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War Industries Board: Definition & Significance

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 0:37 Formation and Function
  • 2:17 Significance
  • 3:19 Women Workers
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason McCollom
To provide the materials for the U.S. effort in World War I, the federal government created the War Industries Board. Learn about this wartime agency and its significance, and then test your understanding with a quiz.

Definition

In late spring 1917, immediately after the U.S. entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed, 'it is not the army we must train and shape for war, it is a nation.' Wilson and other central planners in the government understood that both human and physical resources would have to be marshaled to support the country's war effort. In this unprecedented mobilization, the federal government came to play an important role. The War Industries Board (WIB) was one of several federal agencies designed to prepare the United States for war.

Formation and Function

Formed in the summer of 1917, the WIB was the most important of these federal agencies because it was tasked with overseeing and promoting industrial production during the First World War. In other words, it was responsible for making sure American soldiers had uniforms and guns, that they had tanks and planes with which to protect the troops and attack the enemy, and that the U.S. Navy had ships. The board consisted of 12 members, including a former president, William Howard Taft. The twelve also included officials from labor unions representing carpenters, machinists, miners, and seamen, as well a railroad.

Financier Bernard Baruch led the WIB had the authority to order the conversion of industrial plants to wartime needs, such as telling Ford automobile plants they had to make army tanks and vehicles. They also ordered other factories to cease regular production and instead make bullets and machine guns. Sometimes the WIB demanded the creation of new factories. It also directed and allocated raw materials to certain factories.

Baruch had to ensure that workers and owners got along, so there would be no strikes or work stoppages to halt wartime production. To this end, he instructed the WIB to carefully oversee prices and employee wages and helped broker agreements between employers and labor. The WIB checked that workplace conditions were acceptable to labor and that workers produced war materials with efficiency. Baruch successfully brought together industrial management and labor, and they produced everything from boots to bullets, which made U.S, troops the best-supplied troops of all the armies in World War I.

Significance

The WIB was most significant it that it ensured the U.S. had the war materials necessary to fight in World War I. The agency successfully transitioned a peacetime to wartime economy and provided the productive capacity for the armed services. Without the successes of the War Industries Board, it is unlikely the U.S. would have been prepared to engage in the battles of World War I.

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