The Business of War

If the United States was the “arsenal of democracy,” then California was its main assembly line. In 1941, the Golden State already had some distinct advantages when it came to getting a major share of defense contracts. California had a large, preexisting economic capacity, experience with large scale public works projects, and a responsive labor force.

Overall, California wartime output amounted to seventeen percent of national production. Ten percent of all US defense dollars were spent in California. Defense spending also boosted local economies in what has been called “military welfarism.” Wartime spending pumped tens of millions of dollars into a statewide economy that had been ravaged by the Great Depression.

California was also the food basket for the war effort, supplying fourteen percent of the nation's total production. California agriculture began to fully transition during the war years to its current industrial scale model. From $627 million in 1940, income in 1944 from California crops amounted to $1.7 billion, a 159% increase.