During World War II many factories were reconditioned to support the war effort, especially companies such as Ford that were already producing vehicles and heavy machinery. Every American automaker turned their workforce and facilities towards military production during World War II. It was Willow Run that caught the public’s attention and fascination.
This was because Ford Motor Company was building one B-23 Liberator airplane every 63 minutes. This was a revolution and an embodiment of how America’s democracy and capitalism would win the war. The president at the time Roosevelt and his advisors were completely convinced that long-range and high altitude planes were the future, they thought that these would become the decisive weapons of the war. World War II would be decided by industrial muscle.
President Roosevelt, therefore, challenged the country’s aviation industry to rise to the challenge, because, at the start of the war there were only 3,000 warplanes in operation. Still, many aviation leaders laughed when the government chose Ford Motor Co. to mass-produce Liberators. Surely an automobile company would not know how to build planes?
Automobiles at the time had only 15,000 parts compared to a B-24 plane that had over 450,000 parts. Cars weighed a measly 3,000 pounds compared to the plane’s 18 tons. Skeptics said the mass production of a plane this size would not be possible. Henry Ford proved them all wrong and made them eat their words, though it was no easy task. The Willow Run plant churned out 8,645 Liberators over a 2.5-year production run. When you think that the other four factories being operated by Consolidated, Douglas Aircraft and North American Aviation built over 9,808 – you could say that Ford was operating on a whole new level.
Together the five factories built more B-24 planes than any other American warplane ever. The B-24 would serve every type of air battle, destroying U-bouts in the Atlantic shipping lanes or flying in supplies over the Himalayas to the besieged armies of China. They even dropped in spies into Europe, and there was a specially outfitted B-24 plane for Whinston Churchill which was codenamed Commando.