The U.S. / American Automobile Industry in World War Two / WWII
An American Auto Industry Heritage Tribute
By David D Jackson

Overview
The U.S. Auto Industry at the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944
The U.S. Auto Industry and the B-29 Bomber   U.S. Auto Industry Army-Navy "E" Award Winners   The Complete listing of All Army-Navy "E" Award Winners
    Automobile Manufacturers:  American Bantam Car Company   Checker   Chrysler   Crosley   Ford   General Motors   Graham-Paige   Hudson
   Nash-Kelvinator   Packard      Studebaker    Willys-Overland
General Motors Divisions
(Undergoing development) Aeroproducts   Brown-Lipe-Chapin   Buick   Cadillac   Chevrolet   Delco Appliance   Delco Products   Delco Radio   Delco-Remy   Detroit Diesel   Detroit Transmission   Electro-Motive   Fisher Body   Frigidaire   GM Proving Grounds   GM of Canada   Guide Lamp   Harrison Radiator   Hyatt Bearings   Inland   Moraine Products   New Departure   Oldsmobile   Packard Electric   Saginaw Malleable Iron   Southern California Division   Rochester Products   United Motors Service
Truck Manufacturers:   Autocar  Diamond T   International Harvester    Mack Truck
   Pacific Car and Foundry  Reo Motor Car Company   Ward LaFrance Truck Corporation   White Motor Company    
Updates and Additions  
Links

 

 


 The U.S. / American Auto Industry in World War Two / WWII
An Overview

New page added - Ford M4A3 Sherman Tank Photos added 8-11-2016.  Link is on the main Ford page.
New page added
-The complete listing of all Army-Navy "E" Award Winners page added 7-28-2016.

New page added - Grand Blanc built M4A2 Sherman Tank images added 7-3-2016.
New page added -
U.S. Automobile Industry Army-Navy "E" Award Winners page added 6-15-2014.
New page added - Studebaker Built R-1820 Aircraft Engines on the B-17 "Yankee Lady" added 6-12-2016.
New page added - Detroit Transmission Torqmatic Model 900-T added 3-18-2016.
New page added - Fisher Body Detroit Die and Machine Plant added 2-15-2016.
New page added - Detroit Diesel "The Power to Win" added 1-3-2016.
New page added - Fisher Body Memphis Plant added 10-5-2015.
New Page added  - "Hyatt Bearings Division of GM added October 2, 2015.


See the "Updates and Additions" page for other new information as it is added.


Nothing more can attest to the contribution of the US Automobile Industry in its effort to help win World War Two than this Fisher Body Grand Blanc Tank Arsenal built M4A3 Sherman Tank combat veteran that is on display in downtown Bastogne, Belgium.  It was knocked out of combat during the one of the most famous battles of World War Two, the Battle of the Bulge, in December of 1944.  It sits at the intersection of several roads in Bastogne that made the town an important military objective during the battle.  Author's photo added 4-6-2015.  More photos below.

The goal of this website is to bring together in one location what the US Automobile industry produced during the Second World War, as far as what the products were, which company made them, the numbers produced and the manufacturing locations.  While there are many good history sources of information on most of the American automobile manufacturers detailed on this website, because there was no production of automobiles during WWII, scant space is given to what the US auto industry did in WWII.  Of interest to automobile historians are the cars that were produced during peace time, not the military products of WWII that interfered with car production.  However, my orientation is that of a WWII military historian who worked in the US auto industry during my working career, and whose interest is not cars so much but what the industry did during the war.  There are also several very good books written on the American automobile industry of WWII, but they do not give the complete depth on a each company that this website will do.

As noted, there are several good books on the American Automobile Industry and what it did during World War Two.  However, while the US auto industry was centered in Detroit, MI and dominated by the Big Three; General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, there were nine other auto companies and six of them were located outside of the Detroit area, five of them outside of Michigan.  World War Two histories of the US auto industry while acknowledging them usually give them short shift.  Where possible, I have recognized all twelve auto companies and have provided as much information on each as I have been able to find.  Also, GM had over 25 different divisions, most of them outside of Michigan, making all sorts of war products which are normally overlooked.  By using period publications I will attempt to fully tell the General Motors Story.  Also, WWII histories on Ford in most cases focus on its B-24 production at Willow Run and its River Rouge plants.  However, Ford had plants all over the US and the world that contributed which I will document on this site. 

This website will include not only WWII production statistics as can be found for each of the American car companies, but include period publications produced by the automakers themselves, period advertising I have collected over the years, and contemporary photos of weapons and other items built by the automakers during the war.  General Motors near the end of World War Two had all of its car, truck and parts divisions produce a history on what each one did during the war.  While I have not been able to obtain all of the GM divisional histories, those that I have will be included in this site.  These GM WWII divisional histories give insight that can not be found anywhere else.  Also, at the end the war Chrysler published seven books on its participation in the war which were very comprehensive on what that company did. 

While production statistics will be presented they can be meaningless unless the reader knows what they represent in a physical product.  Therefore period advertisements from the auto companies I have acquired over the years will be included to assist the reader in seeing what was actually made.  Because there were no cars built during most of the Second World War in the US, the car companies needed to keep their name recognition out in front of the public for the sale after the war of all the cars that would be needed.  So the ads in a very patriotic manner showed what they were making and producing for the war effort.  Also many of the items produced still exist today and can be seen at museums and aviation and military collector events.  Contemporary photos of will also enhance the reader's understanding.

While there were still some vestiges of the US Horse Cavalry left in the Army at the start of WWII, it quickly disappeared and the Jeep replaced the horse as the individual soldier's mount and the sundry types of trucks built replaced the covered wagon and caisson for the transport of soldiers, supplies, ammunition and artillery.  The United States military during WWII was the most mechanized of any of the combatants while horses were still used in varying quantities by others.  The Germans, who were highly advanced in rocketry and jet aircraft, still relied extensively on horses to move supplies.  The strength of the American Automobile industry made this unnecessary for the US Army.  Wheeled and tracked vehicles came off the assembly lines in abundance. 

At the beginning of the Second World War for the United States in December of 1941, there were only twelve automobile manufacturers remaining of the hundreds that had started making cars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Of the twelve still left in the US at the start of the war, three were heavy weights and controlled 90% of the market; General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, and three were inconsequential, but did produce a very small amount of cars; American Bantam, Crosley and Graham-Paige.  Actually Graham-Paige had stopped producing cars in 1940 but produced war goods and then morphed into Kaiser-Frazier after the war.  The remaining six were of various sizes; Checker, Hudson, Nash-Kelvinator, Packard, Studebaker, and Willys-Overland and fought for the remaining 10% of the market. 

The U.S. auto industry produced 20% of the total U.S. output of the material manufactured to fight World War II, with the total value of goods produced by the U.S. automobile industry in the war effort surpassing $29 billion. GM produced $12 billion of that or 41% the industry output and 8% of the entire American war economy.  Ford came in second with $3.9 billion, and Chrysler was right behind with $3.5 billion in war contracts. Willys-Overland had $7.34 million for the nineteen wartime projects it had.  While the auto companies were the logical manufacturers of trucks, armored cars, jeeps and tanks, the product line was extensive and many of the items built were new to the industry.  Both Ford and General Motors both built entire warplanes for the conflict, and many aircraft components were produced by the industry.  An overview of what was being produced in 1942 can be seen farther down this page.

Also included on this website is limited information on the US truck manufacturers as they made contributions to military vehicles during WWII.  Most started out as automobile manufacturers but then concentrated on trucks as the competition in the auto industry intensified and then became dominated by the Big Three.


The Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Why introduce a history site on the US auto industry in WWII with the most sophisticated, advanced and complex aircraft the United States built during the war?  Because a good percentage of the components on this aircraft were produced by the automakers.  Dodge built the engines, Frigidaire Division of GMC built the propellers, Hudson built the rear fuselage assemblies, Fisher Body Division of GMC supplied the engine nacelles, the outer wing sections (Note on the different color of aluminum on the last third of the wing starting at the ailerons.  That is the section built by Fisher Body.) and the tail assembly while Chrysler built nose sections and wing leading edge and cowling assemblies. My mother worked at the Lansing Fisher Body plant where the tail assembly was built and my father worked in the same plant until drafted early in the war.  Several other GM Divisions could have supplied the weapons and other components.

World War Two was a war of industrial production, for which the U.S. auto industry was well suited.  The world of military products were not nearly as sophisticated or as expensive as now.  Modern electronics, smart bombs, atomic weapons, ICBMs and stealth that are so prominent in today's US military arsenal were in their infancy during WWII.  The United States won WWII by out producing the Axis powers in weapons such as airplanes, tanks, trucks, armored vehicles, artillery, ships and lots and lots of ammunition.  And the US not only had the secret Manhattan Project that ended the war with Japan, but also radar that was also one its two most advanced technology projects.   Chrysler Corporation was involved in both.  The Germans were way ahead of us in cruise missiles (V-1) which the US reversed engineered (The politically correct term for copying.) from V-1s that were not completely destroyed during their attacks on England The US copies were going to be used in the proposed invasion of Japan.  Ford Motor company built the engines and Willys-Overland built the airframe components in Toledo, OH for final assembly by Republic Aircraft in New York.

The German V-2 missile which was the forerunner of the intercontinental missiles we have today the US did not have at all during the war.  The Germans also had jet aircraft which if had been used properly by the them would have lengthened the war in Europe as we were way behind on this technology also.  But with the help of the US Auto Industry the United States steamrollered the Axis with more of everything needed to fight a war.  Maybe not "Firstest with the Mostest"  as the old saying goes but definitely Mostest.  In early 1942 when the last automobiles came off the assembly line the largest industry in the county had its plants setting idle.  But not for long as the plants immediately were put through the process of "conversion" that you will see described in some of the literature in this website (Oldsmobile used the term extensively.) when all the equipment for making cars was removed from the factories and new equipment to make armaments was moved in, which was no small task in itself.  In the end the United States smothered its enemies with endless streams of armaments and related equipment that came out of the former auto factories.  Chrysler was responsible at its Evansville, IN plant for the manufacture of .45 caliber small arms ammunition.  Before the war was even over it had become so efficient through the use of it mass production methods that the US Government cancelled the contract, as it had too much .45 ammunition, and would not use up what it stockpiled in WWII until the Vietnam Conflict twenty years later.

Today the US Auto Industry is a lot different, smaller and weaker than it was during WWII.  That is not the subject of this website and one can find any number of books, articles and opinions as to why everything changed and is different today, if they so desire.

I grew up in Lansing, MI in the fifties and sixties, which was the post war hey day of the US auto industry.  In Lansing we had Fisher Body, Oldsmobile, Reo, Motor Wheel, a multitude of drop forges (I still remember on hot summer nights listening to the hammers drop at the one that was a mile away from my house.  It must have been unbearably noisy and hot in the forge.)  Today most of that is gone from Lansing, which is so unfortunate in that it provided such a good living for the workers and their families.  In today's world of globalization, the auto workers' grandchildren get to work, if they can find it, for minimum wages and no health care.  The US auto industry may not have been perfect but it did provide for many of us.

When I graduated from High School I worked summers in the Lansing Fisher Body Plant to pay my way through college, after which I worked for the US auto industry until my retirement.  On that journey I collected what I could about the industry in WWII and much of that is presented here within this website.  General Motors especially in 1944 had all its divisions produce a booklet on what they did during the war.  Those that I have been able to find are reproduced on this website as they tell the story of what they did by the people that did it.  Other companies had similar publications or in some cases none at all.  If that is the case I have been able to obtain period advertising to help tell the story.

What did the US Automobile Industry make during WWII?  The proverbial "Soup to Nuts"!  I will let the Automobile Council for War Production describe that better than I could ever do what what the US Auto Industry was doing in the seventh month of war in its June, 1942 pamphlet below.  This was only the beginning and as more conversion took place war products beyond what is listed below were produced.
 

The Job is Being Done

 


 


The engines were GM Allison, while the 20mm cannon was from Oldsmobile and the .50 caliber machineguns came from AC.

Last revision date:  8-11-2016
Original publication date:  8-30-2013

 

 

 

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