It may not have been the war to end all wars, despite the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but World War II certainly had a global impact. The only major attack on American soil took place on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor (although there were a few other attempts), while the rest of the war played out in the European, African, and Pacific theaters. Still, the war had a dramatic effect on life in the U.S.
On the home front, rationing of food, clothing, gas, and other products began. Metal was needed to build machines of war, and scrap metal drives were common.
As you can imagine, this had a significant impact on the auto industry, as all available metal went toward the war effort rather than auto manufacturer assembly lines. What happened to U.S. automakers during WWII?
A Shift in Production
The Office of Production Management froze the sale and delivery of vehicles to U.S. consumers on January 1, 1942, shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. On January 16, the War Production Board was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to regulate materials and fuels related to the war. Production of automobiles ceased February 22, 1942, at which time the stockpile of new automobiles numbered at 520,000, from which automakers would be allowed to make rationed sales to “essential drivers” during the war.
In April, the Automotive Council for War Production was formed by members of the auto industry, with the goal of sharing information and resources in preparation for the transition from producing consumer vehicles (cars and trucks) to making the trucks, Jeeps, tanks, airplanes, and other vehicles needed for the war, not to mention the implements of war like helmets, ammunition, and even bombs and torpedoes. Factories were upended to make room for new machinery and assembly lines. Almost overnight, automakers found themselves in the war business.
By early 1944, the stockpile of U.S. automobiles had dwindled to just 30,000, and in the fall of that year, certain companies, including Chrysler, Fisher Body (of General Motors), Ford, and Nash, received permission to allocate limited resources to work on new consumer car models, so long as their work didn’t interfere with the ongoing war effort.
What Did U.S. Automakers Produce During WWII?
During WWII, U.S. automakers manufactured a wide variety of vehicles, munitions, and more for the government. They made tanks like the Fisher Body Grand Blanc, the Ford M10 Wolverine, and the M18 Hellcat, produced by the Buick Motor Car Division of General Motors.
Automakers also produced parts for planes, including the infamous Enola Gay. The 18-foot nose section of the fuselage was built by Chrysler. Chevrolet alone produced 60,000 engines for Pratt & Whitney cargo and bomber planes between 1942 and 1945, along with 500,000 trucks, 8 million artillery shells, and much more.
By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, the total value of goods produced by the U.S. auto industry for the war would exceed $29 million (nearly $400,000,000 in today’s money). With the war over, automakers were free to return to manufacturing new cars for the consumer public.
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