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War production

Production of war material made the United States what President Roosevelt called the "arsenal of democracy." For starters, the U.S. launched almost 3,000 Liberty ships, each capable of carrying 10,000 tons of cargo anywhere in the world. On those ships went more than 2 million machine guns, billions of bullets, four times as many tanks as the dictators produced, twice as many fighter planes, four times as many bombers, and five times as many heavy guns and trucks.

Farmers hauled in record billion-bushel wheat crops by using machinery to replace manpower. Rationing held down domestic consumption to speed food to American soldiers and their allies. Government agencies worked to keep a lid on wages and prices. Labor unions grew, but their leaders mostly kept their men off the picket lines and on the job. To encourage worker cooperation, Congress passed the Smith-Connally Anti-Strike Act (1943), which allowed the government to take over industries tied up by strikes.

The federal government took over the coal mines and for a short period even ran the railroads. Most of the time, the federal government did not need to step in: Business and labor worked together for the war effort. Over all, American workers cooperated with the war effort by having even fewer work stoppages than laborers in besieged Britain.

During the war, thousands of Mexican farm workers entered the United States, partly as a replacement for the interned Japanese. Many never left.

Workers built Liberty ships cheaply and quickly. In a break with tradition, they welded the ships together instead of riveting them. Ship building used to take months, but Liberty ships were ready in six weeks.

Women made up a third of the civilian work force; most of these women had never held a job outside their homes before. Rosie the Riveter (1943) symbolized the millions of female workers who helped make the weapons that won the war. They also worked to build Liberty ships that carried these weapons to armies all around the world. After the war, two thirds of the women quit their jobs to return to housework, but they didn't forget their successful employment. Working women became a natural part of the United States's economy in the 1960s, about the time the daughters of the women who helped win World War II came of age.

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