Peter Reipold

American entry into the second world war had a dramatic impact on the country’s economy. In 1940 the country was still suffering from the sever effects of the great depression, as, according to the census bureau, 14.6 percent of Americans were still unemployed. Even before the war, things began to change in the country as Roosevelt prepared it for war. The first peace time draft in US history tripled the size of the army from 540,000 employes in 1940 to 1,620,000 in 1941 (Bureau of the Census). Of course, once Americans became fully involved in the war that number increased even further to about 4 million in 1942, and to a peak of approximately 11.5 million by 1944-45.

Women Using Lathe

Government publicity photo showing women using a lathe to fabricate airplane parts.

Things changed dramatically on the home front as well, since the army would need supplies for the millions of soldiers that it committed to the conflict. Because of the scale of the conflict the male labor force alone was incapable of handling all the increased demand for labor. The only available source of untapped labor potential were women, thus the government put forth efforts to encourage women to join the labor force, resulting in 4,609,000 women entering the labor force. Even more significantly, in terms of social change, was that most of the government efforts were geared at enticing married women to work in the factories. Their efforts were highly successful as most of the new factory workers were indeed married women. Despite the fact that, according to the Bureau of the Census, only ¼ of married women were working, this change caused a major breakdown in the contemporary social structure because contemporary views on married women were that their job was to take care of the home and children. The social structure was also changed in regards to what jobs women were allowed to take, as labor shortages necessitated that women take jobs laboring in factories, fields which were previously reserved only for males. Most significantly the change proved to be lasting, with married women making up an increasing percentage of female laborers (45% in 1944 to 54% by 1951) and female labor generally increasing from the 1950’s onward.


All statistics from:

US Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to                 1970, Bicentennial Edition, Part 1. Department of Commerce: Washington, D.C.,             1975. PDF


Hollem, Howard R. Lathe Operator. 1942. Library of Congress, Fort Worth. Prints & Photographs Online.                    Web. 10 Oct. 2014.