DEARBORN - Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States officially joined World War II. From that moment on, American society was forever changed. The needs of the war effort changed society at home, the way we looked at work, the way we utilized resources and the way we manufactured goods. Ford led the charge of what is now known as the Arsenal of Democracy, focusing efforts on building the military equipment our armed forces needed to win the war and the moving assembly line lived at the crux of all the action.
On December 12, 1941, just days after the Pearl Harbor bombing, Ford ratcheted up to a 7-day production week to prepare for what was to come. Eventually the federal government encouraged vehicle manufacturing facilities to cease production of civilian vehicles in order to focus only on the goods needed to supply the war effort. Ford opted in one month prior to the suggested deadline, producing its last passenger car on Feb. 10, 1942. This freed up facilities including the Rouge Complex, Highland Park and the Lincoln plant, along with many other facilities throughout the world, for military production.
With government support, Ford built the massive Willow Run plant which specialized in the production of military aircraft. In plain terms, the Albert Kahn designed plant with its mile long assembly line and hangars covering 4.75 million square feet, was able to improve the efficiency of aircraft manufacturing. For example, one job involving the center wing, typically requiring 36 men and 1,500 hours, now only involved three men and 26 minutes.
During this time, Ford even beat aircraft manufacturers at their own game. By the summer of 1942, Ford was producing Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines faster than Pratt & Whitney could themselves with Ford’s 805 per month compared to Pratt & Whitney’s 600.
In addition to aircraft, Ford plants also contributed tanks, jeeps, armored cars, trucks and more. It was not just about producing this equipment and doing so in high volumes for Ford. Ensuring each machine was built to the highest possible quality also was key. Again, Ford innovation allowed the company to excel by developing specialized tools to complete specific tasks more efficiently.
Just as significant as the amount of military equipment Ford produced was the number of women who built these supplies. To keep production going while many of the nations’ working men were off fighting the war, thousands of women jumped into action determined to contribute and keep the plants moving. In January 1942, Ford employed 123,000 people. By November 1943 that number increased to 204,000 with 30 percent of those female.
Without a doubt, Ford’s impact on the WWII effort was massive. Without the advent of the moving assembly line several decades prior, the impressive list below may not have been possible.
Ford’s U.S. Contribution to the Allied War Effort
- 8,700 B-24 Bombers
- 4,400 gliders
- 57,900 Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines
- 2,400 MX engine assemblies
- 87,400 generators
- 54,300 superchargers
- 17,000 jettison fuel tanks
- 1,700 M-4 tanks
- 128,800 trucks
- 1,000 M-10 tanks
- 27,000 tank engines
- 12,500 armored cars
- 10,500 Fordors (military staff cars)
- 13,900 universal carriers
- 12,800 amphibian jeeps
- 282,400 jeeps
The Rosie the Riveter in this famous poster was a fictional character, but a real Rose Will Monroe worked at Willow Run as a riveter building bombers.
M-4 Tank at Highland Park plant in 1942.
Ford even produced amphibious vehicles during WWII.n