General Motors During the War

by Steven Harkness

General Motors was started by William Crapo Durant on September 16, 1908. With only $2000 dollars William Durant incorporated General Motors in New Jersey. Even though Durant didn’t even like cars, he liked, and had made for years’ horse-drawn carriages. He said that cars were unsafe and smelly. Doing this drastically changed the auto industry, creating millions of jobs around the world. That was up until the great depression when they had to fire workers. Many complained that the company wasn’t treating their workers right during the great depression.

William Crapo Durant, Biography.com

For the United States World War two started on December 7, 1941. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. America rallied to the war effort, including those in the workforce and the auto industry. And one of the biggest producers of vehicles for the war effort was General Motors. Many of the companies owned by General motors also worked to help out the war effort. 3. Buick tackled the manufacture of ammunition, churning out 75,000 casings per month for the duration. By the war’s end, the division had supplied more than 12.5 million casings. Buick also retooled to meet the demands of making engines for the B-24 bomber. At first, they talked of about 500 engines a month, but the government doubled its order by the time Buick had its tooling in place. In February 1942, Fisher Body completely stopped making auto bodies and began assembling the famous M-4 “Sherman” tank in its No. 1 plant in Flint. The operation eventually moved to Grand Blanc and would turn out 11,358 tanks by 1945.

By 1944, Buick’s Melrose Park factory was regularly turning out 2,000 engines a month. To produce the cylinder heads, Buick set up its own aluminum foundry, which it then leased to the government. The initial production target was 25,000 a month, but that was tripled before construction began and the foundry had to be scaled up nine or 10 different times. The goal was later set at 125,000 heads a month, and Buick met it. The Army also asked Buick to design a new kind of war machine: the tank destroyer. The specs called for a lightly armored, highly mobile tracked vehicle fitted with a 37mm cannon in a 360-degree turret. The Army initially wanted diesel power but settled on gasoline engines to speed up delivery. Buick even devised an automatic transmission for it — a hydraulic torque converter. The vehicle was officially known as the M-18, but Buick workers dubbed it the “Hellcat.” The division eventually built 2,507 M-18s. The transmission was later made four times bigger to accommodate the requirements for the Pershing tank. GM’s Cadillac division took to making tanks, specifically the M-5. The design was obsolete, but at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II the Army wanted all of them it could get.

Tanks being produced at the GM Cadillac plant. Photo Credit: http://www.motortrend.com/news/detroits-production-battle-to-win-world-war-ii/

Oldsmobile also helped produce goods for the war effort. Oldsmobile manufactured 48 million rounds of artillery ammunition, 140,000 aircraft machine guns, 350,000 high-precision aircraft engine parts, and 175 million pounds of forgings for military trucks, tanks, guns and aircraft. When it was all counted up after the war, GM had produced 854,000 trucks, 198,000 diesel engines, 206,000 aircraft engines, and 38,000 tanks, tank destroyers, and armored vehicles, not to mention vast quantities of guns and ammunition.

Women were also a big help during the war effort on the home front and in the auto plants. Women like those who influenced Rosie the Riveter, a symbol that called women into the production plants to help build planes and tanks and other vehicles. 4. The Rosie the Riveter on the “We Can Do It” poster was actually inspired by a woman who worked at the Willow Run Assembly Line and died in Lansing. 5. Rosie the Riveter represented just one of the millions of women now in the work force. From 1940 to 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. work force increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by the end of that period nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. In 1943, the aircraft industry alone employed more than 310,000 women, which was over 65 percent of the work force there. Rosie the Riveter inspired millions to join the war effort on the production lines all across the country, like the ones GM had.  Pictured below is a poster of the famous Rosie the Riveter. “We Can Do It!”

Rosie the Riveter Government War Poster. Photo Credit: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter

General Motors was a big industrial push for the U.S. and the allies during World War Two. Creating vast amounts of vehicles for the war effort, suppling the allied troops with what they needed that would help them win the war. Helping those who had struggled during the depression get a job. They also played a big influence in the constant struggle for women to get into the workforce. These are General Motors influences on World War Two.