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March 24, 2022

Women At War: Beautiful Kodachrome Photos of Female Engineers at Aircraft Factories in World War II

Shortly after the United States entered World War II in 1941, the nation quickly mobilized for war and nearly all able-bodied men under the age of forty-five volunteered or were drafted into the armed forces. This left a major gap in the nation’s industrial workforce, just at the time when increased war production was desperately needed. 

In order to fill these ranks, the government began to promote the hiring of women as industrial workers. Amid initial opposition to the idea, the Office of War Information (OWI) was created to produce promotional posters, advertisements, and news stories to gain much-needed support for these and other home-front war efforts. In 1942, Alfred T. Palmer, the official photographer of the OWI, began visiting aviation production plants across the country and photographing their female workers.

Women at work on bomber, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Palmer’s World War II factory photographs of women aviation workers were created for the OWI between 1942 and 1943, and they comprise some of his best and most well-known work. These images depict their subjects as they were; focused and determined to play an important part in the production of military aircraft to win the war in the air. They also serve to document the rapid technological advancement of war-time aviation and aircraft production, which reached an astounding total of 324,750 aircraft.

Take a look at the female workers working at the aviation production plants across the country in World War II through these 30 beautiful Kodachrome pictures:

A girl riveting machine operator at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant joins sections of wing ribs to reinforce the inner wing assemblies of B-17F heavy bombers, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F bomber is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself in action in the south Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude, heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men -- and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American [Aviation, Inc.]'s Inglewood, Calif., plant

American mothers and sisters, like these women at the Douglas Aircraft Company, give important help in producing dependable planes for their men at the front, Long Beach, Calif. Most important of the many types of aircraft made at this plant are the B-17F ("Flying Fortress") heavy bomber, the A-20 ("Havoc") assault bomber and the C-47 heavy transport plane for the carrying of troops and cargo

Women at work on C-47 Douglas cargo transport, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

An A-20 bomber being riveted by a woman worker at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant at Long Beach, Calif.

Drilling horizontal stabilizers: operating a hand drill, this woman worker at Vultee-Nashville is shown working on the horizontal stabilizer for a Vultee "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee. The "Vengeance" (A-31) was originally designed for the French. It was later adopted by the R.A.F. and still later by the U.S. Army Air Forces. It is a single-engine, low-wing plane, carrying a crew of two men and having six machine guns of varying calibers

Women war workers

This girl in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif. She's one of many capable women workers in the Douglas Aircraft Company plant. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17 which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, a woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee


Two women workers are shown capping and inspecting tubing which goes into the manufacture of the "Vengeance" (A-31) dive bomber made at Vultee's Nashville division, Tennessee. The "Vengeance" (A-31) was originally designed for the French. It was later adopted by the R.A.F. and still later by the U.S. Army Air Forces. It is a single-engine, low-wing plane, carrying a crew of two men and having six machine guns of varying calibers

Clerk in one of the stock rooms of North American Aviation, Inc., checking to see if the proper numbers of parts were received and placed in the proper bin, Inglewood, Calif. This plant produces the battle-tested B-25 ("Billy Mitchell") bomber, used in General Doolittle's raid on Tokyo, and the P-51 ("Mustang") fighter plane which was first brought into prominence by the British raid on Dieppe

Metal parts are placed on masonite by this woman employee before they slide under the multi-ton hydropress, North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, Calif.

Operating a hand drill at the North American Aviation, Inc., [a] woman is in the control surface department assembling a section of the leading edge for the horizontal stabilizer of a plane

Women are trained to do precise and vital engine installation detail in Douglas Aircraft Company plants, Long Beach, Calif.

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself in action in the south Pacific, Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude, heavy bomber, with a crew of seven to nine men, and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions

Woman working on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc., plant in Calif.

Electronics technician, Goodyear Aircraft Corp., Akron, Ohio

With careful Douglas training, women do accurate electrical assembly and installation work, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Girl inspectors at the Long Beach, Calif., plant of Douglas Aircraft Company make a careful check of center wings for C-47 transport planes

This woman worker at the Vultee-Nashville is shown making final adjustments in the wheel well of an inner wing before the installation of the landing gear, Nashville, Tenn. This [is] one of the numerous assembly operations in connection with the mass production of Vultee "Vengeance" dive bombers

Working with the electric wiring at Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Woman at work on motor, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

A young woman employee of North American Aviation, Incorporated, working over the landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane, Inglewood, Calif. The mechanism resembles a small cannon

Punching rivet holes in a frame member for a B-25 bomber, the plant of North American Aviation, Inc., Calif.

Woman machinist, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Switch boxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers are assembled by women workers at North American [Aviation, Inc.]'s Inglewood, Calif., plant

Men and women make efficient operating teams on riveting and other jobs at the Douglas Aircraft plant, Long Beach, Calif. Most important of the many types of aircraft made at this plant are the B-17F ("Flying Fortress") heavy bomber, the A-20 ("Havoc") assault bomber and the C-47 heavy transport plane for the carrying of troops and cargo

Women are trained as engine mechanics in thorough Douglas training methods, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, a woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee

(via SFO Museum, Library of Congress)




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