Mike Davis missed out on enlisting in World War II by a few years.  It was, in his words, “The war of older brothers and uncles.”

He’s not even from Detroit originally, as his soft Kentucky burr reveals.
Yet Mike Davis is arguably, Detroit’s most well-versed cheerleader for our role as ‘The Arsenal of Democracy’.

The journalist, historian, and former head of PR for the Ford Motor Company is outspoken when describing his adopted hometown’s contributions to the war’s outcome:  “It’s amazing how quickly Detroit reacted when approached to take on defense contracts; remember, the depression was winding down and competition was heating up among the automakers here.  It wasn’t only the Big Three that agreed to forego 1943 models in order to retool to produce armaments; in those days, there was also Nash, Packard, Hudson, Studebaker—all these companies, along with thousands of suppliers, swallowed their competitive instincts and began to work together for the war cause.  A lot of it was down to one man, Bill Knudsen, GM’s president, who challenged automakers at a historical meeting at the DAC in October, 1940.”

Knudsen was then president of GM, but had been production manager at Ford.  The Danish-born magnate, who served successively as director of industrial production for the National Defense Commission, the Office of Production Management, and as lieutenant general in the U.S. army for the War Department, laid the foundation for a manufacturing infrastructure that produced the Sherman tank, the B-24 bomber and the legendary Jeep.  Without these vital products—particularly in the sort of numbers required to liberate Europe, Davis says, “The D-Day landing as we know it, June 6, 1944, couldn’t have happened.  It might have happened later, in a different guise, but it is fair to say that without Detroit, the history of World War II would have been written much, much differently.”

He should know.  The author of a dozen books, his most recent is Detroit's Wartime Industry: Arsenal of Democracy (Arcadia Press), which outlines not only what Detroit contributed to the war effort, but why we were uniquely situated to be the ‘key’ city to do it.

“Detroit had two big advantages over everyone else.  First, we understood mass production from a shop-floor perspective and had the skilled manpower to do it.  But equally, we had the engineering capability to take an existing product and redesign it so that it could be mass-produced, and quickly.  The Pratt and Whitney engine is one example, and the B-24 is another.  At peak of production, they were turning out these bombers at a rate than exceeded one per minute.  Take a look at one some time and try to imagine that!”

Davis is a Yale graduate and served as corporate communications director of the Detroit News and Evening News association before joining Ford Motor Company as public relations manager in 1960.



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