Academic journal article McNair Papers

9. U.S. Production in World War II

Academic journal article McNair Papers

9. U.S. Production in World War II

Article excerpt

Everywhere one looks there are very impressive American production statistics throughout World War II. The war on the ground in Europe was often tank warfare. Between 1918 and 1933, the United States produced only 35 tanks, and no two of them the same model. In 1940, after witnessing Germany's Blitzkrieg in Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, the United States produced 309 tanks, versus 1,400 in Britain and 1,450 in Germany. In 1943, however, the United States manufactured 29,500 tanks, more in 1 year than Germany produced in the entire war from 1939 to 1945. In all, the United States manufactured 88,430 tanks during World War II versus 24,800 in Britain and 24,050 in Germany. (1)

Consider also aircraft. In 1940, the United States had 41 engine and propeller plants; in 1943 it had 81, with 5 built in Canada with U.S. funds (nearly all of the 40 new factories were of considerably larger size than those that existed in 1940). Aircraft production floor space increased from 13 million square feet in the prewar period, to more than 167 million square feet in 1943, and the value of the facilities mushroomed from $114 million prewar to almost $4 billion in 1944. In 1939, the United States produced 5,865 aircraft valued at about $280 million, and in 1944 America produced 96,379 airplanes valued at almost $17 billion. (The dollar figure is deceiving because during the war the costs of manufacturing aircraft dropped dramatically.) Between 1 January 1940 and 14 August 1945 the United States manufactured 303,717 aircraft, and between 7 December 1941 and the Japanese surrender, 274,941 aircraft. And the power, weight, and speed of the aircraft dramatically increased during the war period. (2)

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It is equally true, however, that there was no production "miracle" in the United States during World War II. Unquestionably, munitions production expanded greatly, but the base on which the expanded production was measured was a depressed one. Compare, for example, the period 1941 to 1945 with another period of rapid industrial expansion (and peacetime at that), 1921 to 1925. Wartime farm output increased about 25 percent in the former and peacetime output increased by more than 28 percent. In the case of total industrial production, the peacetime output increase was double that of wartime (53 percent versus 25 percent). If the period 1941 to 1944, when wartime production peaked and before it turned down, is compared with the period 1921 to 1924, the wartime figure is 7 percent higher (45 percent compared to 38 percent). (3) How then did the United States produce the hundreds of thousands of airplanes, tens of thousands of tanks, tens of thousands of landing craft if the output increase in the early 1940s was no greater than it had been in the early 1920s? through massive conversion of the industrial base and generous government funding for infrastructure construction.

In 1939 the United States devoted less than 2 percent of its national output to war, and about 70 percent to satisfying immediate civilian desires. The rest went to civilian government expenditures, private capital formation, and exports. By 1944, the war outlays were 40 percent of national output. Industrial production doubled from 1939 to 1945 (but 1939 was still a depression year), with production increasing at the rate of 15 percent per year. Manufacturing employment increased from 10,151,000 in 1939 to 16,558,000 in 1944, and the percentage of the work force involved in manufacturing increased from 19 to 26 percent. The rest of the people were neither farm nor factory workers (more women were at home than were in the factories, on the farm as workers, or in the military). All segments of the labor force decreased their percentage of workers except industry, the military and civil service. (4) Agricultural employment fell from 9,450,000 in 1940 to 8,950,000 in 1944, while people in nonagricultural industries went from 37,980,000 in 1940 to 45,010,000 in 1944. …

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