Rosie the Riveter: Why She Loved Codes and Standards!
Full Contact Project Management
Raise your hand if you have a mom or a grandmother. Good answer. This is for you!
As mason contractors, we might not get all that excited about the subject of codes and standards. Hard to believe, but there was a time in our country when builders didn’t pay much attention to them — until buildings started to fail, unprofessional tradesmen got away with poor workmanship, and lives were put in danger. Laws, rules and regulations usually come about because of a disregard for things like codes and standards. It’s important enough to be a focus topic in this month’s magazine…but I digress. Let’s get back to that mom and grandmother thing.
During the buildup to World War II, military planners foresaw the coming need for airplanes — lots and lots of airplanes — to deal with the looming menace in Europe. How did we, as a country, tackle this problem back then? Head-on, as we always did! Consider the story of Rosie the Riveter and the B24 Liberator bomber.
The U.S. Army Air Force put out a request in 1939 for bids for the design and construction of a brand-new bomber that met the following criteria:
- 290+ mph top speed.
- 25,000-foot service ceiling, 28,000-foot maximum altitude.
- Oxygen masks mandatory.
- Non-pressurized (or heated) cabin, –50° cabin temperatures.
- 8,000-pound maximum bomb load.
- Gas tank capacity of 2,700 gallons.
- Powered by four 1,200-horsepower engines.
- Takeoff weight of 60,000 pounds.
- Assembled from 30,000+ parts.
- Held together by 340,000 rivets installed by American housewives, called Rosie the Riveters, or Rosies.
The military was building not only planes and ships, but also soldiers and sailors — millions of them. Those working in the aircraft industry didn’t last long in civilian jobs. Employee turnover rate was as high as 88% per year through the draft and enlistments.
In my hometown of San Diego (a little before my time), one-quarter to one-third of the county’s population was working on aircraft for the military — some 42,000 people. At the height of the war years’ production, 43% of the workforce was female. Statistically, that’s about 18,000 Rosies just in San Diego! Across the country, Rosies numbered in the millions.
And Rosie wasn’t just a riveter. There were about 1,100 civilian women pilots, called Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs). (I think a more personal name, like Pam the Pilot, would have been more appropriate, but I digress again.)
How did that effort turn out which produced the planes (and the ships) needed to win a war? The B24 bomber had the highest production numbers, with some 18,400 produced. In San Diego and also Willow Run, Mich., the assembly lines were turning out one finished bomber almost every hour. For a time, San Diego’s Convair plant completed one every 59 minutes, around the clock, for a total of 6,726 bombers. Willow Run produced thousands as well.
How does Rosie figure into all of this? Those 340,000 rivets needed to be installed on each plane, or the plane wouldn’t fly. Who put them in didn’t really matter, but their being put in correctly certainly did matter. The fact is, codes and standards gave the Rosies the chance to prove their ability — and prove it they did!
The triumph of freedom required victory over some bad guys who really didn’t care about personal freedom for the civilian population. And that victory was brought about, in large part, through the involvement of the entirety of the American people in the war effort, in the military, the building of combat and supply ships for the Navy and airplanes for the Army Air Force.
Those ships and planes all required rivets — probably trillions of them — all properly installed, and almost half of them by the Rosies across this country. Besides their physical involvement, almost every Rosie had at least one family member or close friend serving overseas. It’s a fair guess that way too many Rosies paid this emotional toll as well.
What got me thinking about all of this was a recent news article about a group of some 30 former “Rosie the Riveters” being honored for their service to the country those 70-odd years ago, working at Ford’s Willow Run plant. They took part in an Honor Flight, were feted by two female members of Congress, and were met by throngs of supporters, drawing cheers and applause in Washington, D.C. They were given the true “rock star” treatment they so richly deserved.
Similarly, in 2010, WASPs were finally recognized and received the Congressional Gold Medal.
My best guess is that some 3,000,000 women entered the wartime workforce seven decades ago, and 30 is just a micro-fraction of that group — but the recognition was welcome nonetheless.
Rosies came into the fray without lots of diplomas and special degrees, but just a determination to do the job correctly and to win. Some will say that we have a nation that values common sense…yet we keep pushing our kids toward expensive college degrees with no jobs available for them. There is not much of a market these days for German Polka History majors (as financial guru Dave Ramsey would say!). Yet the skilled trades and the jobs waiting for them go begging. The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) is active, and rumor has it that they are ready to showcase “Marsha the Mason.”
There’s an old saying from a very famous man, thousands of years ago, that before a person builds a tower, he should first count the cost, because if he runs out of money, people will recognize that he was foolish to undertake the project. This is sage advice for today, as well. But let’s put it another way. Before an enemy of our country contemplates war against us, that enemy should not only count the cost of the armaments needed, but should definitely consider our women. He would be a fool not to! My gut tells me that we still have millions of Rosies today.
Back to the original point about codes and standards: did those trillions of rivets do the job or not? Did they meet the required codes? Were design standards achieved? Did the planes and ships hold together and complete their missions? Ultimately, was victory achieved? For all of these questions, the answer is a resounding YES!
Codes and standards were the structure, but they were held together by love and determination.
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.