Coronavirus efforts could be a big moment in history of Detroit automakers

Coronavirus efforts could be a big moment in history of Detroit automakers

It can be dizzying in the spin cycle as history happens around us, but a local historical group that celebrates the automobile induand Detroit's wartime efforts is giving a fresh nod to contributions Michigan companies are making against a new opponent — coronavirus.

The group — the Motor Cities National Heritage Area Partnership at —chronicles the automobile and how it has shaped life in Michigan and beyond.

A section of its site, Arsenal of Democracy Resources, goes on to detail the last time Detroit’s automakers, engineers and assembly workers saved the country — World War II.

In an update, the group points to projects like GM and Ford’s rapid switch from car parts to ventilators, respirators and face shields and other companies in the state, like those making hand sanitizer. "Many have dubbed this new fight the 'Arsenal of Health,'" the website states.

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Reliving the last fight

B24s under construction at Ford's Willow Run plant in 1943.

Under government command, and working on government contracts, the auto industry ceased production of civilian vehicles early in 1942, as Detroit became the driving force in what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “The Arsenal of Democracy.”

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The site includes a map with a partial list of buildings in and around Detroit used for WWII production. It’s partial because a comprehensive map would look like one big checkmark over the whole Detroit area. Virtually every manufacturing building and many that no longer stand were converted to military production, along with facilities as far away as the Upper Peninsula.

“The Arsenal of Democracy story is being revisited right now in 2020, as we are mobilizing again in a new role — the Arsenal of Health,” Motor Cities communication manager Bob Sadler said. “We plan to continue updating this page on our website with additional stories of how our automotive industry rallies to win this new unprecedented fight.”

Links to other moments in history

The site has links to exhibits at the Detroit Historical Museum, the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport and more.

The museums aren’t open, of course, but you can read the fascinating story of Edsel Ford’s heroic quest to create the biggest, best bomber plant the world has ever known in “The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War” by AJ Baime, who also wrote the book “Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory.”.

Photos of the men and women working in factories — women's participation changed the American workplace forever — and of the boats, bullets, tanks, planes and other things they built fill “Images from the Arsenal of Democracy” by former Wayne State professor Charles Hyde and “Detroit's Wartime Industry: Arsenal of Democracy” by journalist Michael W.R. Davis.

Contact Mark Phelan at 313-222-6731 or Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletter.


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