Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run

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Peterson_lo-resBefore Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7 to be a “date which will live in infamy”; before American soldiers landed on D-Day; before the B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s roared over Europe and Asia, there was Willow Run. Located twenty-five miles west of Detroit, the bomber plant at Willow Run and the community that grew up around it attracted tens of thousands of workers from across the United States during World War II. Together, they helped build the nation’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” but Willow Run also became the site of repeated political conflicts over how to build suburbia while mobilizing for total war.

In Planning the Home Front, Sarah Jo Peterson offers readers a portrait of the American people—industrialists and labor leaders, federal officials and municipal leaders, social reformers, industrial workers, and their families—that lays bare the foundations of community, the high costs of racism, and the tangled process of negotiation between New Deal visionaries and wartime planners. By tying the history of suburbanization to that of the home front, Peterson uncovers how the United States planned and built industrial regions in the pursuit of war, setting the stage for the suburban explosion that would change the American landscape when the war was won.

Review Quotes

Matthew L. Basso | author of Meet Joe Copper: Masculinity and Race on Montana’s World War II Home Front

“Through the compelling story of Willow Run, Sarah Jo Peterson illuminates the system of participatory planning—at once contentious, chaotic, and cooperative—that characterized the Arsenal of Democracy. Peterson skillfully weaves together the voices of ordinary Americans as well as national and local government officials, corporate bosses, and union leaders to produce a finely textured and original account of how the wartime planning process responded to and shaped industrial expansion, migration, and suburbanization. Highly recommended.”

Roger W. Lotchin | author of Fortress California, 1910–1961

Planning the Home Front is a highly original contribution to the study of intergovernmental relations and many other fields besides. This book will appeal greatly to historians of the home front, business, urban affairs, politics, and the history of American city planning, to name just a few. Drawing on personal recollections, federal government documents, state government documents, city council minutes, and a vast array of newspaper accounts, Sarah Jo Peterson’s research is quite impressive.”

David M. P. Freund | author of Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America

“In the tradition of the best historical and sociological work in urban studies, Planning the Home Front shows that cities rise not simply because of spatial succession or in response to forces of supply and demand. Sarah Jo Peterson meticulously reconstructs the messy negotiations between competing interests that actually build urban places. The result is a remarkably compelling narrative that will be of great interest to both historians and planners.”

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
1 The Bomber Plant
2 The Local Response to Sudden Industrialization
3 Housing for Defense
4 The Battle for Bomber City
5 What’s Wrong with Willow Run?
6 Building Bombers
7 Building Communities
8 A Bomber an Hour
9 Confronting Race
Archival Sources and Collection Abbreviations

376 pages | 19 halftones, 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Planning the Home Front is part of the Historical Studies of Urban America