Bonds and Bullets
Home Front Production and Women in World War II
By Erin Klitzke
“The last war was a soldier’s war.
This one is everybody’s.”
This quote refers to first World War I, a.k.a. ‘The Great War,’ and
World War II, which officially started in Europe and Asia during 1939 and lasted
into 1945, when Berlin fell and the United States dropped two atomic bombs,
‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
respectively. The United States
entered World War II in December of 1941, after the bombing of the American
Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, “The day that will
live in infamy” to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The war was hard on the millions of soldiers who fought and the equal if
not greater number of civilians that endured it.
US soldiers alone accounted for 182,701 deaths and 638,176 injured both
in combat and en route to combat zones.
Although there was never fighting in North America proper, the war did
touch the people of the nation and its industry in many different ways.
war broke out in Europe, American industry and production went into full swing
in order to provide for the people overseas and later their own soldiers.
In order to coordinate the work of multiple industries who saw fit to
join in the war effort, to make sure that the people overseas and at home got
enough of what they needed, and to ensure national security and the safety of
the citizens of the US; The federal
government created several new agencies. Among
such new government offices were the Office of Price Administration and Civilian
Supply Management (OPA), National Labor Board, Office of Production Management,
War Production Board, War Shipping Administration, and Smaller War Plants
Corporation; among many other bureaus.
Also, when the war hit, many people, who had been struck with hard times
because of the Great Depression, were able to find work.
While many rallied to the federal government’s call for able-bodied
soldiers; others went to work in factories, shipyards, lumber mills, print
shops, industrial laboratories, steel mills, and foundries.
The actions of the public, however, were induced by the government
through propaganda efforts on their part. People
were reluctant to support the war effort in Europe when America was not yet
fighting in the period between 1939 and 1941.
Then, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese and the United States was
suddenly thrust into war, and the transition to war production began in earnest.
In February 1942, the automobile industry began to make bombers and other
aircraft. In fact, Ford built a
brand new factory, Willow Run near Ann Arbor in Michigan, to produce B24
Liberator bombers on an assembly line; The
factory covered a total of 975 acres and employed 42,000 people. Although it
seems that much of the work that many industries did during the war was simply
charity, it certainly was not, because of the cost-plus system the government
created and the dollar-a-year men they employed.
The war also brought about new markets, and these markets made many
companies very wealthy, as is the case with Coca-Cola, who promised that they
would “…see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five
cents wherever he is and whatever it costs the company.”
By the war’s end, the company had made over $10,000,000,000 just in
sales to American GIs. The US workforce included people from all sexes, races,
and backgrounds: men, women,
blacks, whites, Asians, immigrants, businessmen, farmers, factory workers,
soldiers, journalists, and the like. The
sudden surge of job openings that came with the draft and the war also boosted
union membership, up 4.3 million in four years (1941-1945).
Strikes were minimal until 1942 when the memory of the attack on Pearl
Harbor that had kept them all together faded and conditions became
unsatisfactory in the eyes of the workers.
Even so, production was at an all-time high.
For D-Day, which was the Normandy invasion of 1941 (a.k.a. Operation
OVERLORD), companies around the nation put out 88,410 medium and light tanks,
6,552,290 rifles, 15,603,0000 shaving brushes, 4,490,000 bayonets, 519,122,000
pairs of socks (that’s 1,038,244,000 socks!), 634, 569 jeeps, 237,371,000 cans
of bug spray, and farms and ranches put out tons and tons of food for the
soldiers. Fifteen million cans of Spam a week fed people in Britain and
Russia. Says Soviet boss Nikita
Khrushchev of Spam: “Without
Spam, we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.”
Margaret Thatcher of Britain “feasted” Spam as a child during the
US industry rose to the occasion of the war and supplied their soldiers
and the downtrodden European and Asian victims of the Axis regime with food and
much needed commodities.
with industry, American women rose to the challenge of meeting the quotas sent
by the federal government; taking jobs in fields of all kinds.
Women took jobs in order to replace the men who were fighting abroad, to
support their families, and to help the nation survive this new war that was
being fought on a half-dozen fronts. Women
replaced men in factories, shipyards, lumber mills, foundries, print shops, news
rooms, laboratories, government positions, civil works programs, clerical
workplaces, telephone companies, even the baseball field.
The All-American Girls Baseball League (AAGBA) was created when most of
the major and minor league male baseball players were drafted or volunteered for
combat. It existed for several years, and later a special exhibit was
created for it at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Women were reporters, riveters, seamstresses and everything in between.
More than 6 million women went to work in World War II, two million of
who were clerical workers, many more as physicists, chemists, engineers,
streetcar and bus operators, electricians, welders, mechanics, and boilermakers,
in addition to filling other positions.
Although confronted with the contempt and prejudice of a male-centered
society, women entered the workforce and carried American industry through the
also entered the armed forces during World War II.
The American Ambassador to London in those years, John G. Winant,
remarked “This war, more than any other in history, is a woman’s war.”
This pronunciation was true. Female
nurses, entertainers, radio operators, aviators, control tower operators, and
others served and died for their country during World War II.
Although many never saw true combat, some did die in action.
Entertainers like Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland used Hollywood to do
their part, amusing the troops in public and on the screen.
One hundred twenty-seven female war correspondents went with the troops
to report on what was going on overseas. Many
were wounded in the fighting which they were never supposed to see, some killed.
Women joined the service to serve their nation and did it through their
blood, their sweat, their strength, and their courage, proving that women are
useful on the lines, and not just for cheap entertainment.
North America, where the fighting never happened but still hit hard, the nation,
its people and industry worked to bring victory to the Allies.
Industry, with government prodding, set to the enormous task of serving
our soldiers and saving the people of Europe from terrible death from exposure
or starvation. Women rose to the
challenge of redefining their niches in society and took jobs to save the world.
Women also went to arms, serving alongside their male counterparts in
non-combat positions. It is very unfortunate that women were forced back to the
kitchens after the war, but things over the next few decades changed and now
women are back in the workplace, where they truly belong.
World War II redefined war and society, and some of the refinements were
definitely for the better.
Cayton, Andrew, et. Al., America Pathways to the
Present Needham, Massachusetts:
Prentice Hall 1998
Coleman, Penny Rosie
the Riveter Women Working on the Home Front in World War II
New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1995
Dear, I.C.B. and M.R.D. Foot, eds.
The Oxford Companion to World War II
Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995
A League of Their Own dir. Penny Marshall. With
Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, Gary
Marshall, and Bill Pullman. Columbia
Ross, Lillian “The
Home Front” The New Yorker
26 February 1996: 174
Sidney, Hugh “The Home Front (D-Day)” Time 13 June 1994: 48-49
 Dear & Foot, p. 1275
 Dear & Foot, 1194
 Dear & Foot, 1187
 Colman, multiple pages
 America Pathways to the Present, multiple pages
 Time magazine, 6/13/94
 Colman, multiple pages & A League of Their Own (film) 1992
 A League of Their Own (film) 1992
 Colman, multiple pages
 Dear & Foot p. 1275
 Dear & Foot multiple pages