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Aug. 28, 1989: 'WWII women kept the fires burning' at Buffalo's war plants

As a part of a weeklong series about the sacrifices made during World War II, two stories looked at Buffalo’s contributions on the home front in defense plants. One focused on the role of women in those plants.

Chevy traded car engines for plane engines. Wurlitzer traded jukeboxes for bomb fuses. Trico wiper blade works churned out 20- and 50-caliber bullets. With almost $8 billion in defense work from 1940 to 1945, Buffalo’s status as the sixth-largest war industrial center also made the city “the third most likely target for foreign attackers.”

Buffalo’s all-time manufacturing employment record was achieved at the height of wartime production in March 1943; just shy of 300,000 Western New Yorkers were employed in factories.  President Franklin Roosevelt visited Buffalo to tour the vast engine that was Buffalo manufacturing.

As thousands of Buffalo’s men poured into plants, thousands more poured onto battlefields in Europe and Asia. There to pick up the slack were the 185,000 women in the workforce by 1945 — double the number from only three years earlier. Half the women older than 14 in Western New York were working.

As a 19-year-old, Carol Mack was making $47 a week as an inspector for Curtiss-Wright.  After the war, she returned to her job at a downtown department store for $18 weekly. One in five Buffalo bus drivers was a woman.

It took some time, but so many women “doing men’s work” did eventually make an impact. “There was this attitude of ‘going to work for the sake of the boys.’ Only after a fair amount of questioning, do you get (the women who worked during the war) to admit that the work experience did change things for them.”

"WWII women kept the fires burning — at the plants"

“The scars on Sara Paladino’s hands testify to her patriotism during World War II.

"She earned her war wounds building airplanes. Sharp-edged bits of metal sliced her fingers as they flew from the oil-soaked milling machine where she toiled in the heat of the Bell Aircraft plant.”

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