Our search for a Detroiter to symbolize the classic World War II poster of ‘Rosie the Riveter’ couldn’t have ended better.  Not only did we find a former Detroit native responsible for placing the rivets on the very first B-24 to roll off the Willow Run assembly line in 1942, her name is Rosie.

Rose Kaupp took a job at Willow Run plant at the age of nineteen, attracted by the higher wages paid by the Ford Motor Company in an effort to keep competent workers on the mile-long assembly lines, producing bombers at a rate of one per hour.  “I had been working at a cork factory, pushing slugs from gaskets, but the pay here, more than a dollar an hour, made the bus trip from Detroit worth it.  I riveted the first B-24 that came off this line, so I guess I am a real ‘Rosie the Riveter’—although I didn’t know at the time that the poster would get so famous.’

That poster, showing a tough, muscle-displaying factory worker, came to represent the efficiency of a female workforce who had taken over for the men who had gone overseas to fight in World War II.  The character is now considered a feminist icon in the US and a herald of women's economic power to come.

The December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had prompted an all-out effort to boost industrial production as quickly as possible. General Motors, Curtiss-Wright, Ford, Kaiser, DuPont and Chrysler among others, quickly established themselves as leading defense contractors. Each company’s efforts were publicized to one degree or another, but none received more recognition than Henry Ford, who became one of the nation’s prime symbols of wartime production heroics.  The Willow Run plant was once hailed as ‘One of the seven wonders of the world.’

Rose Kaupp’s memories of her Willow Run experiences are of long work days spent on her feet, and a long bus ride home, but ultimately, one of pride and contentment.  “When I walk the floors of Willow Run today, I am very proud that I had a part in putting together these planes; that the work we did was instrumental in helping to win the war.  The hours were long, the work tough, but we were all united.  The best part for me?  I met my husband Gene here.”

After we said goodbye to Rose, we had a chance to meet some of the men who keep the Yankee Air Museum’s fleet operational. We caught them up to their elbows in one of the enormous engines of the B-17, The Yankee Lady.  This group of voluntary mechanics, led by Norm Ellickson, gives their time and expertise to keep these birds flying.  Ellickson, holding a wrench, stresses how much work it takes to keep these machines operational.  The Yankee Air Museum can’t overstate how important these guys are.  Keeping The Yankee Lady flying brings in a significant source of revenue for the museum.  Keep up the great work guys!



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