HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE Working on sunshine The men and women of the Sunshine Assembly Line helped meet wartime aircraft needs By John Fredrickson 10 BOEING FRONTIERS / MARCH 2013 In 1935, during the Great Depression, the 75 men and women who worked for North American Aviation in Dundalk, Md., packed their cars and headed West in a caravan. They each received a small sum of money for travel expenses—and a personal promise. The promise—that once they arrived in sunny Inglewood, Calif., they would get to build airplanes—had been made by their leader, James “Dutch” Kindelberger. He had visited the area and leased property for his fledging new company at Mines Field, what is today part of Los Angeles International Airport. And make airplanes they did, by the thousands, on what would become known as the Sunshine Assembly Line. Their output included two of the most storied aircraft of World War II—the B-25 Mitchell bomber and the P-51 Mustang fighter. With the outbreak of war, airplane manufacturers faced an acute labor shortage at the same time as demand for military planes skyrocketed. The solution was to woo people from other demographics previously seldom found in aviation manufacturing. New workers poured in from all walks of life, from all over the United States. Some arrived fresh from school. Others came from agriculture, homemaking, retailing, service industries and other lines of work. They were drawn to the higher wages and better ben-efits, though the work could be difficult. Many relocated and then wrote home to proudly declare they had found jobs “Working on the Sunshine Assembly Line”—a reference to the balmy Southern California climate and tasks performed outdoors under camouflage nets. At its peak, the North American wartime workforce swelled to 91,000 employees.
Frontiers March 2013 Issue
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