The American Automobile Industry in World War Two
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   Sherman Tanks of the American Auto Industry   Tank Destroyers of the American Auto Industry    M26 Pershing Tanks of the American Auto Industry

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Lansing, Michigan Fisher Body Plant - General Motors Corporation in World War Two
Lansing, MI
1922-2007

Rest in Peace
Gone but not Forgotten!!!

This page updated 12-25-2016.

Lansing Fisher Body had an important place in the first 23 years of my life.  My parents met while working in the plant after World War Two.  My father worked there six days a week on his particular job in the plant while my sister and I were growing up; working not only Saturdays and Sundays, but holidays as well.  He spent a lot of time in "The Shop", as he called it.  It dominated our lives because he was gone so much.

My family's association with Lansing Fisher Body started with my grandfather going to work there sometime after 1937, when he had been a participant in the Lansing Reo sit-down strike.  More than likely, he was hired into Fisher Body because he was a musician.  Fisher Body had a brass band in which he could play.  Reo was not at all in good financial standing, and moving to a GM plant was more secure for him.  Playing in the Reo Brass Band was the reason he was hired into The Reo.  However, with the coming of WWII to the US in 1941, he lost his job when automotive production stopped at Lansing Fisher Body.  Most of the workers were laid off until war work could be brought into the Lansing plant.  (There is more on this history of the plant below.)  Actually, for my grandfather, this probably worked out for the better, as he got a job at the Nash-Kelvinator plant propeller plant as a foreman in charge of blade balancing.  As the new job was within a short walk of his house, he was able to save on gasoline and tires which were both rationed during the war.  After the end of the conflict, he returned to Lansing Fisher Body and retired from the plant.

On May 23, 1942, my father, after traveling 400 miles from his hometown in Marquette, MI, walked into the Lansing Fisher Body plant and was hired.  How did this happen while thousands of previous workers were laid off?  This is a classic case of "it's not what you know, but who you know!"  My father was looking for a better job, and there was not much opportunity in Marquette.  His high school football coach knew someone at Lansing Fisher Body, and was able to arrange the job for him.  My father therefore came down to Lansing and hired into Plant Protection, which had a different union than the UAW that represented the majority of the workers.  Plant Protection was used by management to place persons they wanted into the plant.  In later years, plant management would offer these positions to UAW Local 602 committeemen that were giving management headaches. That way it would not have to deal with them anymore.  Several of the committeemen took the positions.  I worked with two of them during several of my summers in the plant.  On October 6, 1942, my father was inducted into the Army. 

Sometime after my father left for the service, my mother came to work in the plant as a salaried clerk in the Materials Control Department.  Her job responsibility was to keep track of the B-29 components being made in the plant, including engine nacelles and control surfaces.  After having several depression-era low paying jobs after graduating from Lansing Central High School, doing war work at Fisher Body was a great opportunity for her.

My father returned to work after separating from the Army on February 6, 1946.  At some point, my parents met while working in the plant, and were married.  My mother did what was the norm during that era.  She became a stay-at home-mother and housewife.  My father stayed at Lansing Fisher Body until he retired on August 1, 1976.


Lansing Fisher Body circa 1973.  This is how I remember the plant; and how it looked during the "Golden Years" of General Motors during the 1950s, 60s and early 70s.  It was because of this plant that my sister and I always had food to eat and clothes to wear.  Because my father was on Plant Protection, he worked through several GM strikes while I was growing up.  While going to college, both my sister and I had summer jobs in the plant.  During the 1960s, if your mother or father worked in the plant, you could count on a summer job while in college.  Also, Michigan State football players who needed summer jobs were given special consideration.  There were several such athletes in the plant during the summers I worked there.


The Fisher Body Coach Emblem that was on the south side of the Lansing Fisher Body Plant facing Michigan Ave and Lansing Sexton High School.  Now the emblem resides in the RE Olds Museum in downtown Lansing.  Author's Photo.

Early History:  In the photos below, not only does the plant grow over time, but the neighborhood to the east of the plant does as well.


The building that later became the Lansing Fisher Body Plant was built in 1922 as an automobile assembly plant for the Durant Motor Company.  This aerial looking north-west shows what the plant looked like in 1922 after it was built.  The plant was far smaller than it was when razed in 2007, as there were many additions over the years.  Building One was the nomenclature for the long building facing Verlinden Avenue.  The empty area on the south or left end of the photo would be the location of a post WWII two story addition known as Building 3X. It contained the body shop on the first floor and final trim shop on the second.  The 1928 photo below shows the addition going up on the north end of the building that is a parking lot in this photo.

Verlinden Avenue is out in front, and Michigan Avenue is the road along the bottom of the photo.  Three houses were built across the street from the plant, and trees have been planted in the new neighborhood. When I was a child. this area was all houses.


This photo, taken between 1922 and 1928, is looking south down Verlinden Ave. while the plant was still part of Durant Motors.  The trees at the south end of Verlinden Ave. are where my high school, J.W. Sexton, would be built during WWII, .


This 1926 Durant Star was built by the Durant Motor Company in what later became the Lansing Fisher Body Plant.  The Star was the low priced line of vehicles produced by Durant, for which production ran from 1922 to 1928 at Lansing.  This particular vehicle is on display and owned by the RE Olds Museum in Lansing, MI.  It is an un-restored original.  Author's photo.


This 1928 photo shows the addition on the north end of the plant and Building One.  The stairs lead up to what would become the "front offices" for the rest of the plant's existence.


This newspaper photo shows the plant in 1936, one year after General Motors purchased it for Fisher Body.  Prior to the purchase of this plant, Fisher Body built its bodies for Olds in leased space in the Oldsmobile plant.  At this time, the plant was 1,000,000 square feet, had six miles of conveyor, and supplied all of the Oldsmobile bodies. There was not a direct road between the two plants so a road was built between them.  This would be Clare Street and Olds Avenue.


The Fisher Body Lansing Plant before WWII.  This may have been taken at the same time as the photo above.  The 1928 addition on the north or right end of the photo is easily visible along with several other additions within the center of the plant complex.  During the summer while in college I worked in this building.  One of my jobs was at the middle of the section at the right end (north) of the photo on the second floor.  Along the front are two entrances facing Verlinden Avenue.  One entrance towards the north or the right was what we called "the front office" for the executives and some of the office workers.  Another entrance, in the middle of the plant at the intersection of the two buildings facing the Verlinden Ave., was for the workers like my father.  The long buildings in the far upper left were known as "cut and sew."  Seat cushions and interior were made up here until the late 1950's, when they became known as "the cushion room".  "Cut and sew" was moved to another plant and the seat cushions were then assembled there.

On a related note, General Motors purchased the plant behind and across the railroad tracks from RE Olds in 1940.  Originally built as a foundry in 1920 to hopefully provide castings for GM, it went bankrupt several times and stood empty when GM purchased it.  It became Olds Plant 2 and was converted into a forge plant to manufacture the 75mm and 155mm artillery shells Oldsmobile produced during WWII.  The Fisher Body Power House supplied the steam for Olds Plant Two.

World War Two: 


The March to the Michigan State Capital building by 3,000 Fisher Body workers on January 20, 1942.

I had seen reference to this march of Lansing Fisher Body workers in my early research on the plant, but was not able to obtain this photo until June of 2015.  The date of this photo is January 20, 1942.  It was taken at the south end of the Lansing Fisher Body Plant on Verlinden Avenue.  It shows a small portion of 3,000 Fisher Body employees starting a march to the State Capital a mile away to the east.  The reason for the march was to protest the impending loss of jobs.  Auto production in the United States was coming to an end in February of 1942.  The workers were concerned for their jobs, because as of this point in time there were no plans, or at least no plans that the workers knew of, for war production in the plant.  It was 44 days since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The Arsenal of Democracy, for which the Lansing plant was later an important part, was just starting to come to life.

The worker's concerns were not without merit.  In February of 1942, 500 workers from this plant.  No doubt some of those laid off were in this photo.  When the laid off workers applied for work at The Reo in Lansing, only 95 were hired.  Meanwhile, Reo hired 400 women who had not previously worked in a factory.

Also some of the men in this photo may not have known it, but worrying about a job was not necessary.  Uncle Sam found jobs for them carrying M1 rifles after they were drafted into the US Army.  One of the big issues for all companies during WWII was the constant drafting by the military of experienced workers into the Army.

My grandfather was employed at the plant in January of 1942 and he is somewhere in this group of workers.

There are several interesting items to note in this photo.  One worker is carrying a sign that states "C.V. dept against the world".  Before the advent of air conditioning along with "flow through ventilation" being standard on vehicles, automobiles and trucks had corner vents in the front side windows for ventilation.  The corner vents were known as C.V.s in the auto industry.

It is January in Michigan and there is no snow on the ground.

Another worker has a sign that says "500 planes per day".  This is in reference to the plan that UAW president Walter Reuther proposed to keep auto plants running and workers in jobs.  This was proposed by Walter Reuther over a year earlier when he felt that the unused capacity of the auto industry could be harnessed to make 500 metal fighter aircraft and continue to produce automobiles at the same time.  Mr. Reuther, along with his automobile company management contemporaries of the time, totally underestimated the complexity of building not only fighters, but any aircraft during WWII.  Lansing Fisher Body would go on to produce components for both the XP-75 fighter and B-29 bomber, while the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors would produce 5,837 FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcat Fighters for the US Navy over a two year period.

Note the pavement of Verlinden Avenue.  It is all hand-laid brick.  Seventy plus years later one may ask why was it brick?  Why was it hand laid?  This was common practice during the Great Depression, as many projects to put unemployed men to work was to pave roads with brick as this was labor intensive.  My grandfather did not lay the brick on Verlinden Avenue, but he did lay the brick on South Cedar Street in Lansing to put him back to work during the Depression.

And speaking of the brick of Verlinden Avenue, I can still remember driving down the street and hearing the roar of the bricks under the tires, as I did my first of three road trips during Driver's Training at Sexton High School in the summer of 1965.  I was the first of the three students in an Oldsmobile 88 to drive that day.  Mr. James Bond (Imagine having this name in the mid 1960s!) was the instructor, and he had to slow me down a bit, as I was not paying any attention to my speed as I went down Verlinden. 

Some years later the bricks were paved over with asphalt. 

Lansing Fisher Body received the Army-Navy "E" for Excellence Award in June 1945.

Lansing Fisher Body World War Two / WWII Products:  The plant produced $43 million in war products between 1942 and 1945, divided into three different product groups.  The aircraft group consisted of B-29 control surfaces and engine nacelles, aircraft tail sections, and XP-75 aircraft parts and assemblies.  The armor group was made up of M4, M8, M24, M26, and experimental tank parts.  The last group was carriages for (2,359) 90mm anti-aircraft guns, and components for 5 inch naval guns mounts.

Very little information is available on what the plant specifically built during WWII.  The following two sources have provided what information I have been able to find. 

From "Fisher Body Craftsmanship Goes to War":  B-29, XP-75 Aircraft Parts and assemblies.  M4, M8, M24 and experimental tank parts.  90mm AA Gun Parts, 5 inch naval gun parts.

From "UAW Local 602 records":  90mm gun carriages, tail sections for aircraft, gun mounts, hulls for tank destroyers, small parts for Army aircraft.  First Navy contract 5 inch naval gun mounts.  Parts for XP-75 aircraft.

The Lansing Fisher Body Plant WWII Chronology:  As determined from Local 602 records.

1942-1943:  Aircraft Tail sections, gun mounts (90mm), hulls for tank destroyers, small parts for aircraft, parts for XP-75 "Eagle".  It is unknown for which aircraft types the tail sections or small parts were built.  They could have been one and the same for the XP-75.  The hulls for the tank destroyers were most likely for the M10 "Wolverine" being built at Fisher Body Grand Blanc, MI.  Production of the M10 lasted from September 1942 to December1943.  Lansing could have also worked on the M-18 Hellcat built by Buick from July 1943 to October 1944.  Grand Blanc built many of the hulls and turrets for the M-18, and could very well have sub-contracted some of the work to Lansing.

1942-1945:  B-29 control surfaces and nacelles, five inch naval gun mounts, assemblies for various type tanks.

The Flint Journal announced on June 6, 1945 that work on the B-29 and the heavy tank project would cease at the Lansing Fisher Body Plant at the end of July 1945, in order to make way for the return of automotive production.  Of interest is that the heavy tank was the M-26 Pershing, which is not noted in either the Local 602 or Fisher Body documentation.  The Lansing M-26 work would have been for Fisher Body Grand Blanc, which was building the tank.


The first war contract for Lansing Fisher Body in 1942 was for 90mm anti-aircraft gun carriages like the one seen here.  Author's photo from the National Electronics Museum added 10-7-2016.


   The plant had 4,500 employees before war and only 600 to 1,700 during 1942.  The plant was idle for several months before the work for this project came in.  The parts made at Lansing Fisher Body then went to Fisher Body Grand Rapids.  There, 2,359 of the weapons were produced.   Author's photo from the National Electronics Museum added 10-7-2016.


Lansing made some but not many parts for the ill fated Fisher Body XP-75.  Only (8) XP-75s and (6) P-75s were built during WWII.  Author's Photo.


Lansing built parts for the M4 Sherman.  It is unknown which parts were made in the plant.  It can be assumed that whatever was made in the plant was sent to the Fisher Body Tank Arsenal in Grand Blanc, MI 60 miles away.  Of the 49,234 Sherman tanks built by ten different manufacturers, this particular Grand Blanc built M4A3 Sherman is on display in downtown Bastogne, Belgium.  Bastogne was the center of the fighting during the famous Battle of the Bulge in December 1944  The road intersection in the town where this M4A3 now resides was an important road junction for the German battle plan to be successful.  The road junction never fell into enemy hands; and this tank was one of many that helped the 82nd Airborne defend the town.  It was knocked out of action during the battle and then put on display by the residents of Bastogne.  Author's Photo.


 This M4A2 is the oldest Fisher Body built tank in North America, and is on display at Victoria Park in London, Ontario.  It came off the Grand Blanc assembly line in September 1942.  It landed with the Canadian Army at Normandy, and then fought its way across Europe until the end of the war.  It survived the many battles it was in, and then came back to Canada.  Lansing Fisher Body may have built components for this tank in 1942.  Author's Photo.


Grand Blanc also built the M4A2 Sherman, as seen here in downtown Vancouver, BC.  Lansing could have also helped build this late model Sherman tank.  Photo courtesy of David Jackson, Jr.


A Fisher Body built M10 "Wolverine" tank destroyer.  Author's Photo from the Patton Museum at Fort Knox, KY.


The Cadillac built M24 Chaffee also had parts in it made by Lansing Fisher Body.  This particular Chaffee is actually a combat veteran from the Korean War, where it served with the US Marines, was captured by the Chinese, and then recaptured by the US Marines.  Author's photo from the Ropkey Armor Museum in Crawfordsville, IN.


This is a Grand Blanc built T26E4 "Pershing" heavy tank.  At the end of the war, Lansing was involved with the heavy tank program until the end of July 1945.  Author's photo from the First Division Museum.


The Destroyer USS Kidd has four five-inch gun turrets on it.  Lansing's only Navy contract was to fabricate portions of the five-inch gun mount.  The Fisher Body plant in Pontiac did the final assembly on the mounts.  Author's photo.

The B-29 Project at Lansing Fisher Body:  This is what my mother worked on.  It was her responsibility in Material Control to keep track of the assemblies being built, to assure they would be shipped to the aircraft assembly plants on time.


This is the B-29 Enola Gaywhich dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  It is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in Virginia.  Significant is that Fisher Body supplied the engine nacelles to the Martin Omaha, NE plant that built the Silverplate nuclear bombers.  Both Fisher Body Lansing and Cleveland Plant One built B-29 engine nacelles for the B-29s built in Omaha.  Therefore, there is the possibility that Lansing built the engine nacelles on this aircraft.  Author's photo.


This photo gives a better look at the Fisher Body built engine nacelles on the Enola Gay.  They were the most complex part of the B-29 after the forward fuselage section, contained over 1,300 subassemblies and weighed over a ton.  Author's photo.


This WWII photo is courtesy of UAW Local 602.  It is the only known photo of B-29 engine nacelles coming down the monorail assembly line at Lansing Fisher Body.  It is unknown what percentage of the 13,772 Fisher Body built B-29 engine nacelles were made in Lansing. My mother's responsibility to come out to this assembly line, and then verify by job number that it was on schedule to be shipped to Omaha, or one of the three other B-29 final assembly plants in operation during WWII.




These women are working on a B-29 fabric covered elevator on the Lansing Fisher Body plant floor.  The woman on the left is applying tape over the stitching that holds the fabric to the aluminum superstructure.  The stitching down the center has already been taped over.  Once this process is complete, a water proof varnish is applied and then cured. 

While the B-29 was the most complex and advanced aircraft of the WWII era, it still had fabric covered ailerons, elevators and rudders.  In combat, the fabric actually had an advantage over aluminum covered control surfaces.  When enemy shells went through the fabric, it did now leave any jagged edges like on the metal ones, which could then jam the controls.


In this photo, both men and women are working on the elevators in Lansing.  They can be identified as elevators due to the size of the cut-outs for the horizontal trim tabs.  The completed control surfaces were then sent to the Fisher Body Plant #2 in Cleveland, OH for assembly into the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces.


Photo added 12-25-2016.


The tape covered areas where the fabric was stitched to the ribs of the elevator can be seen on this B-29.  Author's photo.

Post WWII:



Oldsmobile Plant Number Two in 1945.  The photo is looking east with Lansing Fisher Body behind it.  The newly completed J.W. Sexton High School, that I would attend 20 years later, is located in the right hand corner.  The gymnasium is visible on the south end.  The Fisher Body plant's power house supplied steam to both plants.  In the distance through the smoke haze is downtown Lansing. 


Fisher Body Lansing in 1973.


This is a post 1975 photo looking south.  Verlinden Avenue is on the left.  J.W. Sexton Memorial Stadium can be seen to the south of the plant along with the high school track.  At this point all of the additions to the plant have been made.


The Fisher Body Coach had been on the south side of building 3X since it was added in 1960.  Here plant millwrights remove it and the name "Fisher Body" on August 1, 1985.  It then became the BOC Lansing Body Assembly Plant.

This travesty did not have to happen!  In 1981 Roger Smith became Chairman of GM after being a bean counter for GM in New York City.  He wouldn't have known a body in white if one had been shoved up his... ! Well you know what I mean.  He was a disaster for GM.  He thought he was the smartest S.O.B on the face of earth.  While everyone could agree with the S.O.B part, only his mother thought he was the smartest.  And she only thought it true about half the time!  He was like a little banty rooster strutting around the GM barnyard, making lots of noise, but not knowing how to run the world's largest auto company.  It was his harebrained idea to take Fisher Body, the premier division in the company, destroy it, and combine it into other divisions. 

Instead of spending GM's money on new products and technology, he went out and bought other companies to try and fix the problems.  One of the worst purchases was that of computer software company EDS.  This was the ultimate train wreck, and caused dissention among the employees for years to come.  Along with EDS came its chairman, Ross Perot, who also thought he was the smartest S.O.B. on the face of the earth.  Because of this, he forgot whom he was working for, and thought he was the person running General Motors. We ended up with two banty roosters strutting around the GM barnyard, squabbling with each other, and screwing things up.


This is what is left of the north end of the plant in 2012.  I used to have a work station where the rubble stands today, working on Olds Vista Cruiser station wagons on the second floor.  Author's Photo.


Right where the slab of concrete protrudes into the grass is where the south entrance on Verlinden Ave. was located.  Everyone who worked at the plant used this entrance to hire in, because the Personnel Department was located here.   One went down the steps, past security, and then up into Personnel.  Many of my family members passed through to get to work, including myself, both of my parents, my sister, and my grandfather.  The plant was razed in 2007.  Author's Photo from 2012.

This photo shows strikers in front of the above described entrance.  Note that the bricks have not been paved over on Verlinden Avenue.  Photo courtesy of UAW 602.

1973 Lansing Fisher Body Open House Brochure


May "The Shop" rest in Peace!

 

 

 

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