Financial History 25th Anniversary Special Edition (104, Fall 2012) | Page 46

but only one of seven members of the National Defense Advisory Commission. Knudsen soon emerged as the group’s de facto leader and began to organize industry’s voluntary efforts to divert some capacity to producing armaments. The book details Knudsen’s successes and failures as he pursued the singleminded goal of boosting the output of all types of military goods while maintaining some production for the civilian economy. As an experienced manufacturing executive, he knew the most important challenge was not to deliver a certain number of planes or tanks by a certain date (the goal of the top-down-thinking political class), but to establish a bottom-up system of contractors and sub-contractors who would be mobilized and incentivized to build a production machine capable of sustaining itself over the long haul. Without his efforts from mid-1940 to late 1941, neither the United States nor its allies would have had sufficient stores of weapons, vehicles and other equipment to wage the extended war that overwhelmed the world after the attack on Pearl Harbor. With few political instincts, Knudsen was ill-equipped to handle the steady diet of protests and disagreements coming from bureaucrats, politicians and union leaders who viewed his ideas with suspicion or disdain. Indeed, that naiveté prevented him from understanding the widespread anger at some of his actions and caused him to be blindsided when he was unceremoniously dumped from his position in January 1941. By that time, American industry had produced more than 19,000 planes, 3,900 tanks, and 1.1 million tons of merchant shipping, quantities considered unattainable to government planners less than two years earlier. The President preferred to have a formally-appointed War Production Board take over the next stage of the manufacturing challenge. Knudsen was at once emasculated and resuscitated; at the urging of some officials who appreciated the man’s worth to the war effort, Roosevelt made him a Lieutenant General and asked him to be an unofficial facilitator and troubleshooter for the War Department’s Materiel Command. From that perch, Knudsen continued to influence the production of war material until June 1945. A limited list of such output includes more than 88,000 tanks, 324,000 planes, 257,000 artillery pieces, 2.4 million trucks and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. [