** World War II -- United States military

The Arsenal of Democracy: Biographies

Figure 1.--The United States as late as 1940 did not have a substantial arms industry. American industry was using steel, cooper, chrome and other raw materials to produce cars, refigerators, wasing machines and other consumer goods. Contarry to pacifist claims, major corportaiions were mot that interested in producing arms. This is because the demand for arms is highly variable. Not only did this make investments in factories a risky undertaking, but it opened company officers to charges of being merchants of death. The Axis countries believed it would take several years for America to begin producing weaponry in quantity. As a result the United States faced countries that had been preparing years for war and had highly developed arms industries, especailly the Germans. America had to very rapidly convert its huge productiin of cinsumer goods into the weapons of war. It is the men on this page who managed to covert American industry for war in only about a year and a half. The same factories that produced the cars we see here would produce aircraft, tanks, and other weaoons systems in unbelievable quantities. And in addition to the existing factories huge new factories were built. .

Several individuals played a key role in creating the Arsenal of Democracy. At the top of the list has to be President Franklin Roosevelt who had the foresight to understand the German and Japanese threat, especilly the existential German, and began defense prepartions early in his administration (1930s). Next has to be Gen. George Marshall who basically oversaw not only the creation of the great Army that would librerate Western Europe, but the management of the effort to arm and equip that that army and that if its allies as well. Bernard Baruch played a vital role as a key presidential adviser. Not as important as in World War I because of his age, but still important. It is estimated that his policies cut 2 years off the time taken to produce vital weaponry. His ideas were implemented by Senatior and Supreme Court Justice James Byrnes who was appointed to head the Office of Economic Stabilization and the Office of War Mobilization. Chairman of General Motiors William Knudsen was the vital industry compnent of the above governent figures. President Roosevelt, at the recommendation of Baruch, asked Knudsen to come to Washington to help mobilize Anmerican industry for war. Because if the World War I experience and the desire not to be publically pilloried vas Merchants of Death again, many executives were understandably reluctant to get back back into the arms business again. Knudsen was a Republican and fierce critic of the President and New Deal. In the fast developing emergency, Knudsen agreed. He was appointed Chairman of the Office of Production Management and member of the National Defense Advisory Commission for which he received a salary of $1 per year. After Pearl Harbor, Knudsen received a commission as a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army (January 1942). There were now no limits on mobilization. He was appointed Director of Production, Office of the Under Secretary of War. He became a vital consultant and a troubleshooter for the War Department. Important individual industrials include William Boeing, Donald Douglas, Ferdinand Eberstadt, Edsel Ford, Andrew Higgins, Jesse Jones, Henry Kaiser, K.T. Keller, James Kindelberger, Donald Nelson, Harold Vance, and countless other public spirited men.

Beranrd Baruch (1870-1965)

Bernard Baruch was a son nof a Conderate Civil mWar dictor. He was birn in Camden, South Carolina but is more assocuated with New York as tge family moved there after the Cucuk War. After graduating from the College of the City of New York (1889) he began menial jobs but amassed a fortune thriough stock market inmvestments. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, and during World War I he was appointed chairman of the new War Industries Board. Through bthis agency, he helped mnanage theAmerican economic mobilization during World War I. Baruch also played a vital role durung the New Deal and Workd War II as a key presidential adviser. His most important step was to advise President Roosevelt to call Genrral Motors President, William Knudsen, and get his help om mobilizing the Smerucan economy for war. Whilke not as actuve as in World War I, largely because if his age, he still played an imprtant role. It is estimated that his policies cut 2 years off the time taken to produce vital weaponry. His ideas were implemented by Senatior and Supreme Court Justice James Byrnes who was appointed to head the Office of Economic Stabilization and the Office of War Mobilization. Chairman of General Motiors William Knudsen was the vital industry compnent of the above governent figures.

William Boeing

Aviastion pioneer William E. Boeing was born in Detroit, Michigan before the auirombile era (1881). His parents were vGerrman and Austrian immigrnts. He left Yale University before graduating (1903). He wanted ti take advantage of opportunities in the risky and cyclical Northwest timber industry which proved rearding. His resulting knowledge would proved helpful in the early aviation indusdtry befire the all metal era. He became fascinated with aviation. He founded a tuny aviation company (1916) which would eventually become an aviation giant. Mew Deal legisltion drioce him out of aciation (1934). He became one of America's most successful breeders of thoroughbred horses. He never lost his interest in aviation, and during World War II volunteered as a consultant to the company. His company would produce the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress and ultimtely the war winning B-29 Super Fortress.

James Byrnes

James Francis Byrnes was born in Charleston, South Casrolina (1879). Byrnes was a self-taught lawyer whp became a poricedcutir and then pursued a politicl career. He served in the House and Senate where he became a Demicratic keader abd string supporter of Presudebt Roisevelt's New Deal. President Roosevelt appoointed him to the Supreme Court, but with the onset of World war II asked him to fill important adminidtration posts. He became known as 'assistant president for domestic affairs'. Most importantly he served as director of the Office of War Mobilization, baiclly implementing Bernrd Barucvh's policius (1943–45). He worked closely with William Knudsen.

Donald Douglas

The Douglas Aircraft Company was founded Donald Wills Douglas in Long Beach California after World War I (1921). The company also had manufacturing plants in Rock Island, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. The company developed ties with the military, both the Navy and Army, made a name for itself from a very early point. The U.S. Army Air Service decided on a headline grabbing mission, in part to gain public attention and greater allocations. They decided to conduct the first circumnavigate the earth by aircraft which they called 'World Flight'. Donald Douglas took a personal interest in the project, recognizing the importanc of making a name for his company. The Company modified its two-man, open cockpit DT biplane torpedo bomber which it had designed for the Navy. The modified aircraft was called the Douglas World Cruiser (DWC). Future aircraft company owner Jack Northrop was involved in the project. The successful circumnavigation of the world firmly established Douglas as a major American aircraft builder (1924). by air in Douglas airplanes in 1924. The successful circumnavigation led to the company's motto, 'First Around the World - First the World Around'. The company's new logo became an aircraft circling the globe. T

Ferdinand Eberstadt

Ferdinand Eberstadt was an inflential investment banker fter the Wall Street Crash (1929) Eberstadt played a role in the efforts to restore the confidence of Amerucan industry. He put a prepared a restructuring packages for small business. He opened a F. Eberstadt & Co, his own investment firm that specialized in medium-sized businesses (1931). Later he created the Chemical Fund that proved instrumental in popularuzing mutual funds as an investment vehicle. He pioneer the leveraged buyout technique. Donald M. Nelson, the former vice-president of Sears Roebuck chosen to Chairman the United States War Production Board (WPB) called for Eberstadt assiastance (September 1942). Ebberstadt headed the Army and Navy Munitions Board and Vice Chairman of the War Productions Board. He developed an organizational structure known as the 'Controlled Materials Plan'. This helped the miltary to prioritize their needs and for private industry to prioritize its production to meet needs identified by the military. The new Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, asked Eberstadt to assess the American World War II intelligence operation. The resulting Eberstadt Report identified a lack of coordination between the Office of Strategic Serviuces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, and the military intelligence services. His Report was influential in creating the National Security Council.

Marriner S. Eccles (1890-1977)

Marriner Stoddard Eccles was an American banker, economist, and member and chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Eccles was a Utah banker whose banks survived the Depression. He is most notable for serving bas Federal Reserve Chief during most of the New Deal and all of World War II. He was recommended ton President Roovelt by treasury Secretry Henry Morgenthau. He was a believer on Kenyan economics, idea that he laregely reached on his owm before Keynes punlisdhed his major woirks. He is important to the Arsenal of Semocracy story basically because he wirked closely with Secreaty Morgebntahauto insure domestic monetary stability and tomake sure that first the New Deal programs and than the Amerucan war effort was fully and resonacibkly funded.

Edsel Ford

The Ford's only had one son, Edsel, who was born November 6, 1893. He was Edsel named after a childhood friend Edsel Ruddiman. I have little information on his childhood at this time or the clothes he wore as a boy. A British reader remembers visiting the doctor sometime during the 1960s and while waiting to see him picked up a magazine with an article about Edsel. "There was a picture of him as a boy wearing a suit with short trousers. I thought this kind of odd at the time a I was always under the impression that American boys never wore short trousers and that only boys in the UK and Europe wore them." Of course short pants were much more common in Britain and knickers more common in America, although boys from American boys from affluent families were more likely to wear short pants. At the turn of the 20th century when Edsel was a boy, most American boys of all social backgrounds wore kneepants. The only exception here was boys who had to work, they would begin wearing long pants earlier than boys still going to school. Edsel married Elenor and they had four children: Henry II, Benson, Josephine, and William Clay. Ford retired in 19?? and Edsel became president of the Ford Motor Company for a quarter of a century. Edsel grew up in and around the Ford Motor Company that his father devoted himself to. There was the controversy of his World War I draft notice and an exemption, the change from the Model T to the Model A, and the creation of the Ford Foundation. Edsel's role in Ford is rather lost today, but it was in fact significant. [Dominguez] Interestingly while his father believed in making a very basic car and opposed inovations like colors and stylistic changes, Edsel gave considerable attention to styling when he took over the company. The classic 1939 Lincolmn Continental, for example, reflected the influence of Edsel who played an important role in giving the Lincoln line its destinctive style and elegance. Needless to say, he had nothing to do with the disatrous Edsel car named after him. Edsel died unexpectedly, however, during 1943 in the midst of World War II. His father briefly resumed the presidency, but was because of his age and health not up to the task.

Andrew Higgins

Andrew Jackson Higgins is perhaps the best known of the American industrialists that helped gear up the arsenal of democracy for war. Unlike World War I, amphibious landings would have to be a major part of the Allied war effort. This was in part because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A Pacific war by definition required extensive amphibious operations. The fall of France mneant that amphibious landings on a massive scale would be needed in Europe. Anf the U.S, Maby had no idea how to build the small boiats needed. Higgins wa already an expert in small boiats. His biats were a favorite for rum mrunners and the Coast Gauard alike. He would design and build mamy of the boats needed for the greatest amphibious amphibious operations in history. Thanks to Higgins, America was capable not only capable of the massive D- Day invasion in France, but at the same time the massive Pacufic operations in the Marianas. He designed the LCVP (landing craft vehicle, personnel) that played such a vital role in not only D-Day, but many Pacific landings. He also came pwith the first effective tank landing craft. New Orleans–based Higgins Industries produced over 20,000 boats, including high-powered PT that palyed auch an imprtant role in the South Pacific. He also produced the 27 foot airborne lifeboat. Higgins dedicated himself and his compamy to providing Allied soldiers with the finest landing craft in the history of warfare. At first the Navy Bureau of Ships, the Washington bureaucracy, and the establoished shipyards fid mot take him seriously. Hitler only had Rhibne River brges to cross the Channel. The Allied military had sturdy spoecuduclly designed for the needed roles. Hitler wen he learned about Allied landing cradt called Higgins, 'the new Noah'. [Straham]

Jesse Jones

Jesse Jones was a southern busibessman and self made man. With only an 8th grade education he did not fit in well with FDR's Brain Trusters. He was a rare businessmen that had an imprtant role in the New Deal and then went on to play a vital role in mobilizing the Aesenal of Democracy. Hoyston banks were about to fail when Jones organized the city's business community to save them (1931). Banks all over America were failing--but not in Houston. President Hoover was impressed and appointed Jones to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), created to support banks and help enginner recovery. Unforunately it was not engough and when President Roosevelt was inagurated, the country's financial system was near collpase. FDR after saving the system by temprarily closing the banks, he expanded the RFC's authoirity and made Jones the chairman. The RFC became a core agency of the New Deal although it receiced less attentiin than many other agencies. Jones used the RFC to provide billions of dollars to banks, industries, farmers and citizens. He had nearly complete autonomy in determining how these funds should be used. Jones did not operate the RFC as a charity (relief agency). He pursued it as an investment by America in its people, but real investments, not how modern progressives use the term. There were both grants and loans. The RFC purchased stock in struggling companies and provided advise in oprations--especially finances. Some authors call Jobes 'the most powerful man in the world financial community' during the Depression and a virtual 'fourth branch of givernment'. We are npt sure this is correct, but he certainly was very important. As President Roosevelt shidted from 'Dr. New Deal' to Dr. Win the War', many New Dealers fell to the background. Not Jones. Jones played a leading role in mobiling American industry for war. FDR appointed Jones to his cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. Jones was not sdur atfirst. He declined the appoitment unless he would be allowed to leep his position as Federal Loan Adminstrator, overseeing all lending, including the RFC operations. Using his dual positions, to mobilized industry to make the United States' the formidable Arsenal of Democracy. Federal loans were vital. America did not only use its existing factories, but built huge new factories to produce arms. And for this Federal money was needed.

Henry Kaiser

The man who solved the poroblem of delivering American war production was Henry Kaiser, the son of German immigrants. Kaiser was a remarakable individual, the proverbial self-made man. He didn't like to study so he quit school at 13 years of age. He ran a photographic studio for a while. He then made some money as hardwear salkesman. With that he entered the cnstruction business. He then made it big when he bought the patent for an earth mover. He was part of the consirum that built the Hoover Dam during the Depresion. He was also the man who solved one of the central problems of World War II.

Albert Kahn (Prussia/United States, 1869-1942)

Albert Kahn was born to a Jewish family Rhaunen, Prussia (1869). He became the industrial architect of his day, including World War II. By the time he died (December 1942), he had anazingly created factories in both the Sovoiet Union and America that played imprtant roles in World War II. Kahn immigrated with hius family as a child with his family to Detroit, Michigan at age 11 years (1880). This was two decades before the automible indistry became important. Albert's father Joseph was a rabbi. His mother Rosalie had an artistic bent. There were five Kahn boys. Moritzo became an engineer. Julius became an engineer and inventor who collaborated with Albert's architectural firm. There were also two girls. Kahn very quickly learned English and attended public schools. He was employed in the architectural firm of Mason and Rice. He won won a Rotch Traveling Fellowship (1891). He traveled to Europe and toured Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium with Henry Bacon another architecture student. (Bacon would desigm the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Kahn founded his own architectural firm Albert Kahn Associates (1895). He and Julis developed an innovative methos of construction using reinforced concrete replacing wooden walls, roofs, and supports. Julius became an expert in reinforced concrete construction. This provided greater fire safty as well as permitting great areas of unobstructed interior. This of course was just what the new American automobile industry would need, esoecially for mass production. , Kahn's first automobile plant was designed for the Packard Motor Car Company (1903). The polant was so sucessful that Henry Ford became interested in Kahn's designs. Kahn designed Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant (1909). It was here that perfected the assembly line prodyction of the Model-T. And it was Kahn who designed the massive, half-mile-long Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan (1917). The Rouge became the largest manufacturing complex in the United States and evntually the wirld, peaking at 120,000 workers. Kahn woiuld receiveb more than 1,000 commissions from Fordalone. [6]Kahn became the 'architect of Detroit'. By 1937, his firm had designed 19 percent of all architect-designed factories in the United States. Which mean that he had played a huge role in creating the American Arsenal of Democracy that would supplybAllies forces in World War II. And Kahn role did not stop there. He also polayed a huge role in preparing the Soviet Union to fight the Geramsns. His firm got a contract to build modern factories in the Soviet Union (1929). He established a design and training office in Moscow Here they trained Soviet architects and engineers, and to design hundreds of industrial buildings under Stalin's first Five Year Plan. The Soviet government contracted Kahn to design the Stalingrad Tractor Plant which during the War became a tabk plant. Kahn was the only consulting architect on Soviet industrial construction. He was amajor reason that the Soviet arms industry so spectacukarly outperformned the much more heavily industrilized Germans in several major weapons categiories. Kahn's final contribution was to design America's firsty mass production tank factory.

K.T. Keller

James 'Dutch' Kindelberger

James Howard 'Dutch' Kindelberger (1895 – 1962) was an American aviation pioneer. He famously led North American Aviation (1934-60). He was not only an emensely competent aviatiin engineer, but a colorful character famous for demanding hard work, orderliness and punctuality. He was born in Wheeling, West Virginia (1895). The fa,ily was descended from German (Deutsch) immigrants originating in from Nothweiler, Pfalz. The Dutch knick name results is also why the Pennsyvanian Germans are called Dutch. His parents were Charles Frederick Kindelberger, a steelworker, and Rose Ann Kindelberger. Kindelberger dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and began working in the steel industry along with his father. He soon decided that a career in ythe steel mills was not going to be his future. He took correspondence courses to gain his high school certificate. He then manafed to not only enter Carnegie Institute of Technology to pursue engineering (1916). At the time working class children did not commonly enter high school, and here Futch managed to enbter one if the most prwsstigiuous engerring universuties in America. Nit ionly that, but he was elected class president. When America declared war on Germany, he would elist and wound up in the air corps (1917). Among the individuals he became associated with were Hap Armnold and American ace Billy Mitchell. He married Thelma Knarr after the War (1919) They had two children. He was associated with an amazing number of aviatioon achievenments beginning with helping designed the bomber Gen Mitchell famouslu=y used to sink a World War I battleship. He went on to run North American aviation during World War II. And was chosen by the industry to head the Aircraft War Production Council. North Anerican produced a staggeing 42,000 aircraft to help win the War, including the fabulous P-51 Mustang, but Kindelberger played a key role in expanding prduction throughout America's aviation industry.

William Knudsen (1879-1948)

nudsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark (1879). His name was Signius Wilhelm Poul Knudsen. He obtained a technical education and worked as a bucycle repairman. He emigrated to America as a young man (1900). He arrived in New York vurtually pennyless. Knudsen got a job with the John R. Keim Company of Buffalo, New York. The Ford Motor Company bought the company (1911). Ford needed its steel-stamping experience and tooling. Knudsen worked for Ford (1911-21). This was the period in which the modern assembly line and true mass production began in America. Nothing comparable occurred in Europe. Knudsen moved to General Motors. In the process he became perhaps the wirld's greatest expert on mass production and developed as a very skilled industrial manager. While beginning on the shop floor, his expertiese was noted and he rise to become president of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors (1924) and finally president of General Motors itself, replacing Alfred Sloan. (1937). Knudsen never lost his love of Denmark. He was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog by his native country (1930). He was apauled by the German invasion (1940).

George Marshall

President Franklin Roosevelt chose General George C. Marshall to be U.S. Army Chief of Staff. He was promoted to full General and sworn in (September 1, 1939). This was of course the German panzers invaded Poland launching World War II. Geberak Marshall would serve in that position throughout the War. America had virtually no army when General Msrshall became chief of staff. The U.S.nArmy was the size of that of Romania and the great bulkmof the population werec determined to stay out of tge Wr. It was President Roosevelt who mustered the political will to begin the creation of a massive armed forces with America's first peace time draft. It was General Marshall who oversaw the creation of that vast military force and the strategy that defeated the Axis. Of all the great Five-Star American commanders of World War II, it was General Marshall who played the most critical role. He was and probably still is the most underappreciated figure in World war II. Americans in a poll conducted in America during the War barely mentioned Marshall. Americans focused on the fighting commanders and because of the press coberage were fixated on General MacArthur who was in fact one of the most ineffective comanbders. America fought the war with a green citizen;s army. The peace time army was so small that civilins had to play major roles in the war effort. It was Marshall who oversaw that expansion and made sure they got the training and weapons they needed yo sin the War. It was also Msrshall who chose the key commanders. He was stick with McArthur, but Eisenhower, Patton, Bradely and others were men that he brought forward. The key American action of World war II was the D-Day cross-channel invasion. From the nset, it was assumed that Marshall woukld oversee the invasion. Finally President Roosevelt decided that he coukd not spare Marshall in Washington. This was probably the greatest disappointment in Msrshall;s career. He took it like a soldier and suggested Eisenhower for the job. It was one of the key decisions of the War. It is impossible to think of an Allied commander who could have done a better job.

Donald Nelson (United States, 1888-1959)

Donald Nelson was a businessman working for Sears and Roebuck. But remember that President Roosevelt had designated America as the Aresenel of Democracy. The findamental American war strategy was to use the economy (Stalin derusiveky called in 'money') and not brute manpower to fight the War as it had done in World War I. This required a fundamental mobilization of the economy, something Hitler and the Gernmans refused to do until it was to late. As German Panzers swept across France, the President turned to Nelson (May 1940). Hos experience at Sears, marketing more than 135,000 different products led to an unparalleled knowledge of American industry. His first assignments were reltively minor, but rapidly escalated. After Pearl Harbor was addigned to oversee the War Production Board (1942-44). This was the Federal agency at the heart of the Aersenal of Democracy. Some historians have criticized his lack of decision. This is difficult to assess, but the President struck by him until the War was basically won. And American prduction achievements were phenonmenal. It is hard to sargue with success. American military panners just before Pearl Harbor argued for a 213 division army thinking primarily about Germany. Some planning estimates were even higher. Nelson maintained that this would be a mistake and damage the economy. He argued that America's greatest assett was its industry. And that a 213 division army woud adversely affect war production. This was a factor in what has been called Gen. Marshal's 90 Division Gamble. [Matloff] Conversion

Franklin Roosevelt

President Roosevelt by 1939 was concentrating increasingly on foreign affairs with the outbreak of war in Europe. New Deal reform legislation diminished, and the ills of the Depression would not fully abate until the nation mobilized for war. President Roosevelyt's legacy is in the popular mind fixed on New Deal and efforts to end the Depression. Here he in fact failed, although he did ease the suffering, instituted ome needed reforms, and restoredfith in Government. The President's true legacyis his war leadership. Here he is also can be criticised, both for civil rights violations and failure to undertand the true character of Sovit tyranny. But in fact the Presiden's leadrship alomg with his great war-time partner, Prime Minister Wimston Churchill, essenially save wertrn civikization. Given this accomplishment, a great many failures can be excused. The enormity of this achievement is incalcuable. Th Unites ar the time of World War II was the only country with the economic resources to wage world war. It was also the country whose people were intent on not participating in another Wold War. This was central to Hitler's strategic calculation. I aforded him the opportunity to conquer and consolidate his command of Europe before the United States raecated/ President Roosevelt saw the danger that Hitler and the NAZIs posed from the moment Hitlerws appointed chancellor. The question became whether he could turn an isolationist nation intent on avoiding war above all into the great arsenal of democracy that could destroy the evil tyrannies intent of destroying Wesrern civilization.

Harold Vance

Charles Wilson (1890-1961)

Charles Wilson became chief engineer and sales manager of Remy Electric, a General Motors subsidiary (1919). He rose steadily in the company. He became president of General Motors (January 1941). He would thus oversee the compsny's huge defense production effort. GM was the largest industril enterprise in Amnerica and thus vital to the war effort. His efforts earned him a Medal for Merit (1946). He was still head of General Motors when Eisenhower selected him as Secretary of Defense (January 1953).


Strham, Jerry E. Andrew Jackson Higgins: Abd the Bioats that Won Workd War II (1998).


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Last updated: 4:36 AM 4/9/2021