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Monday, 21 May 2018 18:04

In Reverse: The 1940s – Part 1 - An End, a Beginning and a Birthday

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The 1940s marked the end of the Great Depression as America was thrust into WWII. 

It was a time of great uncertainty. Several years of global war would bring about cultural, economic, political and social change that had never before been seen in the U.S. and around the world---not the least of which would be dramatic changes in the American automotive industry in general and the collision repair industry in particular. In fact, many collision industry leaders and long-standing collision industry suppliers agree that the post-war period beginning in 1945 marked the birth of what we know today as the modern automotive collision repair industry.

Interestingly, in December 1941, just before America’s entry into the war and in the face of lingering difficult economic times, new car production hit a peak in the U.S. A financial analyst employed by State Farm insurance estimated there were 30,000,000 cars on America’s roads, and less than half carried adequate insurance. Subsequently, State Farm agents were selling record numbers of new auto insurance policies. Every week, records were broken. It seemed like there would be no end to the ravenous selling of auto insurance policies. And then all hell broke loose on a Sunday morning in Hawaii, on a U.S. Navy base that few Americans were aware of.

The war years were marked by shortages of just about everything, including tires and gasoline. In 1942, civilian car production was curtailed so that factories could turn out war materials. Auto travel and just about everything associated with it were brought to a standstill. Car dealers had to survive on service and parts sales. Auto parts jobbers were selling fewer parts and less paint and body supplies, so some turned to other items to generate a profit, including lawn mowers and bicycles.

Many companies now associated with the collision industry did their part for the war effort. DuPont, long-known for its superior gunpowder, contributed 4.5 billion pounds of explosives to the war effort. Sherwin-Williams was ready to help the cause with a newly constructed $37 million facility and a workforce of 6,000. The company made more than 10 million ammunition shells, several million aerial bombs and anti-tank mines. The U.S. was building ships---which needed paint---and Sherwin-Williams was ready. More than 400,000 pounds of Sherwin-Williams paint was applied to the USS Iowa. The war accelerated the development and production of special aviation and industrial coating that would later fit peacetime applications. More than 2,700 Sherwin-Williams employees served in the US Armed Forces. Sadly, 25 never returned home. Industrial color designers who had spent the 1930s trying to figure out what color car would sell best were relegated to designing camouflage patterns.

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