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How Detroit Factories Retooled During WWII to Defeat Hitler

March 19, 2020 in History

By A.J. Baime

America’s largest industry shifted from making cars to bombers, tanks and more—at unparalleled speed.

Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, would never forget the moment his boots hit the sand during Operation Overlord—the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. Shortly after the landings, Ike toured the beaches, which were littered with broken, bullet-pierced vehicles. It looked like a junk yard of dead machinery—yet also, proof that the war was being won by the soldiers of the American workforce, on assembly lines thousands of miles away.

“There was no sight in the war that so impressed me with the industrial might of America as the wreckage on the landing beaches,” he recalled in his memoirs.

War is about valor, heroism and sacrifice. But the story of victory during Operation Overlord, and the broader war, is also one of industrialism. World War II was, in large part, a contest between the Allies and Axis powers to dream up ingenious war machines and mass produce them with unparalleled speed.

The D-Day invasion, for example, utilized some 50,000 vehicles of all types, well over 5,000 ships and more than twice that number of airplanes. There were amphibious trucks, tanks, four-wheel-drive troop transporters, flame-throwing armored cars, jeeps, fighter planes, bombers… No entity did more to produce that machinery than the American automobile industry, which at the time of World War II, had a larger economy than almost every foreign nation on earth.

Here’s a look back at how Detroit became the biggest war boomtown of them all.

GALLERY: The Pictures that Defined World War II

William Knudsen: ‘Gentlemen, we must outbuild Hitler’

William Knudsen, president of General Motors, meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House for the first meeting about the new National Defense Advisory Commission. Knudsen traded his high-paying auto-executive job for a $1 government salary to help lead Detroit’s war-production effort.

William Knudsen was president of General Motors—the largest corporation in history—in 1940 when President Franklin Roosevelt charged him with heading up all military production in the U.S. So Knudsen gave up one of the most well compensated jobs in the nation to take on a government position at a salary of $1. Soon after, at the New York Auto Show, Knudsen gave a keynote speech that lit the flame of industrial Detroit. “The first half of 1941 is crucial,” Knudsen told a …read more


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How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment

March 19, 2020 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

The ERA was on track to become the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Then a grassroots conservative movement halted its momentum.

In 1972, it seemed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a sure thing.

First introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” had passed with both bipartisan and public support and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

But the ERA included a seven-year ratification time limit clause (which Congress extended to 1982), and although 35 of 38 state legislatures needed for a three-quarters majority had voted to ratify the amendment, its proponents hadn’t counted on a conservative grassroots movement led by activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly that would ultimately lead to the ERA’s defeat, falling three states shorts.

“What I am defending is the real rights of women,” , and the Katzin Family Professor at Arizona State University, says one issue was the amendment was loose in its wording.

“That meant it was going to have to be interpreted by the courts and she—and her large number of followers—were concerned that the courts would interpret it as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage and women in the draft.” he says. “Furthermore, she felt that much of the legislation protecting women in pay and gender discrimination had already been enacted.”

The ERA got as far as it did, due to the work of second-wave feminists who had lobbied for years for its passage. Those who fought for the amendment included prominent figures such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda. Brandy Faulkner, a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, says the feminist momentum influenced not only Congress, but also the U.S. Supreme Court. Faulkner points out that Eisenstadt v. Baird, which established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples, passed in 1971—just a year after Congress passed the ERA.

Schlafly’s strategy to defeat the ERA was to convince women that equality between men and women was undesirable.

“She consistently painted worst-case scenarios which, when juxtaposed with the lives of average white women at that time, led many of them to believe that inequality wasn’t so bad …read more