When the final Axis power, the Japanese empire, surrendered in complete defeat on August 14, 1945, bringing World War II to a close, half a million Detroiters celebrated in the downtown streets. No American city sacrificed and contributed more than Detroit.
Two hundred thousand Detroiters had served in the armed forces. Over 100,000 Detroiters volunteered as firefighters, air raid wardens, and other wartime emergency workers. Those who were not involved on the front lines or in the factories felt the effects of the war through rationing, which affected all consumption, from gasoline to cigarettes and meat.
Downtown, the Guardian Building had been converted into a control center for war production. All of the city's heavy industry had been channeled into military production. For three years, M-5 tanks, Jeeps, and B-24 bombers rolled off the assembly line instead of commercial automobiles. The first freeways, the Davison and Willow Run (I-94), were built to insure more rapid connections between Detroit and factories in the outlying areas. Detroit was honored with the moniker "The Arsenal of Democracy".
William Knudsen was head of General Motors until 1941, when the United States declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy. He was given the rank of General and was put in charge of the United States' National Defense Council. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been secretly discussing war production with Knudsen for years. Under General Knudsen's leadership, Detroit's industries were converted to handle the production of planes, tanks, guns and other ordnance.
After the war, General Knudsen was named the general chairman of the Golden Jubilee Organizing Committee. He was troubled by the wave of disruptive strikes, the 1943 race riot and other upheavals that tarnished Detroit's reputation, and sought to "bring this city back into the good grace of the world by the way we got there in the first place... by production." He was working to secure the legacy of "The Arsenal of Democracy". He unified the city's disparate communities and in the span of just two months planned an astonishing tribute to the city and its automotive history.
Click on the links or arrows below to view the exhibit:
Introduction: The 1946 Automotive Golden Jubilee
Wartime Detroit: The Arsenal Of Democracy
Politics and Pressures: Racial Tensions & Post-War Strikes
Planning the Golden Jubilee
A Detroit First: Peacetime Atomic Power
The Motor City Cavalcade
The Automotive Pioneers
Detroit's Road to Unity