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Why Congress Passed the Defense Production Act in 1950

March 23, 2020 in History

By Erin Blakemore

The Cold War-era law went into effect during a time when President Truman felt the nation was unprepared.

“Are YOU doing all you can?” “We can do it!” During World War II, Americans at home were reminded to do their part by splashy propaganda posters that emphasized pulling together for the national good. Industry did its part, too, thanks to wartime laws that prioritized military production. Seemingly overnight, car factories produced warplanes. Lipstick manufacturers made bomb cases instead. Even nylon, the new synthetic fabric that covered women’s legs at the beginning of the war, was recruited to military applications.

Thanks to the Defense Production Act of 1950, a law with roots in the all-society mobilization of World War II, the United States still has the authority to spur industry in times of national emergency.

READ MORE: How Detroit Factories Retooled During WWII to Defeat Hitler

Defense Production Act Has Roots in World War II

Workers at a Chrysler plant assembling tanks during World War II.

The country was anything but ready for a major conflict in 1941. Due to the Great Depression and a national unwillingness to get involved in conflict overseas, the United States had been unprepared. But with the attack on Pearl Harbor in and the United States’ entry into the war, the nation had to come to grips with its unreadiness.

The country’s industrial sector was still reeling from the Depression, and owners weren’t thrilled about the thought of investing in defense production. “Many American producers of primary materials were reluctant to expand facilities, and many manufacturers reluctantly converted assembly lines from peacetime goods to vitally needed armaments,” writes historian Barton J. Bernstein.

To break through that reluctance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt pursued sweeping war powers. The Second War Powers Act gave him the power to requisition supplies and property and force entire industries to produce wartime products. Instead of producing products for civilians, the nation’s factories became powerhouses pumping out planes, tanks, military vehicles, weapons, ships and other defense-related products. U.S. manufacturing output grew by 300 percent during the war, and despite wartime scarcity, consumer spending increased, too, thanks to higher employment and wages.

READ MORE: These World War II Propaganda Posters Rallied the Home Front

Truman Warns of Communist Aggression

The War Powers Acts represented unprecedented presidential power, but most of those powers contracted with …read more


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