*** World War II -- automotive sector United States America








World War II Automotive Sector: Countries -- United States

American automobile industry
Figure 1.--Henry Ford revolutionized the nascent autoimobile industry with the Modet-T Tin Lizzie (1908). Ford soon domianted the American automobile induisty. The Model T- was a car that the average worker and fgramer could afford at atime that the car was basically a play-thing for the wealthy. Ford did not like the idea of making annual changes or purely cosmetic changes like different colors--they slowed and complicated down his assembly lines. Here we see a range of American cars we think in the late-1910s. We think this is a rural church prking area. Notice the children. They clearly come from modest income families. Notice the General (GM) Chevrolet. GM was created by Ford competiors to compete with Ford and in the early 1920s began to make annual changes to appeal to customers, such as offering different colors. This was the beginning of the competition between the Big Three. In the lead up to World War II, something like 80 percent cars and trucks were bring manufactured in America. Both GM and Ford was building more motor vehiles than any other country. This weuld hve a huge impact on World War II.

American and European companies made small numbers of luxury autombiles (early-1900s). They were done in very small numbers and very expensive. There was a large number of small manufactuerers. Henry Ford revolitionized the indudtry with the Model-T Tin Lizzy. Rather than making small numbers of luxury cars, Ford took the vital step of applying assembly line manufacturing techniques to motor vehicle contruction. The result was the Model-T--a vehicle for the average man. It was inmexpensive and American workers were paid enought to aford one. He result was a huge new industry for America's already expanding industry. At the time, the United States was the largest industrial economy in the world. The automobile industry enabled it to grow far beyond the capacity of the European countrues. The reulting economic boom resulting from the automobile industry created an industrial juggernaut far beyond the potential of the Eurpeamn powers. American motor vehicle production was something like 80 percent of world production. American motor vehicle production would be an important factor in World War I--primrily the trucks. When World War I began, transportation was just beginning to make the move from horse carts to trucks. In this trasition, Europe was far behind Anerica, in large part thanks to Ford's Model-T. World War I proved to be a major turning point in transportation. Before the War, goods wre mostly delivered to cities by rail and then horse-drawn waggons to wholesalers and reyailers. This shift began in America with the introduction of the Model-T Ford. Soon small trucks began to be built by Ford in large numbers. And the advantages of motorized vehicles soon became apparent. The Germans asked for an armistice before American industry had fully covered to war production. The automobile sector was of huge economic importance. The automible industry continued to grow in the Roaring Twnties, but production declined some 75 perceny after the Wall Street Crash (1929-32). The industry began to grow again as the economy began to revive (late-1930s). World War II wouild be very different than in World War I. The American automotive industry would play a crucially important role. And it was far larger than in World War I. In fact the American automotive industry had an economic footprint larger than the entire economies of most countries. The American automobile industry washard hit by the Depression. Curiosly many of the unemployed owned cars. Will Rogers quipped, "America was the first country to go to the poor house in the auromobile." The mass production of cars was still largely an American phenomenon, but Europe was beginning to change. In contrast to the Germans, the American automobile industry was fully capable, but American did not have a substantial army to equip. Instead American automobile companies in 1939 were having their first good year since the onset of the Depression, chuning out sleek new cars using large uany\tuies of steel, copper, and chrome. After Pearl Harbor (December 1941), President Roosevelt after nearly a decade of lambasting businessmen, he called then 'economic royalists.' he turned to them in a desperate effort to save America. And he understood the importance of the automotive industry. World War II was an industrial war and industry would be America's route to victory. In fact, the President called the leading and hugest paid businessman (Outside Hollywood) in the country--the chairman of General Motors--William Knudsen. His job became to mobilize the Arsenal of Democracy for war and the automobile industry would be a major part of it. America would not only arm it's own military, but help arm it's fighting allies. And at the heart of the production miracle that followed would be Knudsen and the American automotive industry. America had dominated the sector before the War. Unlike other countries, it was not only the well-to-do who owned cars in America. Henry Ford had brought the automobile within the purchasing power of the average worker. And a huge industry had grown up to fill that demand.

Early-20th Century

The automobile was created by French and German industrial pioneers (late-19th century). In America a patent attorney, George B. Selden, was awarded a patent fir an auitomible (1895). American automobile companies actually began paying him royalties, setting up an extended legal battle with none other than Henry Ford. American and European companies at the turn of the 20th century made small numbers of luxury automobiles (early-1900s). They were done in very small numbers and very expensive. There was a large number of small manufacturers. Working=-class Americans walked some might have bicycles. Astonishingly, in the space of 4 years, three American mechanics with no scientific background changed the world -- changed that would dominate the 20th century. The Write brothers would build the first heavier-than-air flying machine (1903). Than Henry Ford revolutionized the industry with the Model-T Tin Lizzy. Ford did not invent the basic technology for the automobile. That already existed at the time he began working on the Model-T. What Ford did was to make a play-thing for the well-to-do, a utilitarian vehicle for the farmer and urban worker. Ford adapted assembly line for automobile manufacturing as well as designing a very basic design. He took a further unprecedented step, paying his workers $5 a day, more than twice what most industrial workers were earning. This was enough to purchase one of the cars. Notably, $2 a day was more than most European workers were earning. Thus rather producing small numbers of luxury cars, Ford took the vital step of applying assembly line manufacturing techniques to motor vehicle construction. The result was the Model-T--a vehicle for the average man. Ford worked hard at making it inexpensive and American workers were paid enough to afford one. The result was a huge new industry for America's already expanding industry. Ford would dominate the automotive industry for more than a decade, but he was not the only player. William C. Durant founded General Motors (1908). GM was initially intended as a holding company for the Buick Car Company. Durant, however, saw opportunities. He began buying some of the biggest names in the automotive industry, companies that had launched the industry. They had all been eclipsed by Ford, including Cadillac, Oakland (Pontiac), Oldsmobile, and companies producing trucks--the future of GMC Truck. GM would become a real competitor in the 1920s. At the time, the United States was the largest industrial economy in the world. The automobile industry enabled it to grow far beyond the capacity of the European countries. The resulting economic boom resulting from the automobile industry created an industrial juggernaut far beyond the potential of the European powers. Ford had rural America in mind, seeing that it would prove useful to them if he could create a rugged vehicle at an affordable price. It would solve the problem of dustiness which isolated rural America. Ford also saw a market with industrial workers. Ford's simple design and assembly line techniques created an inexpensive vehicle for farmers and workers. As a result, Ford managed the impossible. The first Model-T touring car cost $950. Ford managed to get that down to $360 by 1916. Sales soared as the lower price made the Model T affordable to more and more Americans. Sales were an impressive 12,292 (1909). That was impressive in 1909 when other manufacturers were still selling very small numbers. Ford increased sales to an incredible 0.5 million (1916). This made Ford the largest car manufacturer in America which also meant the World. Ford became the largest car manufactured in America.

World War I (1914-18)

The focus of European Europwan and even Ametican auto makers on expensive hasnd-crafted cars meant that into the 1900s decade, automobiles were not an important part of the economy in any country--even America. Henry Ford changed this. He created a very basic automobile that the average working American could afford--the Model-T Tin Lizzie. Often not realized is that the Model-T involved high technology. It took huge ingenuity and technical innovation to make a low-cost car. The impact was staggering. Ford filled an untapped market. And sales sky-rocketed. In only a couple years, the American automobile manufacturing industry out produced the wagon and carriage industry. And by the time of World War I, Ford and other companies were producing trucks. American motor vehicle production at the time of World War I was something like 80 percent of world production. American motor vehicle production would be an important factor in World War I--primrily the trucks. When World War I began, military off the rasil heads was primarily based on horses-- horse drawn carts, waggons, and aryillery cassions. In this trasition to trucks, Europe was far behind Anerica, in large part thanks to Ford's Model-T. Given the huge challenge of logistics. Ameriucan truck production was a real asset to the Allies. The Germans in sharp contrat used very few trucks. World War I proved to be a major turning point in transportation. Before the War, goods wre mostly delivered to cities by rail and then horse-drawn waggons to wholesalers and reyailers. This shift began in America with the introduction of the Model-T Ford. Soon small trucks began to be built by Ford in large numbers. And the advantages of motorized vehicles soon began to become apparent. The Germans asked for an armistice before American industry had fully covered to war production.

Inter-War Years (1920s-30s)

In a little more than a decade in the 1920s, the American automobile industry was becoming one of the largest industries in the country. Passenger car production increased from less than 0.2 million (1910) to 4.5 million (1929). The consequences of this were enormous. To produce 4.5 million cars, the American heavy industry had to expand to build these cars. There was an enormous growth of the steel industry--the rock bed of an industrial economy. The same was true in other areas such as copper and rubber and other elements of heavy industry. The United States developed the largest industrial economy in the world (late-19th century). But largely thanks to Henry Ford and the automobile, the American economy was not just the great industrial power, it had the industrial capacity approaching that of much of Europe. Precise estimates on the world economy are complicated, but economists estimate that the American economy was larger than that of Britain, France, and Germany combined. 【Harrison】 This huge America industrial dominance would play a major role in the direction of the 20th Century, especially World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. This was because European countries continued to be focused on making expensive cars for the well-to-do. This mean that they only made small numbers of cars. And the industry had a minimal impact on the economy. Owning an automobile was beyond the dreams of most European workers. And automobiles did not just create industrial jobs, there were jobs for retail and service operations, including car dealerships, filling stations, repair shops, and tire and automobile accessories stores. In addition, the automobile affected other industries. Trucks for example reduced the cost of moving goods. The automobile helped increase agriculture productivity, not only by creating tractors, but by improving the transport of farm equipment and supplies like fertilizer and improving farm life by providing greater access to city markets, stores, and entertainment. The automobile was at the heart of the Roaring Twenties. Ford dominated the automobile industry. But his intransigent resistance to non-mechanical innovation such as color and styling, opened the way for competitors like General Motors and Chrysler--the Big Three. The American automobile industry was centered in Michigan, but gradually began to spread out.

World War II (1939-41)

World War II would be very different than in World War I. The American automotive industry would play a crucially important role. And it was far larger than in World War I. In fact the American automotive industry had an economic footprint larger than the entire economies of most countries. After Pearl Harbor (December 1941), President Roosevelt after nearly a decade of lambasting businessmen, he called then 'economic royalists.' he turned to them in a desperate effort to save America. And he understood the importance of the automotive industry. World War II was an industrial war and industry would be America's route to victory. In fact, the President called the leading and hugest paid businessman (Outside Hollywood) in the country--the chairman of General Motors--William Knudsen. His job became to mobilize the Arsenal of Democracy for war and the automobile industry would be a major part of it. America would not only arm it's own military, but help arm it's fighting allies. And at the heart of the production miracle that followed would be Knudsen and the American automotive industry. America had dominated the sector before the War. Unlike other countries, it was not only the well-to-do who owned cars in America. Henry Ford had brought the automobile within the purchasing power of the average worker. And a huge industry had grown up to fill that demand. A huge induitrial capacity thast could bve converted to war production. This had begun before the War, and a a minor incident exemplified waht was happening. After Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) security concern became paramount. Federal Regulations restricted what the Federal Governmeny could spend for a car. Thus there were not special cars for the President. And the Secret Service wanted to make sure he was safe moving from thw White House to the Capitol to deliver his 'day of Infamy' declaratiion of War speech. The solution was Al Capone's huge armored Cadillac the IRS had seized a decade earlier, although it was not used for the ride to the capitol. The Declaratiion of War also brought Ford into the war production business. Henry Ford swas a pacifist. He refused to build arms for the Allies while America was still neutral. Ford refused a British contract tobuild Merrlin engenies. Instead the contact went to Packard. With America in the War, Ford followed GM, Chrysler, and the other automobile companies into the Arsenal of Democracy. Knudsen and his staff worked miracles. American industry not only produced more than the American military has anticipated, but far more than the Axis thought possible. The very peopkle who politicians had harried an oercecuted forv two decasd=casdes, not only saved Anmerica, but Western Civilization. American industry would maked made the concersion to war productyion far quicker than anyone anticipated--in part because the President had him working on it more than a year before Pearl Harbor. Hitler told his associates that it wiould be years before America was ready for War. Less than a year after OPeal Harbor, American forces were ion the offensive first in the Pacific and then uin North africa and by 1943 American industry was tuenuing out incredavke quanyiies of militaryv equioment fior thev land, naval, and air war.

Sources

Rhodes, David and Daniel Stelter. "How automakers accelerated out of the Great Depression," ECG (February 16, 2010).






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Created: 12:06 AM 9/25/2021
Last updated: 8:00 AM 5/29/2024