In case you didn’t know it, today is Rosie the Riveter’s 68th birthday. Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Samuel Redman is celebrating on The Berkeley Blog with a piece just published today, “Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter and World War II in American Memory.” Okay, Rosie’s probably a bit older than 68, but why would you ask a girl her real age?
Redman’s piece documents Rosie’s national debut on May 29 1943 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post with a feature announcing her contributions to the war effort. Look at the muscles on that gal! She needs them to control that phallic rivet gun that she used to knock out one prefabricated ship after another. According to About.com‘s Kennedy Hickman, “US shipyards would produce 2,751 Liberty Ships. The majority (1,552) of these came from new yards built on the West Coast and operated by Henry J. Kaiser.”
Operating four yards in Richmond, CA and three in the Northwest, Kaiser developed methods for prefabricating and mass producing Liberty Ships. Components were built all across the US and transported to shipyards where the vessels could be assembled in record time. During the war, a Liberty Ship could be built in a about two weeks at a Kaiser yard. In November 1942, one of Kaiser’s Richmond yards built a Liberty Ship (Robert E. Peary) in 4 days, 15 hours, and 29 minutes as a publicity stunt. Nationally, the average construction time was 42 days and by 1943, three Liberty Ships were being completed each day.
Redman draws on one of the many fabulous projects being done at the Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library, this one intended to document the WWII home front in the Bay area. Giving a sample of a few real “Rosies” in the story, Redman notes that while our memories are shaped by triumphant images of this military turning point in the twentieth century, “Both men and women who lived through this time, as they advance in age, continue to wrestle with sometimes conflicting memories about the war.”