Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

by Arthur Herman
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Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II by Arthur Herman


Remarkable as it may seem today, there once was a time when the president of the United States could pick up the phone and ask the president of General Motors to resign his position and take the reins of a great national enterprise. And the CEO would oblige, no questions asked, because it was his patriotic duty.
In Freedom’s Forge, bestselling author Arthur Herman takes us back to that time, revealing how two extraordinary American businessmen—automobile magnate William Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser—helped corral, cajole, and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II.
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
Featuring behind-the-scenes portraits of FDR, George Marshall, Henry Stimson, Harry Hopkins, Jimmy Doolittle, and Curtis LeMay, as well as scores of largely forgotten heroes and heroines of the wartime industrial effort, Freedom’s Forge is the American story writ large. It vividly re-creates American industry’s finest hour, when the nation’s business elites put aside their pursuit of profits and set about saving the world.

Praise for Freedom’s Forge
“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812982046
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/02/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 200,102
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.88(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Arthur Herman, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World, which has sold more than half a million copies worldwide. His most recent work, Gandhi & Churchill, was the 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

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Freedom's Forge: How American Business Built the Arsenal of Democracy That Won World War II 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting but Flawed I have to start by saying that I have previously read two books by this author, one on the Royal Navy, and the other on the impact of Scotsmen on the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them. I enjoyed this book when it was presenting the many success stories of the American Economy and the production miracle that it achieved during World War II. As Herman accurately points out, the Axis was literally buried under American war production. When limiting himself to describing how Big Bill Knudson and Henry Kaiser among many others helped to produce this economic miracle, Mr. Herman has produced a very interesting and much needed history. There are several things however that bothered me about this book. First of all, there is a breezy lack of regard for facts, showing up as numerous small errors. For example, the woman who served as the model for Rosie the Riveter was named Hoff, not Huff (page 263). Hitler did not declare war on the United States on December 8. It was December 11. (page 156). The battleships sunk and damaged at Pearl Harbor were not modern, but obsolescent, the newest one having been in service for about 20 years. (page 168). And the Japanese did not heavily damage the shipyards and equipment at Pearl. (pages 168-169 ) In fact, just the opposite, and Admiral Nagumo was criticized by his colleagues for not launching a third wave to attack the facilities. The author states that “18,434 Navy battleships, cruisers, carriers, subs and destroyers poured out of America’s shipyards…” (page 247). I don’t know what the real number is but it much less than this. In 1944, the warship count of the US surface fleet was about 850 units. I only checked one footnote and found that the quotation cited was not on page 241 of the book cited, but instead on page 236. (page 144). Mr. Herman had some poor help in editing and fact checking his book. This brings me to the second, and more disturbing issue with this book. Mr. Herman has worked for the American Enterprise Institute for the past two years, and this book was written under their auspices. He cites help from AEI colleagues in editing this work (they should have done a better job. See above.) The AEI is a conservative, pro-business, libertarian think tank. Their political agenda is promoted through out this book with the subtlety of a jackhammer. Conservatives never miss an opportunity to denigrate FDR, minimize the impact of the New Deal and dispute Keynesian economics. Mr. Herman attempts to fulfill his obligation to his employer referring to the “failed New Deal”, by minimizing FDR’s role in World War II, and portraying him as clueless, shiftless and worthless. Communists lead the labor movement, and New Dealers can’t wait to take over the economy and destroy the war effort for their own agenda Then in the conclusion, he makes a diatribe against Bruce Catton and Keynesian Economics. It is bizarre. In short, the very good story that this book contains has been cheapened due to the errors and gratuitous editorials it contains. It appears to have been written to promote a political view first and present a very important part of our history second. It is a shame that Mr. Herman has sold out his objectivity as a historian. I will continue to teach my college students that demand for war material led to a vast economic expansion of the American economy which brought full employment to the economy and overcame the Great Depressio
WhiteHat61 More than 1 year ago
Well written and researched the book details haow business leaders answered Presidents's call to organize the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of American busineess to produce the flow of weapons, vehicles, aircraft, ships that supplied both ourselves and our allies. The book keys on Henry Kaiser and Bunkie Knudsen (head of General Motors) and their leadership in the effort. However it also covers the contributions of many others including the influx of women into the factories that allowed men to join the armed forces while the flow of the tools of war continued unabated.
danreader54 More than 1 year ago
One of the best nonfiction books I have read in a long. It tells the story of how American industry responded to the massive needs of WWII. Men like Bill Knudson and Henry J. Kaiser became heroes in their own right as they helped awake the sleeping giant that was the ability of the American people to come together and build planes, ships and armament needed for the war effort both in America and in Europe. Couldn't put the book down because of wanting to see what amazing thing would be accomplished next. Very well written story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is *not* history, as it is written with a very strong ideological bias that will become abundantly clear after the first few pages. Business leaders are good - everyone else is bad and just gets in the way. Regardless that more Americans died and were injured in their factories than were on the battlefields, labor was the problem. Regardless that government was borrowing to the hilt and giving them money recklessly, they were the impediment. The ulterior motives, the cost over-runs, the worker abuses, the profiteering, the failures, are all glossed over. To believe this book, the world was saved by the two businessmen in this book, one of whom made almost his entire fortune by war profiteering, the other of which steered some $14 billion (1944 dollars) in contracts to General Motors, his former company. Or that the latter was an admirer of the Nazis, and proclaimed just prior to the war that Germany was "the miracle of the 20th century", or that his Opel subsidiary was the primary manufacturer of Nazi engines for trucks, tanks, and aircraft engines. My grandmother, a military wife during WWII, always talked about the sacrifices everyone made during WWII - the rationing, the victory gardens, women working in the factories while their husbands were on the battlefields, etc. Yet in this book, the heroes are the guys sitting at home with their cost-plus, profit-guaranteed contracts to grow their businesses. Give us all a break. Besides the strong bias, the numerous documented factual inaccuracies in this book should discount this book. While the book describes at some level the rise of the US military-industrial complex from non-existent to what would become world dominating, this one could not be more one-sided and shallow. A much more critical and insightful book would far better serve the discerning reader who wants to actually better understand just what Eisenhower warned us about.
wizzardAC More than 1 year ago
I was so moved by Freedom’s Forge that I was compelled to share my enthusiasm with the author, Arthur Herman, a first for me. Following are the exerts from the letter I sent him on December 14. Dear Professor Herman—I just had to take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed Freedom’s Forge. I absolutely couldn’t put it down! It was a marvelous three part thriller. In part one you masterfully laid out the grim isolationist mood of the country, the pathetic state of our military, the dire shape of our industrial base after our 10 years of depression, all at the time World War II began to rage in Europe. Part two begins with Roosevelt’s action that led to winning the War and curing the Depression—the call to Knudsen. Thus begins the transformation and buildup of American Industry and the introduction of Kaiser and many other Geniuses of Business that seemed to pop up whenever an insurmountable problem occurred—which was often. The pace of accomplishment ratchets up to astounding levels after Pearl Harbor continuing nonstop with more unique characters coming into the picture until the War ends with the dropping of the Atom Bombs on Japan. Part three begins with the ever present gloom and doomers predicting massive unemployment for the thousands returning to civilian life and a return to depression as the country reverts to peacetime production. Part three ends with their pessimism thwarted almost instantly by the continued American ingenuity which lead to a massive post war boom that lasted for 20 years—a sustained period of growth not since equaled. Reality, I guess, demanded that you end the book on a nostalgic note with a few pages at the end detailing how history for the civilian effort during the war years has been rewritten and how the postwar boom began to devolve. At the age of 18 in 1965, I was working on the assembly line at General Motors. I saw myself, during the long GM strike of that year, the UAW's attitude of more pay for less work. Then over the years subtle but growing changes occurred. Our moral culture eroded, productivity declined and public education was dumbed down putting us to where we are today. How nice it would be (and how needed) if a Steven Spielberg took your book to the big screen! It certainly has the makings of an epic. If told in Frank Capra style, it would remind us of American Exceptionalism at it’s best. They’d  have to add a tagline for the benefit of those 40 and under “Based on a True Story.” There’s another thought I’d like to share with you. Earlier this year on Glenn Beck’s recommendation, I read The 5000 Year Leap which in a powerful and clear way conveys the principals on which our Country was founded. After reading your book, it hit me that The 5000 Year Leap and Freedom’s Forge should be required reading, as a unit, before any child is allowed to graduate high school in America. Leap lays out the theory of a limited government, setup by and for the people, based on Judeo-Christian principals to ensure a free society. Forge conveys the real life practical application of the Leap theories with the absolute proof that they work as the framework for a free and prosperous society. For me this "combo" package of Leap and Forge greatly added to four things 1) My understanding of just how far we've drifted from our Founding Ideals 2) My concern for the freedom & prosperity of my grandchildren should we drift further 3) My resolve to actively contribute to righting the wrongs while simultaneously 4) Preparing for the havoc that will surely occur if "Progressives" win. Thank you again for resurrecting this wonderful chapter of my father’s generation. Next to the Founders, they truly were the Greatest Generation!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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boatsandtrains More than 1 year ago
Interesting story about the industrial ramp up for WWII. Thought it was great until the last few chapters when the political agenda of the American Enterprise Institute became a screed against the US Government. AEI did not win WWII.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DTParker More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. I read every book I could find on the subject in preparation for writing my own book on aircraft manufacturing in World War II. Herman's book was one of the best I found, and certainly the most interesting to read. He tells a story that is seldom told. No war was more industrialized than World War II. It was won as much by machine shops, as by machine guns. Manufacturer for manufacturer, factory for factory, worker for worker, America outproduced its enemies. As William S. Knudsen, of the National Defense Advisory Commission put it, "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, or dreamed possible." As I have discovered in my own writing, one can't spend too much time proofreading. And, Herman's book does contain some minor errors here and there that made me wince (I'm sure they will make him wince, too!). As, some of the other reviewers in this section have observed, Herman is no fan of Franklin Roosevelt or unions. Significantly though, he does give Roosevelt credit for resisting his New Deal instincts for a government take-over of business in World War II. The government had tried this with the railroads in the First World War, and it not only did not solve the congestion problem, in some ways it made things even worse. Herman gives Roosevelt credit for learning from this, and letting business do what business does best: produce. Herman also gives Roosevelt (who had long been the friend of unions) credit for standing up to unions whose strikes were crippling military production. Roosevelt even sent in the Army - with bayonets fixed - to drive away picket lines at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California. The affect of strikes (many of them over jurisdictional issues between one union and another, rather than wages or benefits) on military production is another story that is seldom told. Herman tells it. Two other great books on the significance of manufacturing in World War II are: - "Why the Allies Won," by Richard Overy. Not quite as interesting to read as Heman's book, but an excellent analysis of the subject. - "Masters of Mass Production," by Christy Borth. Long out of print, but used copies are available, and worth finding. If you are interested in aircraft production, I recommend: - "Climb to Greatness: The American Aircraft Industry, 1920-1960," by John B. Rae. Another excellent analysis of the subject. - "Slacks & Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory," by Constance Bowman Reid. Definitely a fun personal memoir to read. If you are interested in aircraft production in the Los Angeles area you might enjoy my book: - "Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II," by Dana T. Parker. Meanwhile, Arthur Herman's book is well worth reading! As Donald Douglas (founder of Douglas Aircraft) said about America's phenomenal production in World War II, "Here's proof that free men can out-produce slaves."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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races in and skids to a stop shaking dirt out of her mane as she whinnied. Her wild eyes look around feriociously
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I have studied WWII history for years but was amazed by the contents in this book. Thank you, Mr. Herman, for revealing the engines and great people behind our victory in that war.
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Well written--read in 3 settings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Concise, factual, and reads like a thriller. I could not put it down. If you are a student of history this is one book you need to have on your shelf. The author writes in a style that brings the sense of urgency of the time into focus, and pulls you into the subject matter while laying everything bare for you to examine and judge for yourself. A wonderful work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for those that thought FDR,s socialist policies turned our country around, and how capitalism actually won WWII.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read many books on WW2 I was interested in the logistics side. Prior to reading this book that information was incidental. Freedom's Forge helps to understand the process.