Industry's Role in the Strategic Bombing Campaign

Guiding Question:

How did industrial workers contribute to the U.S. strategic bombing campaign in Europe?


Using interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission, timelines, and primary and secondary sources, students will learn about the strategic bombing campaign during World War II, while analyzing why Americans worked in wartime industries, such as the B-24 Willow Run bomber plant.


Historical Context

Part of United States military preparations before the bombing of Pearl Harbor involved the production of large B-24 heavy bombers. The B-24 was capable of flying long missions and delivering explosives to enemy targets. The strategic bombing campaign, for which the B-24 Liberator bomber would be used, would traverse dangerous enemy territory and engage in air-to-air combat against faster enemy aircrafts. Henry Ford, president of the Ford Motor Company, entered into a government contract to build the Consolidated Aircraft Company’s design of the B-24 bomber. Ford announced that his company could build a B-24 faster than the Consolidated Aircraft Company. He pledged to have a completed B-24 bomber roll off of his assembly line every hour. By 1944, Henry Ford’s Willow Run bomber plant in Michigan lived up to his promise. He avoided labor shortages by expanding the employee pool to include women. People from across the country moved near the Willow Run bomber plant to build the bomber that some local young men would fly in missions during World War II.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to
  • Describe the strategic bombing campaign;
  • Analyze and describe the dangers associated with the strategic bombing campaign;
  • Identify some of the reasons why Americans worked in war factories; and
  • Demonstrate how one lone B-24 fit into the larger context of World War II.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1 Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework
D1.5.9-12. Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.
D2.His.8.9-12. Analyze how current interpretations of the past are limited by the extent to which available historical sources represent perspectives of the people at the time.


Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Introduction to Strategic Bombing (15 minutes)

  • Describe to students the purpose of the strategic bombing campaign. Using the Strategic Bombing Campaign Organizer, have students predict what dangers might be associated with this type of campaign.
  • Go to the Strategic Bombing Campaign Interactive. Play for the students:
    • Prelude
    • July 1941-Dec. 1941
    • Jan. 1942-Dec. 1942
    • Dec. 1942-May 1943
  • Allow students to compare and contrast their predictions to the dangers described in the video using the Strategic Bombing Campaign Organizer.
  • Ask students, What additional dangers might the crewmen of the heavy bombers have faced if the U.S. was unable to build enough warplanes? Reveal the bomber crews also faced the stress of cold temperatures at high altitudes, long flights in confined spaces, and higher casualty rates than other military personnel.
  • Ask students to complete the reflection question regarding the reasons women worked in wartime industries.
  • Discuss student responses.

Activity Two: The Factory Workers (20 minutes)

  • Ask students, Why might someone want to go to work in a dirty wartime factory?
  • Project (or distribute copies) of the Front Lines of Labor Help Win the War poster. Have students analyze the message the author was trying to convey.
    • Teacher Tip: Make sure students do not miss the description of women as girls, women’s patriotism, and the modern Betsy Ross.
  • Ask students, In what ways might this poster entice women to want to work at the Willow Run bomber plant?
  • Project (or distribute copies) of the Willow Run Recruitment Handbill. Facilitate a discussion about the expectations of women in American society:
    • In what ways did this handbill go against those expectations?
    • Why might women have answered the poster and went to work at the Willow Run plant despite women’s roles in American society?
    • How might men have responded to the Willow Run Recruitment Handbill?
    • In what ways could workers at Willow Run be connected to the bomber crewmen that flew in the B-24 Liberators?
  • Distribute the newspaper article, “School Principal Accepts Position at Bomber Plant.” Ask students to read the article and report how the principal might be connected to the bomber crews.

Activity Three: The Golden Crew (15 minutes)

  • Randomly give each student a Crew Card.
  • Project (or distribute copies) of the photograph of the Golden Crew. Ask students to examine the picture.
    • Who do they think took the picture?
    • Where do they think the picture was taken?
    • Which crew member in the picture do they think matches their Crew Card? Why?
  • Project onto the screen the senior picture of Norman J. Stewart.
  • Ask students, Can you can identify Stewart in the crew picture?
  • Explain that Norman was the tail turret gunner on Ole Baldy. Norman graduated from Farmington High School in Farmington, Michigan. His former junior high principal was Robert Stewart (no relationship to Norman).
  • Show students the picture of Ole Baldy, Norman’s B-24 bomber built at the Willow Run bomber plant in Michigan.
  • Instruct students they will be watching a four-minute video segment from a film called The Story of Willow Run. As they watch, have students write down a short description of the job found on their Crew Card.
  • Have students share the job and description with their neighbor.
  • Play for the students Norman Stewart’s eulogy from his fallen hero profile. This will allow the students to find out what happened to Ole Baldy.
  • Ask students to complete their Crew Card and collect.

Assessment Materials

  • Explain to students they will be creating a timeline of a special B-24, Ole Baldy, built at the Willow Run bomber plant. It was special because Ole Baldy’s tailgunner, Norman Stewart, was from Farmington, Michigan. Some of the Farmington residents, like Norman’s former junior high principal, worked at the Willow Run bomber plant.
  • Distribute copies of Ole Baldy’s World War II Timeline and Rubric and review the instructions.
  • Allow students time to complete the timeline using various resources such as the ABMC World War II: A Visual History.
  • Allow students to present their finished timelines. Have them describe why the events included on their timeline were important.
  • Display completed timelines throughout the room.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can identify the geographical places Ole Baldy traveled by drawing a circle on a world map of each place and writing in the event.
  • Students may use the Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy Interactive Map to discover companies who built war materials during World War II.
  • Students can research war materiel built in or near their community and how those materiel contributed to helping the Allies win the war.


  • Teachers can adapt the lesson by allowing students to work with a partner on the Strategic Bombing Campaign Organizer.
  • Teachers can do a read-aloud with students for the newspaper reading.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources