turn out nose cones for bombers at Douglas Aircraft’s Long Beach, California
factory, October 1942.
Today is National Manufacturing
Leading on the Home Front
To fight a global war, America needed to
mobilize its entire population on the “Home Front.” This enormous
effort touched almost every aspect of life and unleashed economic forces that
reverberated for generations.
Under FDR’s direction, government assumed
unprecedented economic powers. Defense spending skyrocketed. Millions of
Americans paid Federal income taxes for the first time. To control inflation,
the government put limits on wages, prices, and rents. And to conserve scarce
goods, it rationed products ranging from gasoline to sugar.
As the war effort heated up, FDR signaled that
further New Deal reforms would be postponed. “Dr. New Deal,” he
explained, was now “Dr. Win-the-War.” Eleanor Roosevelt objected to
this decision, but the war itself soon brought new possibilities for reform.
Booming war industries generated millions of jobs. This created unprecedented
opportunities for women, African Americans and other minorities - and fostered
demands for greater social and economic opportunity.
On March 25, 1911, a match was dropped and a factory exploded with fire, resulting in one of the highest losses of life from an industrial accident in the US. 146 people–mostly women–were burned alive, succumbed to smoke inhalation, or were forced to jump from the eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the Asche Building* in New York City. Factory owners had locked the doors to stairwells and fire escapes to stop the women from taking unauthorized breaks and to stem the theft of the materials and products from the factory floor.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which led to legislation to improve industrial safety standards for workers and the founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers, remains a stark reminder of the harsh conditions under which workers, including women and children, were forced to toil before workplace safety initiatives were widely employed in the US. Read more at pbs.org.
See the entire set of powerful images from the National Archives and Records Administration collection here.
*Now the Brown Building, a part of the campus of New York University (NYU). It is located at 23-29 Washington Place, between Greene Street and Washington Square East in Greenwich Village, New York City. More.