Research Seminar: Philip Scranton

Research Seminar: Philip Scranton

“Spare Parts: A Global History of a Modern Problem – The American Home Front in World War II”


Virtual Event
October 8 2024
Time 12 PM
Registration for this event is via Eventbrite

This chapter will profile wartime spare parts sagas for US cars, trucks and radios, closing with a comparison between American and Soviet farm machinery, selected because the two nation’s vehicle and radio-receiver contexts were incommensurate. In the USSR private automobiles were virtually unknown. Radio broadcasts reached most Russians through loudspeakers in workplaces and public spaces, though well-placed Party members did have office or home sets. US households owned millions of each, but such iconic modern goods only began trickling into Soviet households after the 1940s. Hence, farm machinery offers a usable parts and repair contrast. In the US, though evading regulations was common, national restrictions on gasoline and tires assured that private autos would be driven sparingly, reducing parts demand. Trucks and buses operated on a different plane. Being the backbones of commercial and workforce transport, they merited higher priorities. Planners also prized radios, as they delivered morale-boosting entertainment and patriotic propaganda. Thus war production policies affirmed parts availability for all three, but obstacles to fulfilling that promise abounded. For example, army and aircraft contracts pushed aside orders for Ford piston rings and Chrysler carburetors until a looming 1943 parts crisis shifted administrative power balances. Demands from the Signal Corps and the Division of Naval Communications had comparable effects in radio – monopolizing facilities making vacuum tubes, condensers and other components. In both cases, trade associations, distributors and service firms complained loudly and at times effectively to DC authorities, a counterpoint to dispersed efforts at improvisation – more feasible in electrical than in vehicle spares. The discussion will commence with car parts anxieties and solutions, detour to visit truckers’ distinctive environments, before reconstructing radio’s simpler trajectory and ending with the farm machinery comparison.

Philip Scranton is emeritus Board of Governors Professor at Rutgers University

Mark Wilson, of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte will provide an introductory comment.

Advance registration via Eventbrite is required; everyone who is registered will receive the paper.