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Rosie the Riveter

A Slice of American History

By: Mary Gopp as told to Sandra Smith

The year was 1942 and the United States was at war. The war effort at home put most able-bodied adults to work. Women who had been raised to work at home went en masse to the factories and were called Rosie the Riveters. This is Mary's story.

Mary had three brothers in military service. Frank was in the Navy. He spent 30+ hours in the water after his ship, the Wasp, was torpedoed in the Pacific in 1942; but he survived. Bob and Abbie were in Europe. Mary planned to work a short time until she could join the Women's Army Corps and be an ambulance driver.

America was drawn into the war in December of 1941. Mary finished school at age 19 in June, 1942. Akron, Ohio was a busy center of the defense industry. She signed on to make parts of planes for the Navy. The women were taught to use the drill and rivet gun. Their effort kept the factories operating night and day seven days a week at the peak of production.

"Never try to hide a mistake," was one of the main rules she lived by. An error made at her work station could cost someone's life aloft. Some of the other rules included: "Loose, baggy or torn clothing can't be worn." Shirts had to be tucked in. Women had to wear a hairnet, snood or bandana. There had been incidents of girls getting their hair caught in the drill and having a piece of their scalp ripped right off.

Starting at 40 cents per hour, by the end of the war she made about 75 cents an hour. Her first job was drilling and riveting spars for the wings of navy seaplanes. A spar provides support for the wing. They used a pattern to lay out the wing, drill holes and rivet several layers together. It was exacting work. If a rivet went wrong it could allow the cover of the plane to rip during flight. If a tiny piece of metal debris were to get between layers it could work a hole into the covering. The riveters took care and were proud of their work. Throughout the process, inspections were ongoing. Mary also made flaps. Flaps are an integral part of the wing used during takeoff, landing and flight.

During the very thick of the war when planes were needed, the riveters worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Paychecks normally were about $32 a week. Because of the influx of people into the Akron area to work in the defense plants, ( Firestone, Goodyear, Goodrich, Seiberling, Sun and many other companies that were doing defense work) they were lucky to find a sleeping room. Anyone who had an extra space made it into a sleeping room. The landlady usually didn't cook meals. Most people had to eat out.

Downtown Akron streets were full of hustle and bustle all day and night. People were always coming and going. There were lots of food counters. Bookstores and drugstores all had food counters. Department stores had restaurants. You could get a burger, fries and coffee for less than 50 cents. Full chicken dinners were 75 cents.

The workers liked to go home on weekends if they were not working. Trains, busses and streetcars were always crowded. You were lucky to get a seat on anything. Mary sometimes rode between cars on the train just to visit her family.

Mary was fortunate enough to find a place where she could get room and board for $15 a week. Mrs. Miller, her landlady, always packed her lunch for work. It consisted of two sandwiches, pie or cake, fruit and coffee. Mrs. Miller cooked enough at dinner to prepare Mary a nice lunch for the next day at work. She ate breakfast in the cafeteria on work days, usually a roll and coffee. The defense factories usually had cafeterias.

Her ration stamps were given to Mrs. Miller. The evening meal was always a full meal fit for workers, usually meat, potatoes, salad or cole slaw, vegetables and dessert.

The Goodyear Airdock where the plane parts were assembled was so large it rained inside. Each department was sectioned off with canvas walls and ceiling. The noise of all the rivet guns and people was literally deafening. Hearing protection was far from anyone's mind in 1942 and today many of these women have hearing loss.

All work stopped when news of the signing of the surrender came over the loudspeaker on V-E Day in May of 1945. That day the workers were allowed to leave the plant early and celebrate. Mary continued to work till September, 1945 after V-J Day. She was processed out 2 ½ days after the end of the war.

With the end of the war, workers were abruptly let go. Factories rapidly changed to production of consumer goods. The United States' economy boomed as military members returned home and began starting families, attending college and finding jobs. Mary's brothers all came home from the war. Mary went on to other jobs as well.

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