An extensive collection of documents recording the American automobile industry’s role in WW II is now open to historians and researchers, the Detroit Public Library said yesterday at a press conference in downtown Detroit.
Files of the Automotive Council for War Production chronicle the industry’s rapid wartime conversion that made Detroit famous as “the Arsenal of Democracy,” said Mark Bowden, the library’s curator of special collections.
Housed in the library’s National Automotive History Collection (NAHC), the manuscript collection covers the council’s activity from 1942 to 1946. It filled 77 boxes and included 4,000 photographs when the Automobile Manufacturers Association donated it to the NAHC in the 1950s. It is now cataloged and available to researchers at the NAHC in the library’s Skillman Branch in downtown Detroit.
The wartime collection includes papers, records, documents and invoices of the council, which was led by Lieutenant General William Knudsen. An expert on mass production, Knudsen was the president of General Motors when the President Roosevelt asked him to take the job.
Some 654 manufacturing companies eventually joined the council and produced nearly $29 billion worth of vehicles, tanks, engines, and other war products for the allied military forces.
The NAHC is regarded as the nation’s premier public automotive archive. Established in 1953, it contains over 600,000 processed documents and photographs relating to automobile history, design, marketing, engineering and the automobile’s impact on society. It is a treasure trove for historians, journalists, car collectors and restorers, and simply anyone interested in cars.
The NAHC is open to the public at 121 Gratiot in downtown Detroit.
The world’s largest archive of automotive information is available to journalists, researchers and writers at the Detroit Public Library’s National Automotive History Collection (NAHC).
“With more than 600,000 processed items in the collection — books, documents and photographs — our staff is able to offer journalists and authors a wide range of information and pictures for their work,” said Mark Bowden, the library’s curator of special collections.
The NAHC has served people curious about the automobile, including collectors and restorers, for more than half a century. It contains factory service manuals, owners’ manuals, sales literature, photographs, books, automotive memorabilia, biographies, artwork, models, business papers, and manuscripts.
“We can serve journalists and the general public at our facilities in the restored Skillman Branch library in downtown Detroit, across from the Compuware Building and the Cadillac Square People Mover station,” said Paige Plant, NAHC assistant manager.
NAHC staff will also respond to inquiries received by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), by telephone (313-481-1862) or by mail (121 Gratiot Avenue, Detroit 48226).
Other notable manuscript collections include papers of Charles E. Duryea, who with his brother Frank produced America’s first gasoline car; papers of Henry Leland, founder of the Lincoln and Cadillac companies; letters of Charles B. King who was the first person to drive a motor car in Detroit, and the papers of General Knudsen and his son, Semon (Bunkie) Knudsen, both of whom held executive positions at Ford and General Motors.
A special collection of the Detroit Public Library, the NAHC is also supported by a Board of Trustees and by the Friends of the NAHC, an ancillary unit of the Friends of the Detroit Public Library, the 501c3 organization that provides funding for special exhibits, events and acquisitions. It accepts both monetary donations and material gifts such as automotive books and periodicals, sales literature, photographs, art and memorabilia.
Members of Friends of the NAHC receive the collection’s quarterly publication, WHEELS, and invitations to special events. Each year, members select by vote the “Collectible Vehicle of the Future” from the new American-produced cars introduced during the year. The winner in 2011 was the Chevrolet Volt.
The NAHC’s also sponsors an Automotive Authors Book Fair. This year’s, the seventh, will be held with co-sponsors at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn on November 17. Twenty or more authors of books published in the year are invited to discuss, sell and autograph their books.