Willow Run B-24 Bombers | The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation

Willow Run B-24 Bombers | The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation


– There have been times
in American history when world events profoundly
affected innovation. During wartime, brilliant minds
from the manufacturing world were enlisted to streamline the process of protecting our nation and allies. (soft guitar music) Even before the December 7,
1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which formally ushered the
United States into World War II, the U.S. military had
its eyes on Detroit. – The auto industry got
involved very early, in fact, even before the U.S.
had formally declared war. The military realized that no
one could do mass production the way that the automotive
industry could do it. From 1942 until late ’45, there were no new cars
built in the United States. The U.S. auto industry made
everything for the war, from ammunition to helmets to tents to tanks to airplanes. All the auto plants were turned
over to wartime production. – The Henry Ford Museum
of American Innovation’s Matt Anderson spoke about
the herculean effort undertaken by the Ford Motor Company to scale up and mass-produce the most complex machines
in its history: warplanes. (film roll clicks)
(soft guitar) Did this require a major transition? Were they taking auto-making facilities and just converting them into
airplane-building factories? – Not just a transition,
it actually required Ford to build an entirely new plant
at a place called Willow Run, about 30 miles west of Detroit. – Okay, so describe Willow Run. – Willow Run is a massive
combination plant slash factory slash airport, where Ford
built giant assembly lines, two of them, running
parallel, nearly a mile long, that built airplanes just
as they were building cars on a moving assembly line. Funded entirely by
the federal government at a cost of two hundred million dollars, Willow Run was built on
farmland used to grow soybeans. How big was the plant? – [Matt] The plant itself was
massive. The main building was about 2 1/2 million square feet. Whoa, and they
broke ground on Willow Run… – Broke ground in about March of 1941, finished the plant by November of 1941. A month before
the U.S. entered the war with Pearl Harbor. – [ Matt] Exactly. How many people
were working in here? – [Matt] At the peak, Willow Run employed
more than 40,000 people. – 40,000! – It was really a city unto itself. (slow piano music) What kind of airplanes were being built at Willow Run? – Ford was building B-24 bomber airplanes. They ended up building more
than 8600 of those airplanes by the time the war was over,
a lot of them completely built and flown right away from
the Willow Run airport. How fast could they produce one? – Ford mentioned at the
beginning of the war that they were gonna build
these planes so quickly, they could crank them out on
the order of one every hour. And people thought that
was absolutely nuts, but believe it or not,
by about March of 1944, when they hit their peak efficiency, they were turning out one
airplane every 63 minutes. So they basically made their goal. (soft upbeat music) And much of that
hard work was done by women. – A lot of the young,
able-bodied men, of course, were called up in the
draft and sent off to war. Women were absolutely
essential to this effort. – [Announcer] They wore a new badge, a badge not only of courage,
but of achievement, these women who had never worked outside
their own home before. – Did this change the
reputation of Detroit? – It was a big moment for Detroit, in fact the city gained the nickname
Arsenal of Democracy, as the supply house, supplying all of this
hardware to the war effort, and it’s a nickname Detroiters
are proud of to this day. – What a proud nickname to have. – Absolutely, a great moment
in the city’s history. (plane engines roar)

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