The 1940s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers

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The 1940s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers

William Edward Boeing
Sidney Hillman
Henry Kaiser
John L. Lewis
Philip K. WrigleyElizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden (1884–1966) As one of the first women to reach a high level in American business, Elizabeth Arden realized early in her career that in order to succeed she would have to open her own cosmetics salon. By the 1930s, she had a chain of salons with locations throughout North and South America and Europe. She encouraged women employees to aim for promotion within the business. During the 1940s, sales of Elizabeth Arden products topped $60 million annually. When she died, Arden bequeathed $4 million to be divided equally among her employees.

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William Edward Boeing (1881–1956) In 1915, William Edward Boeing created the Boeing Airplane Company, copying designs from planes used in Europe during World War I (1914–18). In the 1940s, his Seattle-area factories produced some of the most influential aircraft used in World War II (1939–45), including the B-29 Superfortress, used to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan. Boeing influenced the aviation industry as an innovator and enthusiast as well as a chief executive. His company went on to become one of the most powerful players in aviation worldwide.

Sidney Hillman (1887–1946) Sidney Hillman emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1907. He became president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1914, and by 1940 he was a close ally of the Roosevelt administration. His influence on labor policy during the 1930s and 1940s was considerable, but his position in government lost him the trust of labor unions. Hillman was passed over as a possible head of the War Manpower Commission when it was created in 1942. He suffered a heart attack not long afterward. He remained an influential Democratic Party insider until his death.

Henry Kaiser (1882–1967) As an eighth-grade dropout in 1914, Henry Kaiser set up a company to build roads in the northwestern United States. His company was part of a consortium that built the Hoover Dam. During World War II, Kaiser's construction companies built almost everything from roads to shelters, but mostly they built ships. Kaiser's firms specialized in mass-produced "Liberty Ships," the basic wartime cargo carriers. The manufacturing emphasis was on speed, not quality. His shipyard in Vancouver, Washington built a ten-thousand-ton ship in just four- and one-half days. By 1943, the company had received over $3 billion in government contracts.

John L. Lewis (1880–1969) John L. Lewis was responsible for bringing trade union membership to many workers who previously had been ignored by labor leaders. Unusually, Lewis had been a Republican since the 1920s. Most other labor leaders supported the Democrats, but in the 1940s the Republican Lewis became a powerful critic of the Democratic Roosevelt administration. After a series of damaging strikes, Lewis and his United Mine Workers (UMW) were heavily fined for breaking their non-strike promises. He retired as head of the UMW in 1960.

Philip K. Wrigley (1894–1977) Philip K. Wrigley first worked in his father's soap factory, where he was a great success as a salesman. In the years leading up to the war, the company moved into chewing gum, pointing out how "healthful" its Doublemint gum was. During the war, with sugar rationed, Wrigley faced a supply problem. But he managed to persuade the military to include a stick of his gum in every soldier's ration pack, and the problem was solved. At home, he marketed his gum by saying that thirst and nicotine were agents of Hitler. By chewing gum to alleviate thirst and as an alternative to smoking, Americans were helping to fight fascism.

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The 1940s Business and the Economy: Headline Makers