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 Equipment was outdated or non-existent.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.