All through the 1930s, the United States had struggled to free itself from the Depression. Despite the suffering and hardship of war, the country welcomed the boost that defence spending gave to the economy. IN 1939, when war broke out in Europe, most Americans favoured neutrality for their country. The United States was unprepared for war at this time, possessing only a small and ill-equipped volunteer army. By the summer of 1940, however, Americans were facing the disquieting fact that Hitler was master of Europe. President Roosevelt, determined to help embattled Britain and her allies, pressed for congressional action. In September the Selective Service Act was passed, introducing the first peacetime draft in American history. The Lend Lease programme was also approved to make aid to Britain easier. And on December 30, 1940, families tuning in to their radios heard the President declare that the United States must become the arsenal of democracy. Japan's surprise attack on the US base at Pearl Harbour destroyed the last vestiges of isolationist feeling, and American industry now turned to full-scale war production. From 1941 to 1945 the USA was to build over 250,000 aircraft, almost 90,000 tanks, 350 destroyers and 200 submarines. Assembly lines were moving round the clock to make weaponry; by 1944 the United States was producing more than 40 per cent of the world's arms. The achievements of industrialist Henry Kaiser in particular are remembered. For it was he who pioneered the revolutionary techniques of prefabrication and assembly that sent 597 identical liberty ships rolling down the slipways. In order to keep the flow of supplies across the Atlantic going, these freighters had to be built faster than German V-boats could sink them. Using standardised designs and ready-made sections, Kaiser was able to cut the average work time on a liberty ship from 200 days to 42 days. There were more innovations besides. At a plant in Connecticut, Igor Sikorsky opened the world's first helicopter assembly line. And colossal federal funds were poured into the development of an atomic bomb at secret plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. This immense awakening of American industry ended the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unemployed men in their millions were drawn into the national effort, and the working week was increased from 40 to 48 hours. Female Touch: Rosie the Riveter With the armed forces siphoning off multitudes for combat, 6 million American women were added to the labour force. The Government encouraged the trend with posters urging women to 'Do the job HE left behind'. The archetypal working woman, wearing overalls and bandanna, was celebrated in the propaganda figure of 'Rosie the Riveter', a new national heroine portrayed in cartoons and in song for doing her patriotic bit in war production. There was even a movie, Rosie the Riveter (1944), which starred the glamorous B-movie star Jane Frazee. By the standards of other countries involved in the fighting, American women were already well on their way to establishing the principle of female equality. The 200,000 who joined the armed services in World War II received equal pay. The money was good enough to trigger a huge migration of country and small-town girls towards defence plants and large urban centres, their numbers swollen by the movement of wives and girlfriends keen to stay close to their men at military camps. Four Freedoms: This Classic Poster from wartime America shows four paintings by the artist Norman Rockwell, all celebrating democratic and patriotic values as experienced in small-town American life. Writer James Jones has recalled the atmosphere of 'wild gaiety and rollicking despair' that characterised the towns and cities near the camps and war factories. His own hang-out was a once-chic hotel called the Pea body in downtown Memphis: “The great influx of servicemen had taken it over from the local gentry, and at just about any time of the day or night there were always between half a dozen and a dozen wide-open drinking parties going on in the rooms and suites.” The moral laxity that resulted prompted the authorities at some war factories to hire “Dorothy Dixes” - matronly figures whose job was to minimise work-time liaisons and to serve as counsellors for girls who were facing personal problems. Some commentators feared for the survival of the American family unit, as people spoke increasingly of the 'latchkey kids' left to fend for themselves while “Mom” was off on the assembly line. Yet families did survive, and despite the exhaustion of working a 48-hour week there were some new comforts. War factories introduced piped music, for example, and coffee breaks. A salesgirl at a department store found that she could double or even treble her pay by switching to an aircraft plant. By 1944 the signs of booming prosperity were all about, and sales of luxury goods such as fur coats and jewellery were flourishing. Restaurants were packed though customers had to wait interminably for their meals because there were too few employees serving at the tables.