The early part of the 20th century saw the city of Detroit, Michigan, rise to prominence on the huge growth of the auto industry and related manufacturers. The 1940s were boom years of development, but the decade was full of upheaval and change, as factories re-tooled to build war machines, and women started taking on men's roles in the workplace, as men shipped overseas to fight in World War II. The need for workers brought an influx of African-Americans to Detroit, who met stiff resistance from whites who refused to welcome them into their neighborhoods or work beside them on an assembly line. A race riot took place over three days in 1943, leaving 34 dead and hundreds injured. After World War II ended, the demand for workers dried up, and Detroit started plotting its postwar course, an era of big automobiles and bigger highways to accommodate them.
This strange watercraft, an experimental "torpedo boat," performs test runs in the Detroit River, near Detroit, Michigan, on December 28, 1940. The large wheel is powered by a 360 horsepower motor. T.F. Thompson of Des Moines, Iowa, and A.W. Reed of Windsor, Ontario, designed the craft, which they hope will reach a top speed of 300 miles-per-hour.
Looking ahead to the possibility that gas masks may some day be a necessary part of their ensemble, these University of Detroit students were trying out masks in a practice drill on the campus on June 23, 1942. Hidden behind the masks, which they soon learned to wear with a minimum of discomfort, are, from left: Mary Turner, Helen Williams, Evelyn Buss and Joan Joliet.
Female guards, placed on duty at the Naval Ordnance Plant, operated by the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan, learn how to sight guns on August 7, 1942. In the front row, the girls sight 38 caliber police pistols; those in the back row with 30-30 rifles. At present the girls are unarmed, serving only as escorts for persons entering the plant, but are using weapons on the target range in preparation.
Guarded by more than 1,500 state troops, city and state police, moving vans carried the household goods of black families into Sojourners Truth, a federal housing project located in a white section of Detroit, on April 29, 1942. White protesters, whose previous attempts to prevent blacks from moving in ended in rioting, were dispersed.
U.S. soldiers from every state shipped off to war. Here, after taking part in the fighting, soldiers (two from Detroit) relax by playing cards in a palm grove behind the lines at Buna, New Guinea on January 13, 1943. The players are, left to right: Pfc. Sam Demopolis, Detroit, Michigan,; Pfc. Robert Trudell (facing camera) of Detroit; Corp. James Williams (back to the camera); Genesee Depot, Wisconsin; and Pvt. Laurence Thompson, Duluth, Minnesota.
This group of soldiers who debarked from a transport drink from mugs of coffee and munch doughnuts on a troop train en route to their station in England, March 15, 1944. From left: Sgt. J.A. Michalski, Detroit, Michigan,; Sgt. Roger E. Sebring, Scranton, PA.; Sgt. O.C. Parson, Cleveland, Ohio; Sgt. Jack Ehmke, Angola, New York,; Sgt. P. Kreitszberg, New York; Sgt. Leonard Catton, Union City, New Jersey,; and Sgt. Walter R. Van Liuit, Cleveland, Ohio.
Jockey Freddie “The Fleet” Wirth, a 21-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, demonstrates how he picked up some extra money in Detroit, when he bet fellow riders he could clear the hood of an automobile, October 29, 1949.
Thirteen magicians gather around a chair on which are a portrait of Houdini, two candles, a book, and handcuffs, for a midnight seance on Halloween, 1946, in Detroit, Michigan.
Library of Congress