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Paging Rosie: 1942

October 1942. "Douglas Aircraft plant at Long Beach, California. An A-20 bomber being riveted by a woman worker." (With, yes, a power drill.) 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer, Office of War Information. View full size.

October 1942. "Douglas Aircraft plant at Long Beach, California. An A-20 bomber being riveted by a woman worker." (With, yes, a power drill.) 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer, Office of War Information. View full size.


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Rosie the Refiner

Wonderful picture. My Grandmother worked at the Shell refinery in Houston during this period making the AV gas for these planes. She was a Rosie the Refiner. She met my Grandfather there at the refinery (he was hit by friendly fire so was already home from the war).

Great Aunt Pinky's Plant

My great-aunt Pinky (she had red hair, thus the nickname) worked in that plant. She drafted rivet layouts for the workers to follow when building the planes. After the rivets were placed, she checked that they were placed correctly and were secure.

During the war, the entire plant was covered with camouflage netting. When photos of it were posted on last year, I asked my cousin, her daughter, if Pinky had ever told her about the netting. Indeed, my cousin already knew all about it, but none of the younger generation in our family had ever seen a picture of it until last year.

During this same period, Pinky was going to Long Beach Community College at night to take classes to further her career as an engineer. She was an early trailblazer on that path for her gender, and worked for many years at Westinghouse among a department that was otherwise entirely male.

Built 'em and flew 'em

In 1955, 32-year old civilian pilot Diana Bixby died in a borrowed A-20 when it ran out of fuel and she crashed in the Pacific off Baja, Mexico. She was well-known back then, having attempted a round-the-world flight in a De Havilland Mosquito with her husband but ending in India with engine trouble. Btw of the 7000+ A-20s built only 15 airframes or so survive, and I don't think there are any flyable. The A-20 was a single-pilot airplane and with a 385-mph top speed was relatively fast for the early 1940s.

I think that's an electric drill

The housing is too fat for a pneumatic. An electric drill contains a big motor and gearbox. A pneumatic contains a turbine, and that's it. Note the slots just aft of the chuck, for cooling the motor. Also see the rubber cone strain relief on the cord, where an air tool would have a quick-release fitting. I'll admit the oversize cord does resemble an air hose.

She is wearing what I think of as "old lady pants", mainly because old people often continue to wear what they liked when they were young, without regard for current fashion. My memory for such things only goes back to about 1974, and both of my grandmothers wore pants like this. They were born eleven years apart, but both would have been the right age to work in this factory.

For the War Effort

My Mother worked as a Rosie at Willow Run, (now a defunct GM plant) and it was through that job that she met the man who became my Father. Ironically, he worked at Willow Run after the war.

Black & Decker

She is using a Black & Decker 1/4" electric drill. You can see the electric cord hanging down. Those holes were not drilled in that position. They were drilled in the shop on a jig. Yes, it was a Photo-Op.

Keep 'em flying!

I will always be in awe of the Greatest Generation. While the boys were away fighting Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, women like the one pictured here kept them armed and ready to take the battle to the enemy. God bless 'em all.

One of the lesser known planes.

A friend's father flew one over the Pacific during the war. I was given his flying boots that show the wear and tear from the long hours spent flying missions. They are in excellent condition considering their age. I hold them in highest regard.

Poor Rosie

Wow! Drilling in these close quarters without eye protection. Not a good idea.
These gals did a tremendous job mobilizing America when it needed it the most. I doubt if we could do that any more.

What's the problem, anyway?

Before you can buck a rivet you do have to drill a hole.

However, I rather hope that lady didn't inadvertently press the button on that drill, or at least its hose wasn't hooked up. Because another hole in this otherwise rather complete looking section would seem to be a bit superfluous.

I can imagine the shop foreman grinding his teeth about those stupid press freaks who wanted to have a flashy but technically incorrect picture, and endangering the quality of his nice new aircraft section in the process.

By the way, if I had to guess I would place the lady in or near the center wingbox.

A-20 "Havoc"

Built by Douglas also converted to a night fighter P-70, sold to eight other countries, the Brits called it the Boston, even the Russians used them, they were called The Box, 7,478 were built, the cost of each aircraft was $74,000.

Compressed Air

Rosie is using a pneumatic (air-powered) drill, for those of you who care about such things. Pneumatic hand tools are preferred in dusty settings where a motor spark can cause explosions. Kudos to all the Rosies, including my grandmother.


She must be just posing since where she is about to drill has already been riveted. Love the color!

Staying feminine

Love the lipstick.

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