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The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and…

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an…

by A.J. Baime

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The author is a magazine writer and editor and this fascinating history profits from his skills. Very readable and engrossing, this is the tale of how the U.S. essentially had to create a wartime armaments industry on the fly. The heart of the book is how Ford believed that heavy bomber production could be transformed by techniques similar to producing automobiles via mass production and an assembly line. It took a while, but eventually the point was proven. (Detroit became the largest producer of weaponry in the country.) In addition, the work is a mini-biography of the Ford family: Henry and his son Edsel and grandson Henry II, and their wives and colleagues. Henry was certainly an industrial genius but he also was a rabid isolationist, a father who abused his son, and an employer who abused his workers; he hired a goon to assemble an internal police force of low-life's who then intimidated workers and physically attacked anyone who dared to seek unionization. Morale plummeted and for a few years Ford was the only major auto manufacturer with no union contract. Henry could be arbitrary simply because he was paranoid and his word was company policy. He loathed FDR and employed Charles Lindbergh, another isolationist and FDR critic, who was blacklisted everywhere else. Lindbergh and Ford both received golden Nazi medals from Hitler for their views. What's lacking is how the creation of the military industrial complex was a key factor in winning WWII but then became a normal part of the American landscape, eating up a huge percentage of the budget even in peacetime. President Eisenhower, who in WWII led American troops that benefitted from American military production, cautioned about reigning in the power and influence of the military industrial complex in his farewell address. ( )
  neddludd | Oct 20, 2015 |
Fascinating and highly informative retelling of the role that the Big Three of the American auto industry played in manufacturing the machinery that allowed the United States and the Allied Forces defeat the Axis Power to win World War II. The book's main focus is on the Ford Motor Company and, in particular, about the mammoth plant that was constructed at Willow Run to mass produce bombers using assembly line techniques. The story is overlaid with the tale of the lasting conflicts between founder Henry Ford (a staunch pacifist) and his only child, Edsel Ford. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jan 28, 2015 |
Fascinating book on the Ford Motor Company and its role non World War II at the Willow Run plant that produced the B-24 bomber. ( )
  velopunk | Oct 26, 2014 |
I’ve read about the car companies that, during World War II, re-tooled their factories – and went from producing cars to producing planes, tanks, and military paraphernalia galore. It sounds sooooooo simple.

A.J. Baime documents, in a fascinating narrative, what it took to actually do the job … and the toll it took on one man in particular, Edsel Ford, son of Henry and a key player in the supplying of war materiel to the U.S. military. Mr. Baime makes storytelling look easy, with a fluid writing style, great sourcing and with an eye to the detail that makes the story come alive for readers.

The story of Willow Run, the factory built by Ford from the ground up to produce B-24 Liberators to the U.S. Army Air Force, is particularly fascinating. Mr. Baime also goes into detail about what it took to fly the B-24s, especially under war conditions.

The Arsenal of Democracy is narrative non-fiction at its best … a compelling read that I couldn’t put down. My only complaint is that, although the book contains back notes and an index, it lacks a proper bibliography. To me, only non-fiction books with all three are truly complete. ( )
1 vote NewsieQ | Aug 29, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0547719280, Hardcover)

In 1941, as Hitler’s threat loomed ever larger, President Roosevelt realized he needed weaponry to fight the Nazis—most important, airplanes—and he needed them fast. So he turned to Detroit and the auto industry for help.

The Arsenal of Democracy tells the incredible story of how Detroit answered the call, centering on Henry Ford and his tortured son Edsel, who, when asked if they could deliver 50,000 airplanes, made an outrageous claim: Ford Motor Company would erect a plant that could yield a “bomber an hour.” Critics scoffed: Ford didn’t make planes; they made simple, affordable cars. But bucking his father’s resistance, Edsel charged ahead. Ford would apply assembly-line production to the American military’s largest, fastest, most destructive bomber; they would build a plant vast in size and ambition on a plot of farmland and call it Willow Run; they would bring in tens of thousands of workers from across the country, transforming Detroit, almost overnight, from Motor City to the “great arsenal of democracy.” And eventually they would help the Allies win the war.

Drawing on exhaustive research from the Ford Archives, the National Archives, and the FDR Library, A. J. Baime has crafted an enthralling, character-driven narrative of American innovation that has never been fully told, leaving readers with a vivid new portrait of America—and Detroit—during the war.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:53 -0400)

Tells the incredible story of how Detroit answered the call to arms during WWII, centering on Henry Ford and his tortured son Edsel, who, when asked if they could deliver 50,000 airplanes, made an outrageous claim: Ford Motor Company would erect a plant that could yield a "bomber an hour."… (more)

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