The 1940s (1940-1949)

When World War II began in 1939, devastation from the Great Depression began to recede, and the U.S. economy found new life. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered the war. This immediately turned the nation into an industrial war production machine, putting hordes of Americans back to work in munitions factories and uniting them for a common

When World War II began in 1939, devastation from the Great Depression began to recede, and the U.S. economy found new life. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States entered the war. This immediately turned the nation into an industrial war production machine, putting hordes of Americans back to work in munitions factories and uniting them for a common cause. According to the IEEE History Center, the war economy brought new opportunities for all. It reports that virtually all Americans had an opportunity for employment, longer workweeks, and higher earnings (despite wage controls). Unions gained members and negotiated unprecedented benefits. Women and minorities found new opportunities in the wartime economy. Labor scarcity created work for more than six million women, and many minorities who had been unemployed in the '30s also found work.

Changes in instruments of war had a large impact on the electrical industry. Unlike World War I, this would be a war of technology, putting tremendous pressure on electrical engineers. “The years from 1939 to 1945 saw a radical change in the way that the world perceived electrical engineers and how they perceived themselves,” reports the IEEE History Center. “Their field was transformed from a specialty with well-defined applications, primarily in power and communications, into the source for the most powerful and pervasive technologies of the 20th Century.”

According to EC&M archives, the war began to create new business for electrical men at a staggering pace. Factories needed modernizing. Commercial and residential buildings demanded more capacity. Highway safety lighting forged ahead. Rural wiring repair and modernization took off. New concepts in fluorescent lighting changed illumination standards. And despite material shortages, construction continued to boom.

The war ended in 1945 after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski, Japan. Spurred by technological advancements like sonar, radar, semiconductors, and infrared technology developed during the war, the age of electronics had begun and would dominate the decades to come.

Metering Separate Departments

By 1940, departmental metering was gaining popularity in many industrial plants. Why is this practice necessary? According to an Electrical Contracting article, when a plant needs to allocate electrical energy between many departments, it's impossible to come up with accurate usage costs without the help of watt-hour meters. These units have standardized ratings, and owners can install them wherever they desire definite kilowatt consumption.

There are several advantages to this type of metering. For example, the total of all the meter readings is less than the main meter readings obtained by the utility supplying the current. This difference is due to the fact that there are some line and transformer losses that are ahead of the department meters. The slight difference can be charged to overhead distribution. However, the total does provide a check on the power bill. Furthermore, if any department has an increase in power consumption without an adequate reason, an investigation will be conducted to determine the cause. For some machines, power consumption also increases when certain parts become worn. By checking on the power, it is possible to determine with a fair degree of accuracy just when renewals should be made. By taking a reading every day on the watt-hour meter, the daily power consumption can be obtained. By timing the revolution of the meter disk and using the proper constants, the power demand of the department can be determined at any time. “Thus, the electrician can spot any unusual demands when a particular machine is in operation and when large group drives are used. In either case, it may be that the demand can be reduced by operating on a slightly different schedule.”

Business Agent, New York Union,
and Contractors Indicted

In a 1940 news brief, we see that the magazine didn't always bring positive news to its readers. Editors report that Michael J. Boyle, business agent of Chicago's Local 134 and vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by preventing the shipment of electrical fixtures from other states into Chicago. Boyle was charged with five other business agents of the union and five fixture manufacturers. The union was charged with “organizing fixture workers, employed by the defendant manufacturers, and the manufacturers into working agreements under which the union would only install fixtures stamped with the union label.”

In a separate story, the magazine reported Local No. 3, IBEW, an AFL affiliate, 12 of its officers and representatives, five contractors' associations, and six of their present or former officers were also indicted in 1940 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. According to an Electrical Contracting article, “The charge was embodied in four indictments and obtained by Thurman Arnold's associates in their nationwide campaign to stamp out what they consider illegal restraints in the building and construction industry.”

Know Your Code

Just as EC&M covers readers' most pressing National Electrical Code questions and concerns today, Electrical Contracting analyzed Code changes that affected wiring systems in commercial, industrial, and residential buildings in 1940. In the October edition of Code Chats, John M. Turnbull, service engineer for the United Electric Light Co., Springfield, Mass., highlights the most important changes to the 1940 NEC. By printing these changes in the magazine along with an explanation for practical application of the Code rules, journeymen and helpers could use this article as a handy reference tool.

Protective Lighting: a Reviving Market

In an article from August 1940, Glenn G. Bobst, General Electric Co., Schenectady, N.Y., covers the basic principles of fence, area, and emergency lighting. “The great influx of government orders for vital materials, together with the spreading world conflict, has made private industry acutely conscious that it must use every means available to protect itself from sabotage and espionage,” he writes. “The need for this protection increases daily, especially now that the government has launched its national defense program.” He insists a variety of the following defense strategies provides the most protection: high barriers constructed around plant areas; elaborate alarm systems; adequate police forces; and employees on alert for any signs that might indicate undercover work. However, all of these must be supported by adequate lighting. “Even the most vigilant police force will lose much of its efficiency during the hours of darkness if they are unable to observe the areas which they are to protect.”

Our Job in '42

In January 1942, Editor W. T. Stuart reviews the electrical construction industry's stake in the troubled days ahead in World War II. “Markets are delineated in terms of war needs along a scale running from munitions at the top to nonessential civilian wants at the bottom. Outlining the prospects for electrical construction, alteration, and repairs along a similar scale, therefore, gives a more nearly accurate picture of the task ahead,” he writes. The munitions industries (producing guns, shells, and bombs) accounted for an important part of 1941 construction. Stuart predicts war needs will accelerate production soon. For example, military equipment industries have set out on a huge building program. He says the bulk of electrical work on the tank and plane plants will come in 1942, as new construction plans are superimposed on those already underway. “The pressure of 24-hour operation at full capacity is accelerating depreciation in electrical equipment in industrial plants,” he writes. “There is, consequently, more interest than ever before in preventive maintenance and ready repair facilities to hold production schedules.” Therefore, he says it's safe to expect a new high for skilled electrical maintenance and repairs in 1942.

On Alert

A 1942 article in Electrical Contracting summarizes what electrical men can do for emergency alerts and blackouts. It also outlines their responsibilities before and after air raids. “Now that war is here, everyone's responsibilities are altered. Everyone is on the alert. All activity must be directed to the war effort. And time is important.” The article suggests current conditions are helping to increase electrical contractors' peacetime activities in new plant construction, existing plant reconditioning, and housing and general electrical system maintenance. His wartime job is installing and maintaining emergency air-raid and blackout equipment and organizing an emergency service to keep plants operating under all conditions. What does an electrical contractor need to know in these times? The article indicates his first responsibility is to be familiar with blackout methods and overall operation of the air-raid signal systems. Alarm systems are also needed at strategic points throughout a city, town, or plant to warn inhabitants of an impending raid. Communications systems are necessary between spotter positions and central air-raid control offices. Specially adapted intercommunicating telephone systems can be used in plants to assure all calls go through the central control office. This system might also be extended to raid shelters. Light control of a centralized nature is essential for blackouts. “Lights should be dimmed or extinguished entirely depending upon the emergency at hand and the strategy of the military and civilian defense units,” the article says.

Conversion Program

“When the word went out to American industry to turn their plants into munitions factories, or else, the most complex wiring job of all time was dumped into our collective lap,” writes Editor W.T. Stuart in 1942. Although the full extent of conversion cannot be accurately estimated, Stuart characterizes it as tremendous. “These days, it is idle to discuss claims of relative importance among the hundreds of industries serving the nation at war. But in the tremendously significant conversion program, where every sinew is stretched for speed in turning widgets into machine guns, there are three outstanding demands — machines, electrical equipment and wiring.” Although the conversion program is a nationwide project, it is most prevalent in Detroit. The major automobile plants as well as the hundreds of smaller factories feeding the assembly lines with parts and gadgets are converting existing plants to war work on a scale of baffling proportions, he writes. In an effort to bring Electrical Contracting readers up to speed on this development, the editors traveled to Detroit and talked to plant engineers, chief electricians, contractors, and motor shops.

Contractor Prices under Special Regulations

A new regulation providing specialized price control for the American construction industry was issued in October 1942 by Price Administrator Leon Henderson, reports Electrical Contracting. Formulated by union, contractor, association, and government representatives, this regulation covers all construction and maintenance services/sales in which contractors, builders, and installers furnish building or industrial equipment or materials as well as the labor or services required for actual construction, installation, or service. Broad in scope, this regulation extends from the single repair of a leaky roof to a huge project like building Boulder Dam.

NEC Adopts War Rules

A supplement to the 1940 National Electrical Code revealed new amendments to help electrical men interpret existing Code rules in light of the materials shortage during the war. In the November 1942 issue, John M. Turnbull, service engineer for the United Electric Light Co., Springfield, Mass., reviews these new provisions and illustrates important changes. He starts with the scarcity of rubber. “Rubber is too precious to be put onto ‘white’ wires intended for general use, and government orders now prohibit the use of rubber on grounded neutral conductors,” he writes. The NEC permits the use of AC systems, weatherproof braided wires, and emergency insulation as grounded conductors in any of the 0V to 600V Code wiring methods. This means wiremen can use them in cables, run them exposed as in open wiring, or pull them into raceways. The Code has approved bare conductors for use in open individual service drops. The shortage of copper will inevitably force the electrical industry to use whatever materials it can to transmit the maximum amount of power over minimum-sized conductors.

Women Wire Liberty Ships

In 1943, women electricians were doing all types of electrical wiring and maintenance work at the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. in Portland. In fact, the company had 138 women doing the marine electrical work and 54 women in the electrical maintenance department. According to Electrical Contracting, most of the women were trained in electrical work at the National Defense Workers Training schools, and many held journeymen electrician ratings. What was their objective? Assemble lights and handle maintenance and temporary wiring.

Electrical Work on Draft Deferred List

Manpower requirements, not only in the Armed Services but also in essential industries, have been the primary considerations in the new Selective Service System classifications, Electrical Contracting reports in 1943. “The criterion is no longer dependency (except in certain hardship cases) but essential to the war effort.” The electrical construction and maintenance industry is still on the list of essential activities issued by the War Manpower Commission. In addition to a series of changes in the rules for inducting men into the services, control has been placed on the transfer of workers to war industry and for holding necessary workers in war production. There are 149 occupations listed in the new critical list. “Men with those skills who are not in essential industry at present should register with their local employment office and make themselves available to take essential jobs. If they do not agree to transfer when called, they will be subject to reclassification so that they will be available to the military forces which also need skilled men.”

Lighting During Wartime

In a 1943 exclusive to Electrical Contracting, editors take a look at the state of the lighting industry during the war years and beyond. They identify two main goals for the industry. First, factories must continue to increase production. This means illuminating engineers must improve lighting efficiency and quality in line with material conservatism. The industry's second responsibility is to plan for tomorrow. This involves studying materials and methods for the time when limitations are no longer mandated and the lights go on again. Because most illuminating engineers, manufacturers, distributors, contractors, industrial plant owners, and engineers want to know the War Production Board's policy on relighting, Electrical Contracting extended this lighting profile to include an overview by Berlon C. Cooper, chief, Lighting & Fixtures Section, Building Materials Division, War Production Board. He says the board recognizes the fact that adequate lighting means increased production, better workmanship, reduced spoilage, fewer accidents, and less absenteeism. “To achieve top production, it is necessary to keep plants working around the clock. With more and more of the young men and women going into the armed services, it is also recognized that more light is required for equal seeing ability by the growing proportion of older workers,” he writes. That's why any plant whose major facilities are devoted to war work must permit installations that produce maximum average intensity not to exceed the minimum footcandle intensities of the “American Recommended Practice of Industrial Lighting” approved by the American Standards Association and sponsored by the Illuminating Engineering Society for Illumination Design.

Industrial Electronics

In the first of a series on the fundamentals of industrial electronics and their application, Editor W. T. Stuart discusses the new opportunities and responsibilities created by the advance of electronics into the electrical industry in 1943. “Electronics is a great new industry, growing by leaps and bounds under the enormous pressure of war,” Stuart writes. “It will have a profound effect on electric wiring and apparatus in the years to come.” He predicts the market will see more tubes replacing conventional electrical devices in industrial processes, commercial facilities, and home gadgets. “Our industry will have to absorb these new developments and the new techniques they bring by continued study, observation and ready adaptability,” he writes. “Electronics introduces new complexities, new problems, new responsibilities. But it also throws open the gates to a vast new world of opportunity.” Stuart says industrial electronics is now a $4 billion market — even greater than the automobile business at its peak. While the great bulk of that volume is in communications and secret military devices, he reports electronic apparatus has already found a substantial place in industry and promises to go much further in the postwar era.

Fifty Years of Safety Service

In 1944, Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) completed a half century of safety service to the public. According to Electrical Contracting, the UL's “know by test” philosophy and scientific development of safety standards had fostered public confidence and acceptance of electricity. After William Henry Merrill organized UL in 1894, the first edition of the National Electrical Code was introduced three years later and approved by the Laboratories. The article states that “the combination of these media provided a set of standards that correlated the few scattered regulations then existing and provided manufacturers with a single set of test specifications which their equipment must meet to be considered safe. Without these, public reaction to a potential hazard may never have permitted the electrical industry to attain its present-day position.”

Digest of Wartime
Electrical Maintenance

According to this special 22-page section of Electrical Contracting in the mid-'40s, electrical maintenance is the “guardian of continuous war production.” It not only demands the same careful organization and operation as the production on assembly lines, it also requires competent management. “Unless the energy lifelines to operating equipment are kept in A-1 condition, efficiency cannot be maintained and production will suffer.” The article documents that ailing electrical systems constitute more than a mere liability. “They are, in effect, the equivalent of internal sabotage.” Under wartime operation, factories must reduce the possibility of breakdown to a minimum. That's where the importance of “preventive” maintenance comes into play. “It embodies a planned program to anticipate trouble; to keep electrical systems and equipment operating; and to make existing equipment last for the duration.” This comprehensive supplement outlines the planning, priorities, and know-how of electrical maintenance for the men who must keep circuits and equipment at top efficiency and reliability for war production.

Automotive Plant Reconversion

According to an article in the January 1946 issue of Electrical Contracting, reconversion of General Motors plants in Flint, Mich., to peacetime production involved extensive remodeling of electrical systems. Written by August Eckel, the article outlines what the reconversion process entails. To the layman, he writes, peacetime reconversion implied a simple shift from the production of war material to the assembly of cars, washers, ranges, appliances, and hundreds of other commodities. However, this process represents one of the most challenging tasks industrialists and their engineers have faced in years. The transition involved more than a simple substitution of automobile assembly lines for the tank production lines of 1941-45. “It meant a virtual reshuffling of many department and building operations; development of plans incorporating necessary expansion of facilities; and a general rehabilitation of usable equipment,” he writes. “The electrical system — the lifeline of both war and peace production — had to be thoroughly revamped to meet future demands and conform to prewar standards of efficiency and safety.”

Relighting America

In a 1946 editorial, A. F. Wakefield, president of the Illuminating Engineering Society, looks back on the past, assesses the nation's current lighting situation, and makes a pitch for relighting America. “Forty years ago, when the Illuminating Engineering Society was started, we were able to secure with carbon filament lamps and gas mantles general illumination of the order of perhaps two or three footcandles of artificial lighting,” writes Wakefield. “That sounds pitifully small today, but considering the limited means then available it wasn't bad.” For similar reasons, he finds all prewar lighting out of date, citing a statistic for reinforcement. Nearly 30,000 traffic fatalities occurred in 1945 — two-thirds of which happened at night. That means twice the fatalities occurred during a period when there was 50% less traffic! He proceeds to make a plea to readers to accept the association's new Recommended Practice for Street and Highway Lighting. According to Wakefield, improved lighting also results in increased production in factories, reduced spoilage, diminished accidents, and better health/improved morale among workers. “We believe that the inadequate lighting of yesterday is costing the public each day vast sums, thousands of lives, and quantities of much-needed production — all of which could be saved by intelligent relighting.”

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