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Rosie the Riveter - the Home Front during World War II (John Frye - a history of Fairchild and the women war workers)

John Frye, Washington County Free Library - A History of Fairchild, and the role of women there during the war. Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


John Frye – History of Fairchild Aircraft in Hagerstown, and the role of women there during the war.

I thought it would be fun going into the early Fairchild records and relate to some of the things that you ladies related to and enjoyed and worked with, but before that a little bit of history about the aircraft industry in Hagerstown.

Hagerstown has through the years been known for a lot of very prominent things, manufacture of organs, automobiles, and foremost airplanes. It all started in 1925 when a gentleman by the name to Kreider who had large industries, but most of his industries were manufacturing shoes. He got together with an engineer named Reisner and they formed the Kreider-Reisner aircraft company here in Hagerstown. They worked in little shops all over town but mostly though up in the Bellevue Avenue area where Pennsylvania Avenue takes off in that area. By 1928 they had come to the point where they had built 111 aircraft.

But that does not tell the Fairchild story because in 1920 a man named Sherman Fairchild invented the aerial camera. He found out that there was no airplane from which to take pictures with an aerial camera. He had the camera but he couldn't take pictures from the air. He ran into the Kreider-Reisner biplane here in Hagerstown and by 1929 had joined with them in the manufacture of airplanes. Things were going great. Mr. Kreider had flown to Detroit in one of the biplanes made here in Hagerstown, had taken off in Detroit in front of a large assembly of aircraft manufacturers that had assembled there. Just after he had taken off another aircraft took off and flew into him. He crashed and he died in that crash.

So that set the company back. Fairchild was now involved. It was not too long before the depression comes along, and Fairchild has a lot of problems getting financial support, but they eventually built a plane called the PT 19, which was a training plane. Some of you may even have worked on that - I don't know how long they built that here. Through the years Fairchild, which now bore the name Fairchild not Kreider-Reisner, built 8000 PT 19s.

Along comes World War II and you folks get into the picture, some of you in the early '40s, one lady was telling me she started working in '42, and play a very important part in the manufacture of planes here in Hagerstown. As those of you who worked here know, every place where there was space in Hagerstown built Fairchild aircraft. At one time, I think I had found, there were some 30 plants identified, whether they were together or split or how they were. It was a big, big operation.

As the war went on the ladies become more prominent. Before the end of the war they had ladies bowling leagues. Do you all remember the Cargoettes? Anyone here play with the Cargoettes, the ladies' basketball team? You didn't, did you? Incidentally back then ladies basketball was different from what you see today on the television or see at high schools. They had 6 on the team. 3 played on each side of the court and they couldn’t cross the mid point of the court. It was kind of silly game. They eventually decided to play like the men do, and that's what they do today. But the Cargoettes were famous throughout the east for going around and playing other industrial teams.

That's just a very brief history of the Fairchild up to its boiling point and all of you have lived on its downward spiral so we won't get into that. All of you have copies of the FAD still left somewhere - the monthly newspaper, the Fairchild FAD. Incidentally upstairs in the Western Maryland Room we have the first FAD - it wasn't even named yet. I'm not exactly sure when it started but it has question marks across the top.

A couple of things in here point out the ladies. In January 1944 headline:

First Girls Go to Work in Experimental on Production. Now I didn’t coin that word girls in here. I wouldn't say that today because this lady would be after me but this is the World War II era. In the first paragraph:

From selling shoes to sheet metal work, from working on furs to working on the assembly line, from waiting on tables to welding, from being a housewife and mother to riveting, these are the transitions which these four women to go to production on Experimental have made.

I'll give you their names: Fern Harnish, Constance Bond, Bee Ann Clark and Alverda Black.

To carry it a little bit further September 1944 FAD headlines.
Cargo gets first flight test before cheering audience here. That was the C82, called the Packet. First paragraph:

Fairchild's giant aircraft the C82 the first airplane designed exclusively to carry military cargo took off from north south runway bordering Plant 2 for its first flight test on Sunday, September 10, thus turning into reality the dreams of hundreds of men and women who have labored day and night for many months in an all out effort to get the plane into the air in record time.

That was you, ladies. Somewhere in there you helped to do that.

The next month, and I tried to find out how many but I couldn't, I went through the records up there today. I could not find how many ladies were employed at one time. But I did find this in the November '44 FAD:

"No accident" drive to start this week. Close to 2000 women workers will blossom in the new Fairchild safety cap next Monday signaling the start of a "no accident" campaign which began in all plants on Wednesday. of this week and will continue through December.

Do you ladies remember those caps, any of you? So that's a figure of 2000. I don't know if there were more or not. There were more than 10,000 who worked at Fairchild at one time.

And to show you there scarcity of labor and how important you ladies were, March 16, 1945, that's just one month before VE day, which we all at that time were looking forward to, the front page of the FAD says:

Fairchild to boost employment drive with downtown movie and a C82 flight. Leaflets to be dropped in flight over the city. Prospective applicants, who will work on the C82 packet, are soon to get a good look at the big cargo plane and right in their own back yard if they choose. In an effort to stimulate the employment drive at Fairchild the C82 will fly over Hagerstown later this month to tell citizens of the community that many more workers are needed to build the airplane in large quantities for the army.

That was March of 1945. So there was still a tremendous scarcity of labor.

You ladies have seen a lot in your life time. In fact you have come a long way. You mentioned the fact that you did not receive the right to vote until 1920. You ladies may not have broken the glass ceiling, but you cracked it. And you broke it for a lot of ladies who have come on later. Not too many years ago this lady (pointing to Tina Orcutt from the National Park Service) would not have been in a ranger uniform. In fact I worked with a ranger who got really upset when they called her a rangerette. Because you are a ranger, right?

You have outlived Fairchild. Did you have any idea that when you were working there with the other 10,000 or whatever amount of folks who worked at Fairchild all over Hagerstown that you would outlive Fairchild Aircraft? None of us could have envisioned that but it has happened. We are glad to have you here. We congratulate you. Enjoy your day and your association with your fellow employees and I'll end by inviting you if you like to come into the Western Maryland Room when it is open. We have a pretty good Fairchild collection up there and you can sit down, go through the old FADs if you like. We have the Pegasus back to I believe '43 and a lot of pictures, mostly of the airplanes of course. So come into see us.

Congratulations, ladies.


John Frye

Washington County Free Library

John Frye is the director of the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library


Collection Location:
Washington County Free Library

Aircraft industry--Maryland--Hagerstown--Employees; Fairchild Aircraft Company (Hagerstown, Md.)--History

Western Maryland, 2004

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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