World War II Economics: Industry and Science

industry and World War II
Figure 1.--This snapshot was taken in Muskogee County, Oklahoma (June 1939) as the Depression was winding down and a few months before Hitler and Stalin partitioned Europe between them and launched World War II. The NAZIs and Soviets proceeded to seize one European country after another as allies. The connection with World War II may not be immediaely apparent. But here we have two kids from a poor family in a poverty stricken state during the Depression--and the family owned a car! This may not be surprising to Americans, but it would have been to Europeans at the time. Only the affluent owned cars in Rurope and in the soviet Uniin virtually no one. The result was that no country had an industrial base that approached that of the United States, even heavily industrialized Germany and both Italy and Japan had relatively limited industrial bases. The question after Hitler and Stalin launched the War became would the American people recognize the mortal danger faced and begin to convert its vast Industrial potential for defense in time. In this regard, America also has a sunstntial scientific cpability, but very little had been harnassed by the military.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain (mid-18th century) and after the Napoleonic Wars gradually spread to the Continent, especially France and Germany. And by the turn-of the 20th century was beginningvto transform other countries such as Russia. Industrialization and the advance of science which accompnied it transformed warfare. The major industrial powers became the most important Military powers. Russia and Austria declined as great powers while Prussia was able to unite Germanhy around it and emerged as the dominant power in continental Europe. And the highly militarized Prussian state becanme a diminant force in the German Empire. Industry also developed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland but were too small to develop important bmilitary forces. Partialy because of this they sought refuge in neutrality, despite the Belgian experience in World War I. America emerged as a great industrial power, but lagged behinf Europe in Scientific expertise although the science establishment was growing. America except for the Civil War and World war I declined to devote important resources to the military. America after the turn-of-the 20th vcentury thanks to Henry Ford developed the industrial assemby line which transfornmed the country into the preminent world industrial power. Industries in Europe such as automobile companies continued ti be more craft ships. Producing often high-quality products, but on a smaller scale and at higher prices. The Soviet Union emerged in Russia and continued the country's industrializatiion which had begun during the Tsarist period and devoted great resources to the military. Stalin speed up the developmentb of heavy industry by starving the countryside. There was also impotant induistrial development in northern Italy and Czechoslovakia which emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Japan emerged as the only indudrtrial power in Asia. While Japn modrnized economically, it had a relatively small scientific establishment. In contrast to the economic advances, the country retained a very traditional political outlook with mikitary built around a medieval code of honor and conduct--Bushido. These industrial and scientific developments played an important role in World War I and would play an even more important role in World War II.

Industrial Revolution

No development in modern history has affected individuals more than the Industrial Revolution and the manufacture of textiles played a key role. Historians debate just where and when the Industrail Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. Some authors might take issue with this, but this would be the most widely accepted view. The first industry affected was the textile or clothing industry--one reason that the study of the clothing industry is so important. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The abundant supplies of coal in Britian combined with the technological advances by British inventors in part explain why Britain led the way in European industrial expansion. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficent source of energy that could be put to work in virtually every industry and because inexpensive energy was available, helped develop new industies. The railroad was essenially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionalized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transportd at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted aound the world. At at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to effiently move cargos at low cost around the world.

Industrial Capacity

All the major countries during the inter-War era worked on moderizing weapons. These programs were poorly financed in all democratic countries, but well financed in Japan and the Soviet Union. The German military during the Weimar era, adopted a range of programs aimed at evading the restrictions of the Versailles Treatty. The NAZIs after seizing power (1933) and launched upon a massive military spending program. The massive spending thus after only a few years led to a military that was more modern than any other country. It provided them for a time the world's most poweful air force and most competent armored force. What Hitler and the Japanese failed to fully assess is that two factors are involved in a war economy. First, one is developing weapons systems. Second is the industrial capacity to produce them in meanginful numbers. And in this regard, Germany and Japan was seriously weak. Nonetheless, Hitler and the Japanese were so intent on war, that they decided to gamble. They calculated they could win the War quickly before the industrial capacity of their opponents could be mobilized. Hitler suceeded with France, but failed with the other major indistrial powers (America, Britain, and the Sovirt Union). TYhe Japanese despite their spectacular successes never even threatened the industrial base of their adversaries. The result was national destruction. The effective tactics adopted were the key to their early successes. World War II would be a war of movement in which industry would play a more important vrole than ny other war in history. Germany did not have the capacity to out produce the enemies it created which would have given a normal leader pause. His plan was defeat his enemies one by one. Hitler seemed to think that his targets like his domestic opponednts would not figure this out or have the will to fight. He also had no ideal of the productive capacity of the Soviet Union or of the ability of the United States to convert its industry for war. The productive capacity of the United States amazed its Allies nd were beyond the imagination ofAxis leaders. Germany developed many of the highest quality, most techically weapons used during the War. The problem for the Germans was that many of their weapons were complicated and difficult to mass produce. In addition, Germany did not have the same industrial capacity as the Allies (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union). And the NAZIs found to their horror that other countries with greater industrial capacity could develop effective military weapons and in far greater quantities than Germany. The British by the time of the Battle of Britain has significantly expanded arms production. Germany had a greater industrial capacity than Britain. But American industry changed everything. German indusdtrial production as impressive as it was was only a fraction of American industrial output. And even worse for the German war effort, the Germans did not gear up for total war until the War had already been decided in the East. Soviet arms production waa impaired by having to move plants east, but by 1943 the Soviets alone were outproducung the Germans.

Industrial Country Trends

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain (mid-18th century) and after the Napoleonic Wars gradually spread to the Continent, especially France and Germany. And by the turn-of the 20th century was beginningvto transform other countries such as Russia. Industrialization and the advance of science which accompanied it transformed warfare. The major industrial powers became the most important Military powers. Russia and Austria declined as great powers while Prussia was able to unite Germanhy around it and emerged as the dominant power in continental Europe. And the highly militarized Prussian state becanme a dominant force in the German Empire. Industry also developed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland but were too small to develop important bmilitary forces. Partialy because of this they sought refuge in neutrality, despite the Belgian experience in World War I. America emerged as a great industrial power, but lagged behinf Europe in Scientific expertise although the science establishment was growing. America except for the Civil War and World war I declined to devote important resources to the military. America after the turn-of-the 20th century thanks to Henry Ford developed the industrial assemby line which transformed the country into the preminent world industrial power. Industries in Europe such as automobile companies continued to be more craft shops. Producing often high-quality products, but on a smaller scale and at higher prices. The autmobile industry was particulrly important in a mechanized war of movement. The Soviet Union emerged in Russia and continued the country's industrialization which had begun during the Tsarist period and devoted great resources to the military. Stalin speed up the developmentb of heavy industry by starving the countryside. There was also important industrial development in northern Italy and Czechoslovakia which emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Japan emerged as the only indudrtrial power in Asia. While Japan modrnized economically, it had a relatively small scientific establishment. In contrast to the economic advances, the country retained a very traditional political outlook with military built around a medieval code of honor and conduct--Bushido. These industrial and scientific developments played an important role in World War I and would play an even more important role in World War II.

Science

Science and industry are inextricably linked. Science had played a citical role in the industrial revolution. At first the industrial revolution occurred largely as part of the textile industry. Gradually science became increasingly important such as the development of dyes to be used on textile. Germany proved to be a leader in the chemical industry and dyes were an importat part of the developing industry in early years. As industry demanded answers to a wide range of problems connected with industrial production, more financil support was lavished on science. Eucation began to shift away from pure classicism to include the sciences. Research institutes were established, often connected to major universities. Americans interested in scienc often went to Europe to study. Many studied in Germany because of the prestige of German universities. One of those individuls was Franklin Roosevelt's half brother who was studying engineering. France, England, and Germany were the leading countries, but smaller countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerlnd also made important contributions. Italy was a large country, but had a smaller scientic establishment and industrial base than the other large countries. And America's expanding university system and demand from growing industries stedily expanded its scientific establishment. The Soviet Union inherited a substantial Tsarist scientific establishment, but Stalinist interfearence and restructions on free exchanges limited its effectiveness. A major develooment begun after the NAZI take over. The persecution of Jews and anti-NAZIS caused large numbers of scientists to flee the country. Many found refuge in the United States. America at the time was developing an important scienific establishment and the influx of refugee scientists, in some cases leaders in their field, significantly aided this process. At the same time, NAZI dilution of academic standards undermined the future of science in the country. These trends can be onserved in Nobel Prize awards. Science played a greater role in World War II than in abny other previou war. This was because of the tremendous advances in scientific discuiplines and the proliferation of combat applications for electronics. Several countries had important scientific established at the time of the War, but as it traspired only three countries (America, Britain, and Germany) made full use use of their scientific communities to play critical roles in the War. It was primarily Britain and Germaby that mobilized their scientific communities as World War II approached. Here the Germans had a lead because because Hitlr even befor becoming Chancellor was planning the War. The British responsed only when it became clear that Hitler was going to launch another War. Here Winson Churchill while still a back bencher played a crucial role. The Americans were ar first far behind, but Primeminister Churchill's decesion to turn over Britain's work on advanced weaponry quickly revolutionjized American arms production. And America had what both Britain and Germany lacked, the resources and industrial base to manufacture weapons in unpreceded quantities.







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Created: 12:22 AM 5/13/2012
Last updated: 5:36 AM 9/28/2015