May 1944: Detroit and the Future

 

In the weeks before D Day, there was already unfounded optimism that the war in Europe would be over by Christmas, and that without the Germans, the Japanese would fold quickly. So at the top levels of American government and business, there was a shift of attention towards the postwar period, even if nobody knew exactly how soon that would arrive. War Production Board regulators approved Detroit’s request to build the first new civilian trucks since they ceased production in 1942. But automobile companies weren’t allowed to restart car assembly lines, not until VE Day arrived.

The verdict of the financial experts was bleak: the dislocation caused by reconversion from war to civilian production, plus 11 million men returning to the labor force, was almost certain to cause another Depression. It looked like we were going back to the hunger and strife of the Thirties. With many of our best and brightest convinced that the Fifties was shaping up to be a poverty-stricken, drab and colorless decade, in the last year of WWII Ford and General Motors launched programs to build small, spartan cars that would retail at the lowest possible price. They would have been big Detroit’s first real “compact cars”.

The wider picture: Donald Nelson, chairman of the War Production Board, was “WPBoss” in Time Magazine’s breezy shorthand, nearly as newsworthy a federal bureaucrat in his day as Anthony Fauci is in ours. He was something of a protégé of the crowd around Henry Wallace, by almost all accounts the most left-wing vice president of the 20th century. By 1942, Nelson was given czar-like powers to convert American industry to war production, which he seemed to do with spectacular success. He was a well-publicized hero of the press, a colorless New Dealer who gradually became seen as a dictator and a scapegoat. Donald Nelson’s signature was at the bottom of every factory poster urging harder work. Even Albert Speer was a grudging admirer. Speer complains in his memoirs that despite his vaunted Nazi powers, he was powerless to control private industries as tightly as the government of “free market” America ran theirs.

But Americans got restless as the war continued, year after year. With victory seemingly in sight by early ’44, there was irresistible public pressure to begin loosening the rules, sensibly and fast. However, “sensibly” and “fast” meant different things to industry than they did to government.

What the bosses of the nation’s automotive companies could legally do was plot and plan. In early-to-mid-’44, they contemplated what the cars of postwar America would be like, for the not-so-far-off, futuristic fifties and the immediate, remaining years of the forties. They couldn’t spend money on tooling up for production, not yet, but they were now legally permitted to use design and engineering resources on future projects.

Chevrolet had a couple of late-thirties prototypes of experimental smaller cars, done as a just-in-case exercise for the design department. They weren’t considered daring or appealing by the mid-Forties, although one of them would be the starting point of the Holden, produced by GM’s Australian subsidiary. In 1944, the engineers from Melbourne were already in Michigan, working with engineers to design the first car of nearly total Australian manufacture. (BTW, that’s the car pattern that would continue for decades Down Under: bigger than European, not quite as big as full-sized American cars.)

For what GM intended as America’s first compact alternative to big cars, the 1944-’45 plan was bolder, a little more radical in design. It was a conventional setup, motor up front, driving wheels in the back. Yet the Chevrolet Cadet looked strange enough to be distinctive. It followed what’s usually a shrewd maxim of small car design: Make the passenger compartment as big as you can, with everything in the front and back of it as small as you can. But in the mid-Forties, that sensible guideline looked, well, stunted, unfashionably snub-nosed and bob-tailed, its tiny wheels making it look less like a potentially real Forties car and more like, in today’s terms, an animated character from Disney’s Cars.

Chevrolet Cadet. Photo courtesy GM, Hemmings.

General Motors hoped this plaintive plainness wasn’t the immediate future of American motoring, but they wanted to be prepared, especially given that FDR had finally decided to run for a fourth term as the Win-the-War president. He and his New Deal would be in the saddle through the end of his term in 1949, so Wall Street—and Detroit–better be resigned to it.

It looked like the War Production Board was going to be a semi-permanent fact of U.S. life, allocating steel and other vital materials even well after the war. Certainly, WPB executives and staff did nothing to discourage that view, especially in convivial discussions with their allies on Capitol Hill.

But something unexpected happened. In May 1944, Vice President Henry Wallace began a tour of the eastern USSR and China. At a KGB-run death camp for gold miners in Kolyma, Wallace saw only a happy-go-lucky Russian Klondike. He made many gullible statements that would haunt him for the rest of his public life. Partly as a result, over the summer Roosevelt declined to choose Wallace for another term as his Vice President. Instead, he chose a peppery, relatively obscure Missouri senator as his running mate, Harry Truman. That one decision, nearly forgotten now, changed history as much or more than any other wartime decision FDR made. It sent shock waves throughout the vast federal bureaucracy: for the first time, the New Deal was cautiously starting to trim its sails. Almost immediately, in August 1944, Donald Nelson, the public face of unpopular rationing and production bans, was eased out at the WPB.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth Inauguration took place indoors, on a freezing January day. Within three months, Harry Truman was president. Four months after that, WWII was over. The charter of the War Production Board formally ended 90 days later, but the agency staff’s self-protective instincts won it a seamless transfer to a new Civilian Production Board in November. Over time, though, the CPB would be seen as relatively toothless, compared to the WPB’s command economy of 1942-’45.

In 1945 one thing all car companies quickly discovered, whether they were industrial behemoths like GM, or smaller independents like Packard, Nash, Studebaker or Hudson; in the immediate aftermath of WWII, demand to replace worn-out cars was so great that even warmed over 1942 models would satisfy the public. For the time being that’s all they needed to do. Nobody knew how long that phase would last. After that unknown point, the Big Three (General Motors, Chrysler, Ford) would need to have placed the right bets on the right cars for a future that might be a great deal poorer—or richer—than the present. As usual, the independents would follow whatever they did.

Ford was set to shrink their main car, the standard Ford, which otherwise was set to share the same upside-down bathtub, rounded torpedo design theme as Ford’s upscale lines, Mercury and Lincoln. At a make-or-break meeting for Ford’s first postwar designs, the company decided to keep most of them, but go back to the drawing board for the Ford. Two years later, in the spring of 1948, this resulted in the early introduction of the ’49 Ford, one of the classic car bodies of the dawn of the Fifties. The company was able to efficiently re-use the discarded “bathtub” small Ford they’d designed in 1944-46 by shipping the design to their French subsidiary, where the European-sized car became the Ford Vedette.

Ford Vedette. Courtesy Ford Motor Company and Ford of France.

The new Truman Administration was plenty partisan, with a junkyard dog’s sense of territory, but they weren’t as ideologically Left as FDR’s now-old crowd. The pivotal 1946 off-year Congressional elections brought the GOP back to power. Despite a nationwide wave of strikes for higher wages, big business became cautiously optimistic about prospects for postwar economic growth.

GM spent millions in 1946 creating factory space to build the Cadet. Yet it ended up canceled and the public, then and ever since, was barely aware of it. Detroit decided that while a smaller car that needed less gas wasn’t a crazy idea, it wasn’t needed enough, in that era, to make a gigantic investment in producing compact cars worthwhile. They were selling every full-sized car they could build.

Did they pass up an opportunity? Four independent car companies bet their corporate lives on the premise that they did, with investments in new lines of compact cars for the early Fifties. In three out of four of those cases, they lost big enough to take their whole company down with it: Kaiser’s ugly Henry J, thrown together with the express purpose of getting government-backed loans; Hudson’s equally ugly but much better-engineered Jet; and Willys’ Aero, good looking, well-made small cars that gave Willys’ mostly rural and suburban Jeep dealers a conventional family car to sell. (Its slogan: “Meet the Jeep’s beautiful sister!”) Unlike the other two, the Aero deserved to succeed, but the company was just too small to survive. All three companies would have been better off putting that development money into homegrown V-8s for their standard cars.

The one compact that survived, and went on to thrive as one of the success stories of the Fifties was Nash’s Rambler, a nameplate that would outlive that of Nash itself. Well equipped and almost luxurious for its day, it made no pretense of being cheap. It could keep up with traffic on the new superhighways and seat a family of five, yet got excellent gas mileage and was easier to fit into a tight parking space.

One more thing. The 1944-’46 compacts-that-never-were are a forgotten vision of what experts predicted for a grim postwar world. But they weren’t the only alternative wartime vision of the cars we’d see, and the life we’d have, in the near future. Most car designers were in uniform by 1942, but many of them kept sketching exuberant hopes about the prosperity, confidence, flashiness and freedom ahead for us in the Fifties.

Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    If that Ford Vedette looks familiar, it should: its larger sibling, designed to be the full sized Ford, became the Mercury. The planned Mercury became the Lincoln. The planned Lincolns were lopped off altogether as being too bloated.

    Maybe you remember that Mercury because from the beginning, it was a customizer’s favorite, with the biggest mass market flathead V-8 of its day. Sylvester Stallone drove one in Cobra. Cobretti’s ride had every conceivable performance enhancement, like a shaved deck for higher compression and direct nitrous injection. His license plate, AWSOM 50, says it all.

    • #1
  2. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey:

    It looked like the War Production Board was going to be a semi-permanent fact of U.S. life, allocating steel and other vital materials even well after the war. Certainly, WPB executives and staff did nothing to discourage that view, especially in convivial discussions with their allies on Capitol Hill.

     

    Looking at this and the Civilian version, it’s hard not to think of Tucker: A Man and His Dream.  They were plenty powerful from his perspective.

    • #2
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey:

    Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

     

    In the 50s, hot women will drive naked.  Now, that’s something worth fighting for.

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    It looked like the War Production Board was going to be a semi-permanent fact of U.S. life, allocating steel and other vital materials even well after the war. Certainly, WPB executives and staff did nothing to discourage that view, especially in convivial discussions with their allies on Capitol Hill.

    Looking at this and the Civilian version, it’s hard not to think of Tucker: A Man and His Dream. They were plenty powerful from his perspective.

    It’s true that even as late as ’48, they could make life miserable for small fry like Preston Tucker. But in ’44, they could bring mighty General Motors, as well as all of the rest of industry put together, to heel.

    The outbreak of war in Korea in 1950 brought back the controls. Note that this time they didn’t shut down car production, nor most other major civilian industries, but they did throttle back the availability of raw materials. The notorious crumminess of Korean War era car chrome wasn’t due to any issues with the chromium, but to the thinness of the nickel undercoat. The chrome strips might have pitted by 1956, but at least the cars were available.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

     

    In the 50s, hot women will drive naked. Now, that’s something worth fighting for.

    In the early Forties, the USA was the only nation in the world that had massive numbers of women drivers. I am confident that Robert A. Heinlein, among other fantasy writers, would have endorsed the notion that some of them would drive naked. Okay, it’s a portrait of the Fifties that isn’t accurate in every detail. But to a man of 1942, this might as well be a vision of real life 1959 or so, when a woman in a bikini is driving home from Malibu beach in a Thunderbird convertible. 

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

    In the 50s, hot women will drive naked. Now, that’s something worth fighting for.

    But with green hair.

    • #6
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

    In the 50s, hot women will drive naked. Now, that’s something worth fighting for.

    But with green hair.

    Sometimes the future is like that. 

    • #7
  8. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Wonderful post, Gary, and fascinating, to boot (or should that be “to trunk?”)

    Gary McVey: The one compact that survived, and went on to thrive as one of the success stories of the Fifties was Nash’s Rambler, a nameplate that would outlive that of Nash itself.

    Indeed.  My mind went immediately here:

    Love me some Emmylou Harris.  She’s one of the very few “contemporary” performers I’ve bothered to get up off my behind to go see in live performance, at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling WV. It was wonderful.  Half the time I couldn’t understand a word. (I’ve always thought there was an strong element of Scottish Mouth Music in her work.)

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    She (View Comment):
    My mind went immediately here:

    • #9
  10. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    I’m a bit of a car guy and this caused me to learn some thing I had not known. The Jeep Aero used a General Motors Hydromatic transmission. What I had not known was that the Hydromatic was offered in a four-speed. The later Turbo-Hydromatic that I grew up with (and remembered as replacing the two-speed Powerglide) was a three-speed until replaced by four-speed versions in the early 80s.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Excellent post, Gary.  I’m not much of a car guy myself (I drive a Nissan Leaf; don’t judge), but I got caught up in your history of pre- and post-war car design and engineering because of your professional level prose. 

    Please continue with these little history lessons.  They are a delight. 

     

    • #11
  12. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    There was also serious consideration given to extending the rationing of consumer products. In Britain, they *did* extend the wartime rationing.

    • #12
  13. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Gary McVey: The one compact that survived, and went on to thrive as one of the success stories of the Fifties was Nash’s Rambler, a nameplate that would outlive that of Nash itself. Well equipped and almost luxurious for its day, it made no pretense of being cheap. It could keep up with traffic on the new superhighways and seat a family of five, yet got excellent gas mileage and was easier to fit into a tight parking space.

    My grandmother still had her compact 1953 Nash Rambler into the late 1960s. But by then she wasn’t driving it much, so my brother and I (age about 9 and 11) spent more time pretending to drive it. It was 2 tone green in color, and had an interior much fancier than the low trim level Fords my parents tended to buy. My mother recounted for us the difficulty of finding repair and replacement parts for the car, even at the Rambler dealer, as the dealer was surprised that a car that age was still on the road. 

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    David Foster (View Comment):

    There was also serious consideration given to extending the rationing of consumer products. In Britain, they *did* extend the wartime rationing.

    This reminds me that it would be good if Gary were to provide a bibliography, reference list, or list of suggested reading.  There is a lot in his article that I hadn’t known. 

    I have a subscription to newspaper.com for genealogy and historical purposes, and by accident have stumbled on news articles suggesting there was a bit of controversy about the ending of wartime controls.  I grew up listening to people in the rural midwest tell how they managed to work around the wartime tire and gasoline restrictions, or wrangle the necessary coupons. I have in my possession some of the leftover ration coupons and such, but I’ve never heard stories about the lifting of restrictions. I’ve read many books that told about the implementation of rationing and industrial controls, usually from a “New Deal was Wonderful!” perspective. But the struggle to remove restrictions?  I’ve never seen any systematic treatment of that topic, or even an unsystematic one. 

    • #14
  15. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey:

    Buick sports car, circa 1950, © 1942. Artist: Henry S. Lauve. Photo: General Motors Styling, 1927-1958.

     

    In the 50s, hot women will drive naked. Now, that’s something worth fighting for.

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of hot women driving naked in convertible sports cars.

    • #15
  16. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    David Foster (View Comment):

    There was also serious consideration given to extending the rationing of consumer products. In Britain, they *did* extend the wartime rationing.

    This reminds me that it would be good if Gary were to provide a bibliography, reference list, or list of suggested reading. There is a lot in his article that I hadn’t known.

    I have a subscription to newspaper.com for genealogy and historical purposes, and by accident have stumbled on news articles suggesting there was a bit of controversy about the ending of wartime controls. I grew up listening to people in the rural midwest tell how they managed to work around the wartime tire and gasoline restrictions, or wrangle the necessary coupons. I have in my possession some of the leftover ration coupons and such, but I’ve never heard stories about the lifting of restrictions. I’ve read many books that told about the implementation of rationing and industrial controls, usually from a “New Deal was Wonderful!” perspective. But the struggle to remove restrictions? I’ve never seen any systematic treatment of that topic, or even an unsystematic one.

    Thanks for the kind words, Reti! Here’s a couple of references:

    Kaiser-Frazer: The Last Onslaught on Detroit, by Richard M. Langworth, is not only a great source on the Henry J debacle, but gives a clear picture of what the car industry was thinking as WWII drew to a close.

    American Motors: The Last Independent, by Patrick Foster. Foster is the leading expert on Nash and Hudson, and why the compact Rambler succeeded where others failed.

    More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story, by Thomas E. Bonsall. Another good analysis of the business and marketing challenges faced by smaller car companies in that era.

    The Best Years, 1945-1950, by Joseph E. Goulden is a general interest history of the period; not much specifically about cars, but a lot about the country’s mood as it shook off wartime regulations in the interim between WWII and the Korean War.

    She’s a Beauty!, by Don Loffler. Great history of how Australian engineers came to Detroit during 1944 and spent nearly two years re-designing GM’s existing experimental smaller car into the Holden.

    General Motors Styling, 1927-1958, by Tracy Powell. Particularly good on the lost worlds of paths that weren’t taken, and exotic designs that never reached the public.

    Chevrolet Cadet, articles in Special Interest Automobiles, available on the web–just Google ’em.

    • #16
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Excellent post, Gary. I’m not much of a car guy myself (I drive a Nissan Leaf; don’t judge), but I got caught up in your history of pre- and post-war car design and engineering because of your professional level prose.

    Please continue with these little history lessons. They are a delight.

    I had a Nissan Leaf: they’re great cars! It was my first electric, and it had tough acts to follow: a Jag, a GTO, and a Chrysler Crossfire. Here’s a good book about the Leaf

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Kaiser-Frazer: The Last Onslaught on Detroit, by Richard M. Langworth, is not only a great source on the Henry J debacle, but gives a clear picture of what the car industry was thinking as WWII drew to a close.

    American Motors: The Last Independent, by Patrick Foster. Foster is the leading expert on Nash and Hudson, and why the compact Rambler succeeded where others failed.

    More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story, by Thomas E. Bonsall. Another good analysis of the business and marketing challenges faced by smaller car companies in that era.

    The Best Years, 1945-1950, by Joseph E. Goulden is a general interest history of the period; not much specifically about cars, but a lot about the country’s mood as it shook off wartime regulations in the interim between WWII and the Korean War.

    She’s a Beauty!, by Don Loffler. Great history of how Australian engineers came to Detroit during 1944 and spent nearly two years re-designing GM’s existing experimental smaller car into the Holden.

    General Motors Styling, 1927-1958, by Tracy Powell. Particularly good on the lost worlds of paths that weren’t taken, and exotic designs that never reached the public.

    Chevrolet Cadet, articles in Special Interest Automobiles, available on the web–just Google ’em.

    Thanks!

    I’ve ordered a used copy of the Goulden book.  I’ll get some of the others from my university library. I understand our departmental librarian has been wondering why I haven’t been putting in requests for books, as she is back in the office often enough now.  I’ll start with the books about Kaiser-Frazer and American Motors.  A Michigan university library is a good place to get books about the car industry, no? 

    Back in 1961 Dad wanted to get a new car before we did our big vacation trip to San Diego.  We kids thought he should get a Rambler like Grandpa had. At least I did.  Here he is earlier in the year, getting ready to take off with my other Granpda for their own trip to southern California. The one behind the wheel had sold his farm to his youngest boys and became a traveling salesman for Raleigh products.  He was a gregarious sort and would babysit the little ones or change their diapers while their mother looked over his goods.  Different times.

    Dad didn’t buy a Rambler, though.

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    I’m a bit of a car guy and this caused me to learn some thing I had not known. The Jeep Aero used a General Motors Hydromatic transmission. What I had not known was that the Hydromatic was offered in a four-speed. The later Turbo-Hydromatic that I grew up with (and remembered as replacing the two-speed Powerglide) was a three-speed until replaced by four-speed versions in the early 80s.

    I was surprised that GM would apparently sell the Hydra-Matic to anybody; Lincoln used it, among many others. This caused problems when the Hydra-Matic factory burned down in 1953. (BTW, one of the GM production workers there was Frank Price, later to become boss of Columbia Pictures and then Universal; he was one of the most prominent conservatives in Hollywood). Until they could rebuild, GM used their other automatic transmission, Buick’s Dynaflow. Little known fact: Chevy’s first Powerglide was based on Dynaflow, not Hydra-Matic, but after a couple of years they switched over. Dynaflow was smooth but sluggish–OK for Buick’s big straight 8s, but not Chevy’s 6. 

    • #19
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Kaiser-Frazer: The Last Onslaught on Detroit, by Richard M. Langworth, is not only a great source on the Henry J debacle, but gives a clear picture of what the car industry was thinking as WWII drew to a close.

    American Motors: The Last Independent, by Patrick Foster. Foster is the leading expert on Nash and Hudson, and why the compact Rambler succeeded where others failed.

    More Than They Promised: The Studebaker Story, by Thomas E. Bonsall. Another good analysis of the business and marketing challenges faced by smaller car companies in that era.

    The Best Years, 1945-1950, by Joseph E. Goulden is a general interest history of the period; not much specifically about cars, but a lot about the country’s mood as it shook off wartime regulations in the interim between WWII and the Korean War.

    She’s a Beauty!, by Don Loffler. Great history of how Australian engineers came to Detroit during 1944 and spent nearly two years re-designing GM’s existing experimental smaller car into the Holden.

    General Motors Styling, 1927-1958, by Tracy Powell. Particularly good on the lost worlds of paths that weren’t taken, and exotic designs that never reached the public.

    Chevrolet Cadet, articles in Special Interest Automobiles, available on the web–just Google ’em.

    Thanks!

    I’ve ordered a used copy of the Goulden book. I’ll get some of the others from my university library. I understand our departmental librarian has been wondering why I haven’t been putting in requests for books, as she is back in the office often enough now. I’ll start with the books about Kaiser-Frazer and American Motors. A Michigan university library is a good place to get books about the car industry, no?

    Back in 1961 Dad wanted to get a new car before we did our big vacation trip to San Diego. We kids thought he should get a Rambler like Grandpa had. At least I did. Here he is earlier in the year, getting ready to take off with my other Granpda for their own trip to southern California. The one behind the wheel had sold his farm to his youngest boys and became a traveling salesman for Raleigh products. He was a gregarious sort and would babysit the little ones or change their diapers while their mother looked over his goods. Different times.

    Dad didn’t buy a Rambler, though.

    Glad to see these books being read! I think you’ll especially like Goulden’s and Langworth. (Patrick Foster knows his Nash and Hudson facts better than anyone else, but he’s not quite as good a writer.) Magazines: Collectible Automobile and Hemming’s Classic Car have a lot of these old stories. 

    Your mention of a Michigan university library does bring up my minor doubts about two other books. Steve Lehto’s “Chrysler’s Turbine Car: Detroit’s Coolest Creation” is pretty good, but as a (former?) Michigan college instructor, Lehto has a touch more skepticism about the industry than he should. He parrots the line that the stodgy, unimaginative greedheads supposedly running these companies were too into piston engines to realize that turbines would have gotten us out of the clutches of the oil companies, because the turbines could run not only on gasoline, but also diesel fuel, kerosene, and jet fuel. Which is kerosene; and all of them are as petroleum based as gasoline is. They could also run on Chanel No.5 or Remy Martin liquor; neither would have been much help against OPEC. 

    “Cars for Comrades” by Lewis Siegelbaum is a rare book about the USSR’s car industry, but the author (also a Michigan college teacher) has little loyalty to Detroit and is almost full-on Left. As a result, it’s got a couple of beauts, like asserting the Soviet women didn’t want to be long haul truck drivers because they were influenced by western sexism. It couldn’t just be that they weren’t attracted to a dangerous job that required great physical strength driving unpaved “roads” in subzero weather. 

    • #20
  21. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Gary McVey:

    By 1942, Nelson was given czar-like powers to convert American industry to war production, which he seemed to do with spectacular success. He was a well-publicized hero of the press, a colorless New Dealer who gradually became seen as a dictator and a scapegoat. Donald Nelson’s signature was at the bottom of every factory poster urging harder work. Even Albert Speer was a grudging admirer. Speer complains in his memoirs that despite his vaunted Nazi powers, he was powerless to control private industries as tightly as the government of “free market” America ran theirs.

    But Americans got restless as the war continued, year after year. With victory seemingly in sight by early ’44, there was irresistible public pressure to begin loosening the rules, sensibly and fast. However, “sensibly” and “fast” meant different things to industry than they did to government.

    What the bosses of the nation’s automotive companies could legally do was plot and plan. In early-to-mid-’44, they contemplated what the cars of postwar America would be like, for the not-so-far-off, futuristic Fifties and the immediate, remaining years of the Forties. They couldn’t spend money on tooling up for production, not yet, but they were now legally permitted to use design and engineering resources on future projects.

     

    Not exactly on topic, but still interesting (I think).  By 1944, we were producing so many planes so fast that in the Pacific planes with even the slightest battle damage were being scrapped in favor of new production, just so we could keep the production lines running.

    From Ian Toll’s “Twilight of the Gods:  War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945”:

    AT THE START OF 1944, the U.S. Navy had 27,500 airplanes in service, a tenfold increase since 1940. As the assembly lines at Grumman, Douglas, Martin, and Curtiss reached peak production between March and June of that year, the navy’s inventory of new planes swelled so rapidly that it threatened to become an unmanageable glut. The service accepted delivery of 24,000 new combat aircraft during the 1944 fiscal year, a figure that exceeded the totals for the previous three years combined. That was a high-class problem, one that any other combatant nation of the Second World War would have been glad to face. But the admirals faced an immediate decision: How to resolve the mismatch between surging production and a bloated inventory? In February, Admiral King signed an order fixing an upper limit of 38,000 planes in service, and adamantly refused to relax that edict.

    <continued next comment>

    • #21
  22. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    The production lines began ramping down steeply in the summer of 1944—but the plants could not be permitted to shut down entirely. To preserve the physical capital and know-how of this strategically vital industry, it was thought necessary to keep them turning over at a reduced rate. Admiral McCain, then serving as deputy CNO for air, proposed a plan to assign only the newest aircraft to frontline service, and to return older units to the United States for training or other purposes. In September 1944, the navy adopted a more radical plan—to junk thousands of older planes, including those already deployed in the Pacific, to make room for newer units.

    The word went out to all commands: get rid of older aircraft by any means necessary. As a measure of the industrial might of the United States in 1944 and 1945, the subsequent whirl of destruction told a better story than a thousand pages of statistics. If a plane needed minor repairs, it was pulled off the flight line and junked, and a shiny new replacement unit flew in to take its place. Hundreds of airplanes were flown into remote Pacific island airstrips, parked in a vacant clearing, and abandoned. Many such aircraft “boneyards” were later used for target practice by U.S. bombers on training missions. Scrapped airplanes were bulldozed into pits, and the wreckage compacted by running tanks over them. Marginally damaged carrier planes were pushed off the flight decks into the sea, and new replacement units flown in from escort carriers. This mass-junking of perfectly serviceable warplanes occurred at the height of the war, when the Japanese were falling well short of aircraft production targets and struggling to keep their assembly lines in operation at all.

     

    Toll, Ian W.. Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (Vol. 3) (Pacific War Trilogy) (p. 417). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

    • #22
  23. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    I had heard of a Vice-President’s visit to Kolyma but I did not know that this one had suffered politically for his improperly bubbly take on the situation. Glad to hear it!

    Very minor note: at the time, the camp wouldn’t have been run or at least how shall we say staffed by the KGB. I think in 1944 it would still have been the NKVD. Or maybe even the OGPU? I lose track of these reorgs. I am unable to say how significant they are.

    • #23
  24. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    John H. (View Comment):

    I had heard of a Vice-President’s visit to Kolyma but I did not know that this one had suffered politically for his improperly bubbly take on the situation. Glad to hear it!

    Very minor note: at the time, the camp wouldn’t have been run or at least how shall we say staffed by the KGB. I think in 1944 it would still have been the NKVD. Or maybe even the OGPU? I lose track of these reorgs. I am unable to say how significant they are.

    You’re right. I think it would have been NKVD during the war. I used KGB because it’s more familiar to readers. Wallace got a real “Potemkin villages” tour of Siberia. He was already disliked and distrusted by most of the Democratic Party’s big shots, like James Farley and Joseph P. Kennedy. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how FDR was sold on taking Wallace on the 1940 ticket. 

     

    • #24
  25. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    John H. (View Comment):

    I had heard of a Vice-President’s visit to Kolyma but I did not know that this one had suffered politically for his improperly bubbly take on the situation. Glad to hear it!

    Very minor note: at the time, the camp wouldn’t have been run or at least how shall we say staffed by the KGB. I think in 1944 it would still have been the NKVD. Or maybe even the OGPU? I lose track of these reorgs. I am unable to say how significant they are.

    You’re right. I think it would have been NKVD during the war. I used KGB because it’s more familiar to readers. Wallace got a real “Potemkin villages” tour of Siberia. He was already disliked and distrusted by most of the Democratic Party’s big shots, like James Farley and Joseph P. Kennedy. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how FDR was sold on taking Wallace on the 1940 ticket.

    Back then when the political parties still had structure, the big city bosses had a lot of clout, they didn’t like Wallace and put pressure on FDR to dump him.

     

    • #25
  26. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    The production lines began ramping down steeply in the summer of 1944—but the plants could not be permitted to shut down entirely. To preserve the physical capital and know-how of this strategically vital industry, it was thought necessary to keep them turning over at a reduced rate. Admiral McCain, then serving as deputy CNO for air, proposed a plan to assign only the newest aircraft to frontline service, and to return older units to the United States for training or other purposes. In September 1944, the navy adopted a more radical plan—to junk thousands of older planes, including those already deployed in the Pacific, to make room for newer units.

    The word went out to all commands: get rid of older aircraft by any means necessary. As a measure of the industrial might of the United States in 1944 and 1945, the subsequent whirl of destruction told a better story than a thousand pages of statistics. If a plane needed minor repairs, it was pulled off the flight line and junked, and a shiny new replacement unit flew in to take its place. Hundreds of airplanes were flown into remote Pacific island airstrips, parked in a vacant clearing, and abandoned. Many such aircraft “boneyards” were later used for target practice by U.S. bombers on training missions. Scrapped airplanes were bulldozed into pits, and the wreckage compacted by running tanks over them. Marginally damaged carrier planes were pushed off the flight decks into the sea, and new replacement units flown in from escort carriers. This mass-junking of perfectly serviceable warplanes occurred at the height of the war, when the Japanese were falling well short of aircraft production targets and struggling to keep their assembly lines in operation at all.

    Toll, Ian W.. Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (Vol. 3) (Pacific War Trilogy) (p. 417). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

    A fascinating pair of comments. The wind-down from full industrial mobilization started earlier than I realized. As a sidenote, men in some occupational specialties were being discharged as early as late 1944. I’ve read newspaper columns of the period that recounted the return of radio executives and other USO and propaganda workers. This feels too early, but apparently they weren’t needed and the Army was more than willing to get them out of Europe.

    • #26
  27. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    This prompted me to pull out my mother in law’s ration book from 1944.  Still has some of the stamps.

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey: Almost immediately, in August 1944, Donald Nelson, the public face of unpopular rationing and production bans, was eased out at the WPB.

     Wikipedia says he was “an American businessman and public servant.”  FYI. 

    • #28
  29. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I think it would have been NKVD during the war. I used KGB because it’s more familiar to readers.

    Russians I’ve run into on YouTube don’t seem to get too upset about anyone getting them mixed up.  In fact, they’ll often say KGB to cover all of them, perhaps for the benefit of their American followers, and sometimes aren’t too sure themselves when one transitioned to the other.

    • #29
  30. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    We call all be thankful that the central planners did not keep their grip on our economy after World War II. Look to the Warsaw Pact for the alternate future in cars.

    There are two major monthly Group Writing projects. One is the Quote of the Day project, now managed by @she. This is the other project, in which Ricochet members claim a day of the month to write on a proposed theme. This is an easy way to expose your writing to a general audience, with a bit of accountability and topical guidance to encourage writing for its own sake.

    Stop by and sign up now for “May Day, Mayday, May Days.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #30