1940-1975: Industrial Powerhouse

Factory worker filing small gun parts, Milwaukee
Factory worker filing small gun parts, MilwaukeeHollem, Howard R.
Don't Shop Downtown Until Willis Goes
Don't Shop Downtown Until Willis GoesStudents Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Emancipation Parade in Windsor, Ontario
Emancipation Parade in Windsor, Ontario

>Mobilization for the Second World War pulled the economies of central North America out of the Great Depression as long-idled factories converted from consumer goods to military supplies. Government spending on military goods, roads, and education kept the economy from falling back into another depression after the war, and North American factories faced little competition from the ruined economies of Europe and Japan. Workers in auto, steel and other mass production industries joined newly powerful labor unions and negotiated historic improvements in wages and working conditions.

But the affluence of the post-war period was built on shaky foundations. As the companies based in central North America reached the peak size and profitability, many also took advantage of opportunities to invest in other regions with lower wage rates and without militant unions. Taking advantage of the new system of highways, manufacturing employers built new factories outside of the urban centers that had powered earlier economic development.  Now workers could drive long distances to their factory jobs rather than living nearby, and trucks rather than trains could haul the product to market.  The aging urban factories of the Midwest became less profitable, especially as the world economy buckled under inflation during the 1970s. 

The border between the U.S. and Canada played a contradictory role in these developments. On the one hand, the two nations were becoming more economically integrated through trade and corporate consolidation. On the other hand, they diverged politically and culturally.  Industrial cities in the U.S. struggled to undo the de facto racial segregation of housing and employment, a problem that was less acute in Canada. Nor did opposition to the war in Southeast Asia carry the same political weight north of the border. As the U.S. experienced a collective sense of disarray and defeat that would soon turn into defensive nationalism, Canadians celebrated their cultural and economic independence.