Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

Written by Arthur Herman
Review by Wisteria Leigh

Arthur Herman states that the forgotten heroes of World War II were American businessmen. Herman is not alone in assuming that the United States was ill-prepared for World War II, and in Freedom’s Forge he presents strong evidence to support this.

Two businessmen, Henry Kaiser and William Knudsen, were recruited by Roosevelt in 1940 to assist in war production. Knudsen, from General Motors, would become lieutenant general of all army industrial production. Kaiser, responsible for the Hoover Dam, became a famous shipbuilder. As the country changed from a consumer economy, familiar companies like Frigidaire, GE, Chrysler, Boeing, and Republic Steel converted to military products; lives depended on their speed. It took an amazing four years for Kaiser and Knudsen to convert the manufacturing industry into a military arms powerhouse. Knudsen believed in the power of the average workers. He said once, “Progress in the world is accomplished by average people…. and the power of American business.”

This is a compelling narrative with solid research behind it. Sometimes the statistics and figures are more intrusive than welcome, though, hindering the reader’s flow. In all, Freedom’s Forge is a captivating look at the overwhelming demands of American industry. These heroes at home were contributors toward freedom, as they forged whatever they were called upon to make.