President Roosevelt called the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy” in 1940, implying that the nation’s ability to rapidly produce modern war machines and materiel would be a critical driver of success in the war. Although Illinois was a little late to the full conversion to war, reaching peak production levels in 1944, it led the nation in the manufacture of new devices such as radar and electronics without slowing the output of engines, guns, bombs and airplanes. The Douglas Aircraft plant in Orchard Place (now O’Hare International Airport) assembled C-54 Skymaster planes and employed many people on Chicago’s North Shore, predominately women. Seven hundred subcontractors supplied parts for these “flying boxcars” – workhorse transport aircraft used by both the Army and the Navy. Production knowledge and experience gained during wartime constituted a technological revolution that would serve the Illinois economy long after the war ended.
E is for excellent. The “E-Award” was given by the President to companies engaged in manufacture of war goods for the Army or Navy that did exemplary work. Evaluation factors included the quality and quantity of production, cooperation between labor and management, conservation of critical materials, and rates of absenteeism and accidents. Approximately 3% of the plants engaged in war production received the award. The company received a pennant and workers were presented with pins which they wore proudly on their lapel. Illinois companies accounted for 10% of all E awards. A Chicago firm, Miehle Printing Press and Manufacturing Company, was one of only eight US concerns to receive six stars attached to the E-Award, one for every six months of high performance after it won the “E” the first time.