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BizVoice -- January / February 2018
36 BizVoice/Indiana Chamber – January/February 2018 Indiana’s manufacturing prowess during World War II solidified an image for the state that still endures today. It began decades earlier. By 1900, the Hoosier state was already part of the robust Midwest industrial heartland. “I always like to say that there was no other place on the face of the earth that was more efficient and more sophisticated – ahead of Germany, Great Britain and certainly China or any other place,” declares James H. Madison, author and noted history professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. Out of necessity, what World War II did to manufacturing was hasten its growing sophistication, particularly for those larger companies that already had been making the transition to higher speed assembly line production. Of course, the big catalyst in moving things along was Uncle Sam. “All the manufacturing was done at the behest of the federal government with government contracts,” Madison explains. “I believe Indiana was eighth among all the states in government contracts, which is testimony to the power and significance of our manufacturing by 1941.” Shifts in production For those not around 76 years ago, it’s hard to grasp the magnitude and how things changed once the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. “It was a real war … a very serious war; America could have actually lost this war,” Madison asserts. “We forget that because we know how it turned out! “It was such a huge war that it twists and turns everything. You can’t escape this war. We’ve been at war since 1945 and most of the time people haven’t noticed. But World War II affected their daily lives deeply.” It was all hands on deck. For companies, that translated to producing whatever was needed to help the cause. A prime example is the automobile industry, which by the time the U.S. entered the war was struggling to meet consumer demand. The country had bounced back from the Depression and many Americans now had sufficient money and desire to buy a vehicle. “A trick question is what does a 1943 Plymouth look like? Well, there ain’t no such thing,” Madison quips. “The federal government forced them to stop producing FROM CARS to BULLETS Indiana’s World War II Production Transition By Rebecca Patrick FEATURE STORY Like companies throughout the country, RCA in Bloomington changed what it produced during wartime and turned to women to keep up with demand (Monroe County history collection photo) . The Lilly Blood Bank was set up to provide dried human blood plasma for U.S. troops at the request of the federal government. In total, the company delivered more than two million pints of blood plasma (© Copyright Eli Lilly and Company. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company archives) .
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