Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Arsenal of Democracy

It is generally agreed that no American city contributed more to the Allied powers during WWII than Detroit. Appropriately, then, Detroit grew to become known as "The Arsenal of Democracy" after a fireside chat conducted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In the speech, delivered on December 29, 1940, Roosevelt made a “call to arm and support” the Allied powers, including Britain and France. Europe turned to the United States for assistance in the form of weapons, planes, trucks and tanks. Roosevelt stated that these war military devices would “enable them (Europe) to fight for their liberty and for our security.” He reminded Americans that a German victory in Britain would greatly compromise the safety of the United States, also emphasizing that aiding Britain would save Americans from the agony and horrors of war.

In the speech, the President implored Americans to stand up as the "arsenal of democracy" as though it was their own country at war. He called on the nation to unite with swift cooperation in producing vast shipments of weaponry to aid Europe.

Instilling in listeners the importance of patriotism and sacrifice, he spoke about the need for cooperation between the government and laborers. Finally, Roosevelt reminded the American people that they had both the responsibility and the means to turn the tide of war.

Because of its strength as an automobile manufacturer, Detroit was an ideal city to step up to the task set by the President. Thus, the Detroit-area’s automobile industry underwent rapid transition in order to handle the production of weapons and vehicles of war.

Factories halted the production of automobiles for civilian use and began rapidly producing jeeps, M-5 tanks, and B-24 bombers. By the summer of 1944, Ford’s Willow Run plant cranked out one bomber an hour.

Within the first year and a half following the attack of Pearl Harbor, 350,000 workers from the American south and elsewhere moved to Detroit to join in the war effort. Women were also hired for factory labor.

In an effort to accommodate both people and war shipments, some of the city’s earliest freeways were constructed to offer quicker access between Detroit and surrounding factories.

Referencing the city’s conversion of its’ automotive industry to the manufacturing of war materials, Roosevelt honored Detroit’s contribution by declaring it "the great arsenal of democracy." In a similar vein, Walter Reuther of the UAW spoke these iconic words, "Like England's battles were won on the playing fields of Eton, America's were won on the assembly lines of Detroit.”



Arsenal of Democracy, 1943

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