December 7, 1941: A Day That Will Live in Infamy
America’s isolation from war ended on December 7, 1941, when Japan staged a surprise attack on American military installations in the Pacific. The most devastating strike came at Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian naval base where much of the US Pacific Fleet was moored. In a two-hour attack, Japanese warplanes sank or damaged 18 warships and destroyed 164 aircraft. Over 2,400 servicemen and civilians lost their lives.
“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
Michigan military contractors earned ten percent of the Federal Government military spending during the war. Michigan garnered the second most war related funding of any state, only New York got more.
The Willow Run Bomber Plant located in Washtenaw County produced an unheard of one B-24 Heavy Bomber per Hour at peak production. On February 9, 1942 auto manufacturing was stopped and the auto plants were retooled and rebuilt to produced tanks, jeeps, trucks and other war material. The Assembly Line process was used to produce the goods of war in unprecedented numbers, for example, the Chrysler Corporation built 25,000 tanks in just four years. General Motors built the majority of the 10,000 Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers produced. Pontiac built more 20-mm anti-aircraft cannons on license than the existing Swiss manufacturer of the weapon (Oerlikon) did. Oldsmobile manufactured 48 million rounds of artillery shells. Buick built 1,000 aircraft engines per month and Michigan factories produced four million engines during the war. Detroit factories also manufactured rifles, mess kits, gyro compasses, gun feeds, etc. The Detroit Tank Arsenal assembly plant located in Warren Michigan built half of all the 86,000 tanks the U.S. manufactured during WWII.
Because of federal military spending, Michigan’s unemployment rate dropped to 0.6 percent, from 15 percent in 1940. From 1940 to 1943, Michigan’s population increased by 500,000 residents who moved here from the South to work in it’s factories. In addition over 600,000 of Michigan’s residents served in the U.S. armed forces during WWII, out of a population of just over five million people.