World War II (detail from Pearl Harbor photo)

Mobilizing for War

“We are all in it—all the way,” President Franklin Roosevelt told Americans during a radio broadcast two days after the United States entered the war. “Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history.” Sixteen million donned uniforms. The millions more who stayed home were a vast civilian army, mobilized by the government to finance the war effort, conserve natural resources, and produce a continuous flow of war material.

When the United States entered the war in 1941, American defense industries were already churning out planes and ships, trucks and tanks, guns and shells, and supplies and equipment. Tons of goods were being shipped to Britain and other nations battling Axis advances. As America joined the fight and battlefronts multiplied around the globe, demands on war production skyrocketed. Civilian industries retooled, making tanks instead of cars, parachutes instead of stockings, even machine guns instead of Kleenex®. And as men went off to war, six million women took their places on factory floors and assembly lines.

The sheer mass—and seemingly endless supply—of American-produced war matériel would overwhelm the Axis enemies.

324,000 aircraft
88,000 tanks
8,800 warships
5,600 merchant ships
224,000 pieces of artillery
2,382,000 trucks
79,000 landing craft
2,600,000 machine guns
15,000,000 guns
20,800,000 helmets
41,000,000,000 rounds of ammunition

Data from The Oxford Companion to World War II (1995) and The World War II Databook (1993)

Aircraft production line
Women workers riveting a section of a B-17 bomber
Launching a submarine
Shipyard worker Augusta Clawson, 1944
Woman worker checks bomb cases

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