WWII was already an on-going reality on the European continent when the Ford Motor Co. decided to build the Willow Run plant to begin building the B-24 Liberator heavy bombers. It was dedicated on June 16, 1941, six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The short film you will see here is just a taste of the American industrial and manufacturing genius, along with the skills and talents of the American labor force that were organized in such an incredibly short period of time. American industry would ultimately out-produce the German and Japanese industrial might with technologically superior warfighting material produced at a pace that had never been seen before.
Indeed, it was thought impossible to achieve such productivity in such a short period of time. But Willow Run (and others) did it. This American industrial genius and skilled labor would ultimately overwhelm the industrial might of both the German and the Japanese and would be a profound reason for the allied success against them in WWII.
The concept of the assembly line in manufacturing was invented by Ransom E. Olds but most famously implemented by Henry Ford. The wisdom and the efficiency of that concept had already been a practiced reality in the car-making industry. Just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Ford Motor Co. built the Willow Run plant to use that wisdom and efficiency to help the allies in Europe by building and supplying B-24 Liberator bombers to them in their struggle against German Fascism.
Little did they know that only six months after the facility was dedicated, the Japanese would force our hand and cause us to enter into the war by attacking Pearl Harbor.
At its peak, Willow Run was producing one of these B-24 Liberator bombers every 55 minutes. Yes, you read that right, a bomber every minute. They would build a total of 8,685 of these heavy bombers over the next 4 years. This kind of productivity and speed was unheard of in the short history since the Industrial Revolution began. It was a true product of American know-how and hard work. But it was also a product of the American love of freedom.
These bombers would fly and fight in both theaters of WWII, both in Europe and in the Pacific. They carried a crew of 10 and up to four tons of bombs and 5,000 rounds of machine gun ammo, and they could still fly at over 300 mph at high altitudes. They had four 1400-horsepower engines and could fly non-stop for 3,000 miles. They would bring a great deal of destructive force to the fight against the two great industrial powers of the German and Japanese enemies.
When you think about it, this effort was truly a product of the marriage of American manufacturing genius and an incredibly skilled workforce that this nation possessed at that time. These machines had 1,225,000 separate pieces that had to be put together as perfectly as humanly possible. But we did it. Every single minute, we were able to do it yet again.
One of the famous quotes attributed to Admiral Yamamoto who commanded the Pearl Harbor attack was, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.” Yamamoto had studied English here in America at Harvard University prior to WWII. His instinct was correct. Willow Run was one of the places across this country that proved that fact.
We were a sleeping giant. Japan’s mistake was to poke us with a stick. The speed of our military and manufacturing responses to the attack at Pearl Harbor was without precedence.
We honor this history of Willow Run and all of the other manufacturing efforts that came together with such speed and efficiency during WWII. We honor as well the skilled labor of both men and women during that time, the Rosy the Riveters of WWII. Their labor and skill were a large part of the reason for our victory over German Nazism and Japanese Imperialism in WWII.