Sarah Turecamo

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Industry in Lowell, MA
Sarah Turecamo

World War II had a profound impact on Massachusetts. On the one hand, increases in industry and developments in technology brought economic growth and prosperity to the state. On the other, the war resulted in the tragic loss of many brave young citizens.

The industrial demands of WWII were extremely high because the United States needed to completely switch over its economy in order to produce wartime goods. Fortunately for Massachusetts, the rise of wartime industry led to increases in employment and general prosperity.

The impact of WWII on Massachusetts industry is especially evident on the city of Lowell. Prior to WWII, the city of Lowell seemed to be set on a steady decline. Housing was old and extremely difficult for many citizens to afford. Of 26,000 housing units in Lowell around 1940, 23,000 were more than 21 years old. Even though housing was of low quality, it was extremely expensive. More than three-fourths of the housing units in the city were rented instead of owned. To make matters worse, wages for Lowell's industrial workers were frighteningly low; 45 percent of workers made less than 1,000 dollars a year and 16.7 percent of families had no source of income. These low figures were mainly due to the economic depression the city was facing since the main industry of the city, cotton, was dying.

However, the wartime industry of WWII pulled Lowell out of its all-time low. Employment rose as factories began the switch over to wartime products and began to boom again. Lowell's cotton industry began to grow again, displayed by the rise in employment during the early years of the war from 5,500 workers to 7,000 workers. The second largest industry in Lowell, the shoe industry, displayed a 50 percent increase in employment during the very first year of the war. However, other, new industries emerged and positively influenced the economy as well. These new war-based industries that infiltrated the city of Lowell included Atlantic Rayon Company's Parachute Division, General Electric, United States Rubber, and Remington Arms. Remington Arms was by far the largest, most profitable wartime company in Lowell. The local paper described the company as the "biggest thing that has happened to this city since the Cartridge Shop was going full blast during the last war." The wartime industry resulted in an 88 percent increase in manufacturing wages for the city of Lowell, which helped contribute to a higher standard of living for the city's citizens. Since many men were sent overseas to fight, wartime productivity also increased the amount of women workers employed in Lowell. This growing number assisted in obtaining more equal wages between men and women workers. The growth in industry due to World War II had many positive effects on both the economy and the people of Lowell.

During WWII, Massachusetts also experienced technological advances. In October 1940, the National Defense Research Committee formed the Radiation Laboratory (or the Rad Lab) in Cambridge, Massachusetts at MIT. This laboratory was created in order to study microwave radar and utilize it for military use. The Radiation Laboratory was extremely successful in improving radar systems. Also, through years of research, the Rad Lab developed LORAN, the first worldwide navigation system. The discoveries made at the Radiation Laboratory were utilized throughout WWII. For example, the H2X radar system was employed throughout the war for improving bomb guidance.

Obviously not all of the effects of WWII on Massachusetts were beneficial. Families were torn apart as many men were swept up by the wartime draft. Unfortunately, not all of these brave men returned home. A total of about 2,996 died either during combat or at a prison camp, 53 were reported missing, and 3,365 men were wounded. These statistics are far more than just numbers; they represent a deep, emotional scar left on Massachusetts from the war.