass production. This is the time for the genius of our industrial scientists and engineers to preserve their gift to America, the worlds highest standard of living. And preserve they will, gloriously and decisively. “
“Production, in the American way, is the key to victory.”
War unleashed and mobilized the powerful energy of American production it gave workingmen jobs and made them part of a quest whose goal was the killing of the hydra-headed Fascist monster.
This Ones For You Tojo!
The Nash Kelvinator ad from 1943 begins – “Listen Tojo, when you hear that karrump some night and the factory walls start sliding into the sea- look out, its one of those new “ice cubes” from Nash Kelvinator.”
“They’re coming, Tojo- coming from men who in building last years refrigerators and automobiles thought only of a nation’s health and happiness. But now, its hate and vengeance and the remembrance of a thousand Axis wrongs that are guiding their hands…beating every production record.”
Fighting…. Every working Minute
“I feel as if I’d blasted a Jap out of the sky every time I finish up one of these cannons!” explains the war worker in this Oldsmobile ad from 1942 .”That’s the way one Oldsmobile worker describes it and that’s the way all of them feel. They’re mad-fighting mad! They want to do their part and they’re doing it with a lot of “fight “ in it.”
“They’re working fast and they’re working well…Shift after shift…24 hours a day…168 hours a week.”
“Some of these men have been in arms production for well over a year,” the copy explains.” Long enough so that they frequently hear that the cannon and shell they’ve been building are already “ dishing it out” to the Axis. No Americans cant lose. Not when our great armed forces are backed up by men like these.”
Blood Brother to Yesterdays Cadillac
When it came to tanks, you wouldn’t you really rather have a Cadillac?
“The tough hard-hitting Howitzer Motor carriage doesn’t look much like a sleek beautiful Cadillac car,” this 1944 ad points out. “But they’re blood brothers. They were both built by Cadillac.”
“Months before the last 1942 Cadillac rolled from the assembly line, Cadillac was working with the US army ordnance engineers- adapting the famous Cadillac V-type engine and Hydra Matic transmission for use in tank design. The first tank produced with this “power train” was the celebrated M-5 built in volume by Cadillac.”
“Cadillac is proud that its peacetime V type engine and its Hydra-matic transmission could be adapted to provide the Arsenal of Democracy with such important new weapons.”
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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