Friday, May 1, 2020

Why It Mattered - The Arsenal of Democracy

As Borepatch noted, I started with factories. My next post was going to be pictures from the 1960s, but I'll postpone it for a day. Let's look at WWII.

Call it a cold start. America was still struggling with the lingering depression. The Army had 670,000 men, the Navy 215,000, and the Marine Corps had 27,000. Equipment was outdated or non-existent. The planes, ships, tanks, and equipment that would win the war hadn't even been thought of.

And we won that war because we out produced the enemy. From big to small. The story of production at every level of any item you can mention is a story of men and women designing and building, in staggering quantities, enough to supply the young men we sent to face the Axis. A military that grew from it's prewar size to 11,200,000 in the Army, 4,200,000 in the Navy, and 660,000 in the Marine Corps.

At the end of this post, there will be a video of the Willow Run plant that Ford built to build B-24 Liberator bombers. Consolidated Aircraft was building about one bomber a day in California. Charles Sorensen, who had been with Ford through the development of the auto assembly line, went and looked at the operation in California. He came up with a plan overnight to apply Ford assembly line production techniques and the next day Ford signed off. Ford built the Willow Run plant, ran two shifts through the war and built a bomber an hour. 

Ships, fighters, tanks, landing craft, and other big production items are well documented and finding those stories is easy. But what about socks, underwear, boots, belts, packs, folding shovels, rifles and ammo? There were thousands of consumable items in quantities of millions, built and shipped. Although the stories may be lost, every one of those items was crucial to the war effort.

It happened because we had the factories and the trained workers to start from. The Packard factory wasn't a burned out shell of a building. It was a running car factory with ten of thousands of employees. By 1942, they were fully converted to war production. Parkard built Rolls-Royce Merlin engines under contract that supplied aircraft and 1500 HP V-12 engines for PT boats. They were the 18th largest government contractor by war's end.

No less important is the May Hosiery Mill. At one point they were the biggest business in Nashville, 1,200 employees, making socks and nylons. They were war production during WWII and later they supplied all the sock to NASA that the Apollo astronauts wore. They are as gone as Packard.  

Both of those companies, and thousands of others, were part of the Arsenal of Democracy, the solid manufacturing capacity that allowed the United States to win WWII. We don't have it anymore. If China stopped shipping to the U.S. and then blockaded shipping from other Asian countries, we could not ramp to meet our own needs. We don't make our own electronics, cell phones, computers, or televisions. We don't make our own socks.


B said...

" the solid manufacturing capacity that allowed the United States to win WWII. We don't have it anymore"

"We don't make our own electronics, cell phones, computers, or televisions. We don't make our own socks"

And we never will, as long as China can have working conditions and cheaper labor that make it uneconomical for the US manufactories to produce the same items at a similar cost.

OSHA, EPA, taxes, and labor all add up to "let the Chinese make it" and it is, from an economic standpoint, a better plan. From a strategic standpoint, it sucks. No one is willing to buy $7 socks when you can buy a pair from China for $1.35,

Labor will continue to be high as long as welfare subsidizes people and as long as the federal and state agencies keep screwing with things. Taxes will be high unless we change our way of government handouts and useless federal and state agencies. Other expenses from useless or overly enthusiastic regulation will add to the cost of making "stuff".

Until we change our climate so that businesses want to be here, it won't change the situation. Add in Wall street types who are simply looking for their next quarterly bonus with no long term thinking and it isn't likely to change.

The only thing that I can see that fixes things is tariffs on Chinese and other imported goods.

Glen Filthie said...

In WW2 A certain Japanese official risked his life and career to make the observation that “Japan had awakened a sleeping giant”.

Giants can be killed, provided you strike hard and sure while they are asleep. America is sleeping. Whether it dies that way or not ...? It’s not looking good at this point, that’s for sure. To survive, America has no choice but to deal firmly and certainly with certain problems like welfare slobs, hysterical feminism and sexual degeneracy, activist/obstructionist judges and lawfare, drugs, illegal aliens... and to even start on any of those you’d have to deal with the liberals and libertarians that enable and protect them. They are literally turning your Constitution into a suicide pact.

America is not alone. Canada had the worlds fourth largest navy in the world at the close of WW2. Today we are rapidly becoming a landfill for 3rd world human trash...

libertyman said...

Look at the output during the war years. I think Ford broke ground for Willow Run in spring of 1941, I think they knew war was inevitable.

The Lab Manager said...

Some environmental regulations are nonsensical but others are important. Perhaps the way some are enforced need to be changed or reviewed with a private party interest like through insurance and a state or local agency.

I've worked at a refinery as a third party lab service; there are some things you would not want simply dumped to 'save money'. Ironically, some environmental analysis uses some very toxic materials like heavy metals in small amounts (see Hach products).

Unions need to realize not every one of them is worth $40 an hour with benefits and few CEOs are worth the millions some are paid. The tax code is atrocious for business and individuals.

Old NFO said...

Agreed, we are asleep and may never wake... sigh...

B said...

I never said we should get rid of ALL EPA regulations, Some, however have a cost/benefit ratio that approaches negative.

Eliminating some of those would increase profitability and make the American industry MUCH more competitive with China, where there are few or no regulations. Very small changes could bring a LOT of jobs and industry back.

McChuck said...

It's not just the factories.
How many iron do we produce? None.
How much lead do we produce? None.
How much rare earths do we produce? Some, but not nearly enough.

We couldn't build a new coal-fired power plant right now even if we wanted to. There isn't enough coal mining left to support it any more.

At least we still produce aluminum and copper. The EPA is working on that, though.

Richard said...

@GF You said the Canadian Navy was #4 at the end of WWII. Sources I have found say #3. So what are you counting as #3. IJN was on the bottom of the ocean by then. Perhaps the US Army Navy which actually had more hulls, if less tonnage, than the USN. Found some interesting stuff about the current pathetic state of the Canadian Navy but at least the previously superior submarine fleet of the West Edmonton Mall has been scrapped.

Glen Filthie said...

Our military has basically been gutted by the liberals, and the “savings” been redirected into welfare and pork in central Canada. All the services in Canada are in horrendous shape. The last thing I heard about our navy was that they’d just bought a clapped-out diesel/electric submarine from the UK back in the 90’s. On the voyage home they surfaced, and some fwench-Canadian pipe polisher left a hatch open in high seas...and water got in and an electrical fire started.

Couple years later, we needed new S&R choppers for our coast guard because the 50 year old Sea Kings had had the bun and were literally starting to kill their crews by falling out of the sky. Prime Minister Jean Poutine Cretin bought a couple of executives jets for himself and his cronies instead. No money in the budget for choppers, though. I dunno if we even have a coast guard anymore..


William Ashbless said...

It was a pretty amazing time.

We built a ‘Liberty’ ship in three days!

That’s a cargo ship of 7,500 tons and made getting, war material, food and countless other things across the Atlantic a sustainable enterprise.

Roy said...

"The planes, ships, tanks, and equipment that would win the war hadn't even been thought of."

Well, not exactly. Most of the follow-on designs that eventually won the war were then building or on the drawing board in the latter half of the thirties. For example, the USS North Carolina, a modern battleship by any description, was commissioned in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. So they were "heard of". It was the war, however, that put production of these designs into overdrive.