Building America’s Arsenal of Democracy: Alfred Palmer’s Portraits Of War

Alfred T. Palmer’s (1906–1993) color photographs for the US Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information speak with a loud, bold, clear and consistent voice. They say: ‘Heroes.’ They might also add, “To infinity and beyond”, given that so many of the men in uniform are gazing upwards to the rosy-fingered dawn, just as we gaze up at the strong chins and keen eyes. The women are focused on the job in hand. Immaculate in complexion and attire, these “capable” women are vivid and bright, immortalised in solid blocks of color. Contrasted against the darkened backdrop, they epitomise dependability.

In 1939 when Hitler attacked Poland the United States ranked twentieth as a world military power. In June of 1940 President Roosevelt and Congress passed a bill for the building of a major two ocean navy. At that time Roosevelt formed the National Defense Advisory Commission of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Palmer was chosen to head the photography department. To rally and inform citizens about the use of their tax dollars and resources, Palmer was sent out to photograph Americans building what Roosevelt termed the Arsenal of Democracy…

In 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Palmer became official photographer for the newly formed Office of War Information (OWI).

Crane operator at TVA’s Douglas Dam, Tennessee
This woman in a glass house is putting finishing touches on the bombardier nose section of a B-17F navy bomber, Long Beach, Calif.
Workers are trained to do precise and vital engine installation detail in Douglas Aircraft Company plants, Long Beach, Calif.
Women at work on bomber, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.
Workers become skilled shop technicians after careful training in the school at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif.
workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17 bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant, Long Beach, Calif.
Large electric phosphate smelting furnace used in the making of elemental phosphorus in a TVA chemical plant in the Muscle Shoals area, Alabama
Marine lieutenant by the power towing plane for the gliders at Page Field, Parris Island, S.C.
Two workers are shown capping and inspecting tubing which goes into the manufacture of the Vengeance (A-31) dive bomber made at Vultee’s Nashville division, Tennessee.
Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, a worker is working on a Vengeance dive bomber, Tennessee
Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a Vengeance dive bomber, Tennessee
Working on a Vengeance dive bomber, Vultee [Aircraft Inc.], Nashville, Tennessee
A nose wheel and landing gear assembly for a B-25 bomber under construction in a western aircraft plant, North American Aviation, Inc., Calif
Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American [Aviation, Inc.]’s Inglewood, Calif., plant
Metal parts are placed on masonite by this woman employee before they slide under the multi-ton hydropress, North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, Calif.
Sheet metal parts are numbered with this pneumatic numbering machine in North American’s sheet metal department, N[orth] A[merican] Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, Calif.
Two employees of North American Aviation, Incorporated, assembling a section of a wing for a P-51 fighter plane
An employee of North American Aviation, working over the landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane, Inglewood, Calif. The mechanism resembles a small cannon
Riveting team working on the cockpit shell of a B-25 [i.e. C-47] bomber at the plant of North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood [i.e. Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach], Calif.
Welder making boilers for a ship, Combustion Engineering Co., Chattanooga, Tenn.
A combat crew receives final instructions just before taking off in a mighty YB-17 bomber from a bombardment squadron base at the field, Langley Field, Va.
Hitler would like this man to go home and forget about the war. A good American non-com at the side machine gun of a huge YB-17 bomber is a man who knows his business and works hard at it
Tightening a nut on a guide vane operating seromotor in TVA’s hydroelectric plant, Watts Bar Dam, Tennessee.
Truck driver at TVA’s Douglas Dam, Tennessee
Carpenter at work on Douglas Dam, Tennessee (TVA)
Tank driver, Ft. Knox, Ky.
Mechanic, motor maintenance section, Ft. Knox, Ky.
M-4 tank crews of the United States, Ft. Knox, Ky.
Good man, good gun- a private of the armored forces does some practice shooting with a 30-calibre Browning machine gun, Fort Knox, Ky. The gun is mounted on a pedestal for anti-aircraft work
Crewman of an M-3 tank, Ft. Knox, Ky.
Tank commander, Ft. Knox, Ky.
Halftrack infantryman with Garand rifle, Ft. Knox, Ky.
Man of the Fort Story, Va. coastal defense
Man of the Fort Story, Va., coastal defense
16-inch coastal artillery
Electronics technician, Goodyear Aircraft Corp., Akron, Ohio
Manufacture of self-sealing gas tanks, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Akron, Ohio

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