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Stop 3: Detroit & the Arsenal of Democracy

fdr dimeDid you know that Detroit was once referred to as the Arsenal of Democracy? Now, you’re probably thinking…what in the world is an Arsenal of Democracy? Well, it was a term established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during one of his many Fireside Chat radio broadcast shows. Because of Detroit strong manufacturing background, it was considered the ideal city to take on a very specific challenge set by the President. This challenge was to turn Detroit’s car manufacturing capabilities into war production capabilities in the early 1940’s. That’s right! The automobile industry shifted from making cars to making items such as bombers, tanks and many more pieces of equipment needed to enhance war efforts. This needed to be accomplished at a speed never before attempted!

Because Detroit already had a large automobile industry with factories that were ready to produce vehicles using relatively-new assembly-line techniques, these factories were extremely well-suited to produce war machines. At the beginning of World War II, as many as 350,000 workers moved to Detroit to work in factories producing equipment to support the war efforts.

Many of these war time efforts took place in the Willow Run factory. This factory was located about 30 miles from the city of Detroit and contributed to Detroit’s expanding reputation as the Arsenal of Democracy.

Willow Run, a huge World War II aircraft manufacturing plant owned by the Ford Motor Company played a key role in producing B-24 Aircraft Bombers, and by the end of the war had produced more than 8,600 B-24 bombers. This was American ingenuity at it best! Although Detroit housed two percent of the population, its workers produced ten percent of the tools needed for war time efforts! They built everything, including:

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  • Tanks
  • Radar units
  • Field kitchens
  • Amphibious vehicles (vehicles that could run on and land and water)
  • Jeeps
  • Bombsights
  • Bullets

Now that’s BEYOND amazing!

Rosie the Riveter imagesActivity 4: Design Your own Rosie the Riveter Artwork!

32256 MotorCities Junior Ranger RosieHere is the image of Rosie the Riveter used during World War II to encourage women to join the workforce in support of wartime then share with us at MotorCities National Heritage Area. Your artwork could be featured on our website gallery! Either draw your version of this Rosie the Riveter, or draw your own modern-day version of this historical icon. Download the page here, make it your own and when you're done, take picture of your artwork and upload it using the online form. This is the form you will fill out when you have completed all your stops or activities. 

The Arsenal of Democracy Past, Present & Future Icons!

During World War II’s Arsenal of Democracy, we learned that items such as amphibious vehicles, tanks bomber aircrafts, guns and many other types of wartime equipment were produced. It is now in the decade of the 2020’s. If you were in charge of wartime production, what types of innovative equipment would you design for production in the factories? What types of computer platforms could help in the efforts? What type of poster would you create to promote your Arsenal of Democracy? Here’s your opportunity to flex your creative muscles like Rosie the Riveter! Let your creative juices flow and draw your own current day or futuristic Arsenal of Democracy equipment or poster. Don’t forget to share with MotorCities National Heritage Area!


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This project was made possible by a grant from the National Park Foundation through generous support of partners including Union Pacific Railroad and donors across the country.