Tuesday, 11 December 2012

American Production and Prefab Construction During WWII

          In the 1930’s the American government passed a series of acts that would prevent the U.S. participating in the war that was clearly on the horizon in both Europe and the Pacific. However, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the gears were set in motion of the most efficient war/production/manufacturing machine on the planet at the time. During World War II no other country out manufactured the Americans. Their gross domestic product jumped from 800 billion to 1.4 trillion between 1938 and 1945. They also built more jeeps, heavy trucks, merchant ships, aircraft carriers, battleships, bombers and fighter planes than any country participating in the war. Although the Soviets made more tanks and ammunition, no one came close to matching the American production level.

          How did they do it? Well laid out factories for easy mass production and the mastering of the prefab building technique. An example of their incredibly quick production time is the fleet of Liberty Ships that were built during the war. In 1936 the Merchant Marine Act was passed to rebuild America’s decrepit and dwindling merchant fleet. The Liberty Ship was to become the basic model for the fleet. In total from 1937-1945, 5500 were built with more than half that number built during the war. At it’s most productive period, the ship yards were turning out a liberty ship every forty-two days, with only a twenty-four day period from dry dock to being tied up at a dock. They managed to build them so quickly by prefabricating large sections of the ship. A liberty ship consisted of four large pieces: the bow, midship, stern and deck (including the wheelhouse, etc.). 

          The prefabrication model also applied to other items produced for the war effort. In Dearborn, Michigan, at the Ford plant, planes were being turned out at about the rate of one per hour. At the height of production, the assembly line extended a mile through the former car factory complex. Bombers, like the Liberty Ships, were built in smaller pieces (fuselage, wings, etc.) and then assembled at once into the large aircraft. Because of this efficiency in building technique they were able to produce over 90 000 planes between 1941-1945. 

          The factories that built all the machinery of the war were originally car, metal fabrication and even canning plants. The Americans easily converted them into war production machines after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This ‘multi-use’ ability of virtually everything that the Americans made or owned was one of the biggest reasons that they won the war. A Liberty Ship could be used to transport anything from troops to canned beans. Their jeeps and trucks were so versatile and easy to produce that they sold them to their Allies. They virtually kept the British alive during the Battle of Britain and throughout the subsequent years of the war. 

          It is not surprising then that the Quonset Hut was the standard issue building of the Navy. It preformed so well that it was used by other sections of the armed forces and even other countries. Like the ships and planes of WWII it was assembled in parts, speeding up the building process. It fit perfectly with the American sensibility of the time, being recycled, cheap, prefabricated, mass produced, easy to assemble and effective.


‘Henry Ford: Helped Lead American World War II Production Efforts’. Weider History Group. Accessed December 9 2012. 
‘Liberty Ships and Victory Ships, America’s Lifeline in War’. National Park Service. Accessed December 9 2012. 
‘Reading One: Liberty Ships’. National Park Services. Accessed December 9 2012. 
Harrison, Mark, "The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison", Cambridge University 
             Press (1998).

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