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Arsenal of Democracy

The American Automobile Industry in World War II

Charles K. Hyde

Publication Year: 2013

Throughout World War II, Detroit's automobile manufacturers accounted for one-fifth of the dollar value of the nation's total war production, and this amazing output from "the arsenal of democracy" directly contributed to the allied victory. In fact, automobile makers achieved such production miracles that many of their methods were adopted by other defense industries, particularly the aircraft industry. In Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II, award-winning historian Charles K. Hyde details the industry's transition to a wartime production powerhouse and some of its notable achievements along the way. Hyde examines several innovative cooperative relationships that developed between the executive branch of the federal government, U.S. military services, automobile industry leaders, auto industry suppliers, and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, which set up the industry to achieve production miracles. He goes on to examine the struggles and achievements of individual automakers during the war years in producing items like aircraft engines, aircraft components, and complete aircraft; tanks and other armored vehicles; jeeps, trucks, and amphibians; guns, shells, and bullets of all types; and a wide range of other weapons and war goods ranging from search lights to submarine nets and gyroscopes. Hyde also considers the important role played by previously underused workers-namely African Americans and women-in the war effort and their experiences on the line. Arsenal of Democracy includes an analysis of wartime production nationally, on the automotive industry level, by individual automakers, and at the single plant level. For this thorough history, Hyde has consulted previously overlooked records collected by the Automobile Manufacturers Association that are now housed in the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Automotive historians, World War II scholars, and American history buffs will welcome the compelling look at wartime industry in Arsenal of Democracy.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Great Lakes Books Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

This book grew indirectly out of my earlier work in automotive industry history, including the histories of the Chrysler Corporation, the Dodge Brothers, Nash Motors, and the Hudson Motor Car Company. In the course of my research on those automakers, I encountered several “snapshots” or “glimpses” of the contributions made by American automobile manufacturers to the astounding production...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

The story of America’s monumental production achievements during World War II, sometimes expressed as the “arsenal of democracy,” is a complex, multilayered story that ideally should also include everything that comprised the home front. This book is not intended to be a comprehensive reexamination of all of the economic, social, and political changes that transpired in the United States from...

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One: Preparing for War before Pearl Harbor

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pp. 1-24

As war clouds gathered over Europe and Asia in the late 1930s, U.S. military leaders and President Franklin D. Roosevelt began preparations for war, but only haltingly and quietly at first. Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, and in September of the same year Germany took control of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Hitler swallowed the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and, along...

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Two: Planning Defense Production after Pearl Harbor

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pp. 25-43

Within five weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration established a new government agency, the War Production Board (WPB), to control and coordinate defense production, as well as the Supply, Priorities and Allocation Board (SPAB). With the outbreak of war, the automobile industry fundamentally changed its attitude toward war production. The industry soon worked effectively...

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Three: Aircraft Engines and Propellers

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pp. 44-74

This chapter will highlight the work of a half-dozen automakers in producing two significant aircraft components: engines and propellers. The history of the production of these key components is largely unknown, although vital to the aircraft industry. Because they are not very sexy, aircraft engines and propellers have not generated the interest that fighter and bomber aircraft have. Because no single...

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Four: Aircraft and Aircraft Components

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pp. 75-116

The production of military aircraft was the archetypical example of the “production miracle” achieved by American industry during World War II. American aircraft production, a paltry 5,856 units in 1939, peaked at 96,318 aircraft in 1944 before falling off to 49,761 aircraft in the final year of the war.
This chapter will examine the operation of the procurement system as it applied to aircraft. The...

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Five: Tanks and Other Armored vehicles

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pp. 117-146

At first glance, the automobile manufacturers would appear well positioned to fabricate and assemble tanks and other armored vehicles for the war effort. Tanks, after all, have a mechanical drivetrain much like that of a car or truck, with an engine, transmission, driveshaft, and the like. However, the differences between tanks and standard motor vehicles are in fact more significant than their...

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Six: Jeeps, Trucks, and Amphibious vehicles

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pp. 147-160

In stark contrast to the Ordnance Department’s decision to use five different engines in Sherman tanks, the Quartermaster Corps, which was responsible for providing the military with trucks, moved decisively toward standardization of truck designs before the onset of World War II, and for good reason. During World War I, American troops in France had more than two hundred different makes of...

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Seven: Guns, Shells, Bullets, and Other War Goods

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pp. 161-173

The automobile industry’s production of aircraft engines, aircraft components, complete airplanes, tanks and other armored vehicles, and trucks of all types was the industry’s major contribution to the war effort. Automobile manufacturers did not make long-range artillery for the army or navy but did produce a substantial quantity of anti-aircraft guns and machine guns. The industry also manufactured...

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Eight: The New Workers

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pp. 174-200

Rapidly expanding defense production, especially in 1942 and 1943, created the need for an expanded workforce for the automobile and parts makers engaged in war production. Industries outside the automobile industry, especially those engaged in building aircraft, ships, and munitions of all types, also developed an enormous appetite for more workers to staff their plants. Simultaneously, the growing...

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Nine: The Achievement

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pp. 201-212

When the United States officially entered World War II following Pearl Harbor, a powerful alliance between the military services and the automobile industry was already in place, resulting in a system for procuring and producing military equipment in significant quantities. President Franklin Roosevelt developed and nurtured this system with the cooperation and assistance of key leaders...


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pp. 213-234


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pp. 235-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780814339527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814339510

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 34
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Great Lakes Books Series