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By Paul H. Jennings, UT CIS Executive Director
President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the phrase “arsenal of democracy” in his December 29, 1940 speech urging manufacturers to help the United States arm and support our Allies during the early stages of World War II. Although we were one year from a declaration of war, Roosevelt stated that “American industrial genius, unmatched throughout the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and talents into action.” Continuing, he stated: “We must have more guns, more planes – more of everything…We must become the great arsenal of democracy.”
U.S. manufacturers responded by transitioning production from automobiles and various consumer goods to tanks, jeeps, munitions, and other necessities of war. The Arsenal of Democracy ,written by A.J. Baime, chronicles one important part of this tremendous achievement. Baime tells the story of how the Ford Motor Company fulfilled Edsel Ford’s claim that he would construct the largest airplane factory in the world and build a “bomber an hour.” The transition to a war economy for Ford and other manufacturers was an extremely complicated and difficult undertaking, as government and manufacturing leaders overcame obstacle after obstacle to achieve production goals. Baime chronicles many heroes in this effort, notably Edsel Ford, Ford Company CEO at the time, and Charles E. Sorensen, Ford’s production chief, who earlier had developed the assembly line with Henry Ford, and during WWII led the construction of the Willow Run B24 Bomber plant. The book also celebrates the men and women who designed the planes, developed supply chains, managed production lines, and worked on the plant floor. "Rosie the Riveter" certainly played a key role. More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, making up 65% of the industry’s total workforce.
As we think about our country’s current and future challenges, it’s helpful to remember the role that manufacturers have played and will continue to play in our national defense. We at UT CIS honor our state’s defense suppliers and are proud of their efforts to ensure that the U.S. remains the arsenal of democracy. As the home of our state’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Procurement Technical Assistance Center, UT CIS has a history of helping manufacturers successfully meet defense sector needs. You can learn more about UT CIS services at www.cis.tennessee.edu.