Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Excerpts from the Press Conference

October 01, 1942

(This Press Conference was held upon return of the President from a two weeks' tour of the United States.)

THE PRESIDENT: I asked you all to come in today because I just got back to the White House at 12:30. I have seen a lot of people already. I thought it would be easier for all of you to hold the conference today instead of tomorrow morning. And there isn't any news, except the news about this trip, which you can now print because obviously I am here.

We started two weeks ago tonight, and went out to Detroit. I will try to summarize this part of it if I can, because all the papers have got it already. Anyway, I went out to Detroit and saw first, the Chrysler tank plant, which I thought was a very amazing example of what can be done with proper organization, with the right spirit of carrying it through, and proper planning. Shortly before we got there, they shifted over the whole plant essentially from making M-3 tanks to making M-4 tanks, a different model, and they didn't stop the output one single hour in doing it.

And then we went on to the Willow Run plant, which is one of the latest. I think we have to remember that most of the plants that I saw were authorized and started a great many months before Pearl Harbor. In other words, they are the result of the program of preparedness, which turned out to be so much needed after the Japanese struck us at Pearl Harbor. This took a great deal of time by the forelock. That was the reason, for example, for the Willow Run plant, which I think was started in April, 1941. They are not yet in production. They are very nearly ready to go into production.

Then we went on, that Friday night, to the Great Lakes Training Station and we got there Saturday morning in a drizzle. We saw what is today the largest naval training center we have, I think; and it is doing, of course, excellent work. It is already larger than the same training station in the World War, and it still has about 15,000 trainees to go.

Then we went on to Milwaukee—the Allis-Chalmers plant—and saw some work there on all kinds of things. You couldn't say it was any one specialty. They are doing a great deal of work for the Navy, and a good deal of work for the Army, running from very large, heavy munitions down to the smaller things. That's a case of an old plant with I think only one new building in it, which, however, has been turned almost exclusively into Government work, and is getting on very well.

Then we went up to a cartridge plant [Federal Cartridge Corporation, New Brighton, Minnesota] between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And there they are not yet up to their full production capacity. But that also was a plant that was started well before Pearl Harbor. And they still have one unit to build that was authorized a short time ago. They are turning out 30-caliber and 50-caliber ammunition. And we hit the night shift, getting there at 11 P.M., both in that plant and in the other plants.

Really, the result of the first two days of inspection- the thing that I think that struck all of us most was the large number of women that were employed in machine work, and that means not merely running the small, what might be—what shall I say?—the sewing-machine type of machine, but also some of the largest and heaviest machines, which require great skill and great accuracy, and at the same time do not require heavy manual labor. The reason is that the big machines. are operated largely by push buttons. They are turning out cartridges at an extremely heavy rate, helping us to get well on, considering their problem of small arms munitions of various types.

We left shortly after midnight and went right on to a place called Pend Oreille. It's a great lake out there. That and the Coeur d'Alene are the two largest lakes in northern Idaho; and because we have tried, as you know, to disseminate the congestion which has always existed on the east coast and the west coast for Navy facilities, we put this naval training station inland. They had gone into commission five days before I was there, and they already had about a thousand trainees who were coming in at the rate of two or three hundred a day. It's wonderful country, and it's a good lake. It doesn't freeze in the wintertime. And it's going to be of very great assistance in providing the naval personnel that are necessary, especially out in the Pacific area.

Then we went on to a place just outside of Tacoma—Fort Lewis—which is one of our principal Army posts on the west coast. We saw a post, which I had known before as a relatively small post, multiplied four or five times in its capacity for troops. It is the main Army post of the whole of the northwest Pacific.

Then from there we motored to the Bremerton Navy Yard, and saw wounded ships and wounded men. There again the Yard had been enormously expanded two or three times what it had been in the World War. There was a little old golf course up on the side of the hill that I used to play on, now covered with buildings and machinery for repairing and building ships.

And we went across by ferry to Seattle, and saw the Army embarkation unit, consisting of a number of piers, and a great amount of storage, from which, of course, embarkations are taking place all the time for operations offshore in the Pacific.

And then we went to the Boeing plant in Seattle and went through that. They seem to be in very good shape turning out planes that are steady at a very high rate.

Then I went and had supper with Anna and John Boettiger, took the train again that night at ten, and went on down the next morning to Vancouver, which is opposite Portland, and saw the Alcoa aluminum plant, because although I knew it was working well, I had to find out something about how aluminum is made. I think I can put it this way: Just with an ordinary brain, it was so complicated, and so much chemistry in it, that I came away knowing a little bit more than I knew before, but still—not being a technician—still not quite understanding how you make aluminum.

However, the fact remains that aluminum is coming out. And that was one of the rather interesting side lights of the whole trip, that there does not seem to be any appreciable shortage of aluminum in the actual building of planes at the present time. Of course, as the program steps up—might say doubles—there will be need for the new aluminum plants to get into operation and turn out a lot more stuff.

Then we went across to the Henry J. Kaiser yards and saw a ship launched, and saw the method of building those merchant ships. And there again the speed of production, I think, was interesting to all of us. That was only one of several plants that Kaiser has out on the coast. Those ships are going overboard and are being placed in service.

Of course you understand that when you read about launching a ship in ten days, it does not mean that the whole ship has been built in ten days. A very large number of sections of the ship are built in the plant, and are then taken to the ways and put together.

However, there is another phase that hasn't been emphasized enough. After the ship was launched—and by the way it was launched with steam up, blowing its whistle—it was then taken around to a pier on the other side of the plant, and will be turned over complete for actual use in, I think it was, four days more. That particular ship we actually turned over to a crew that was going to take it to sea.

From there we went down to the Mare Island Navy Yard, and saw again a Navy Yard just about three times as big as it ever had been before. We saw the Jap two-man submarine which had been captured at Pearl Harbor, and we saw one of our own submarines with nine Japanese flags painted on the conning tower.

From there we went down to the Army embarkation port at Oakland, which is an enormous organization from which a large portion of our supplies of men and materials go out to many parts of the Pacific.

Then down to the Naval Supply Base, which is right alongside of it, and in many ways serves the same purpose.

Then from there down to Los Angeles, and we saw the Douglas plant at Long Beach, California, on Friday morning, I guess.

And then by train down to San Juan Capistrano, which is the place that the old mission is, and where the swallows come to every spring on the same date.

Right back of that was this famous old Spanish land-grant ranch that belonged to the Pio Pico family in the old days, and that we purchased a short time ago. And the marines are already in there, using it as their main training center for the whole of the west coast. They only have about five thousand men there now, but that will be rapidly increased to probably- what?—twenty or twenty-five thousand.

Then, from there down to San Diego, we saw the naval hospital, and a lot more wounded men from actions in the Pacific.

Then to the naval training center.

Then to the old Marine Corps base, Camp Pendleton, and from there to the Consolidated plant, where they are stepping up production all the time; and dined with another son and his wife and family, and left that same night.

Mind you, we spent fourteen nights on the train, and not one night ashore.

And from there on to Uvalde, Texas, where I had the pleasure of seeing my old friend Jack Garner, who was just the same, and by the way, sent his love to all his old friends in Washington. He is in fine shape, and I asked him in passing what he thought about farm parity and the prevention of inflation. And he agreed with every other person that I had talked to all the way out and down the coast, that the people as a whole were a bit jittery in regard to an increase in the cost of living, and anything we could do to check the cost of living would remove one of the fears that people have all over the country. In fact, one of the major fears all through that whole section, both in the larger cities and in the country districts, seems to be a fear of a rise in the cost of living.

Then from there we went to San Antonio, to Kelly Field and Randolph Field. There are a great many other fields that take up certain special lines, but this is the training in preliminary and basic work, not the final finishing touches that pilots go other places to get.

We also stopped at Fort Sam Houston, which is an old post, which has not been greatly enlarged, but where I had the pleasure of seeing, for sentimental reasons, the old Second Division, which I saw on the other side in the summer of 1918. Over in those days the Second Division- that was my excuse besides wanting to see something of the fighting abroad—had two regiments of marines in it. But as we are constituted today, it's all Army. There are no marines. The marines have sufficient strength to have divisions of their own. . . .

Then next was Fort Worth. We got there in the morning, and went out to see my daughter-in-law and her family. And in the afternoon we went to the Consolidated bomber assembly plant, which, I should say, is just getting into production, but they are not anywhere near up to what they will be when they get the spare parts and materials from other plants. They are not to make all of the parts that go into an airplane. They are primarily an assembly plant.

Then from there, overnight, to the Higgins yard in New Orleans, where I saw a great many small boats being built.

And from there on to Camp Shelby, where we reviewed another Division, and saw how that Camp had been expanded. I had never been there before.

And yesterday we turned up at Fort Jackson, just outside of Columbia, South Carolina, and reviewed another Division, which was in a different stage of training from any that we had seen before.

And well, here we are!

Now I have got some highlights. I think I had better tell you what I gave to the press association boys.

Number one. I really do want to express my thanks to the press, and the radio people, and the newsreel people, and the photographers, because of the fine way in which they have cooperated in delaying the publication of the news about the trip until I had got back to Washington. As you know, the three press associations were along [Douglas Cornell for Associated Press; Merriman Smith for United Press; J. William Theis for International News Service]. And they were given—I think they will be the first to admit—complete freedom on the trip. And the four Navy photographers made pictures, which of course—some of which have come here, and all of which have got to pass through a—the censorship, because laymen and even Navy enlisted men might not realize what some of the pictures were showing. We saw a lot of stuff, of course, that was confidential.

And number two. Of course, there was no suppression of news on the trip, only confidential stuff, mostly photographs. I think the press association boys, knowing the regular censorship news, had absolutely no trouble in writing their stories. I think I am right in saying that there was nothing cut out of the stories, and there was nothing in their stories which would have been considered dangerous to give out.

Q. Were they subject to censorship, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: What?

Q. Were they subject to the censorship laws?

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. I read them over, that was all— (laughter) and cut out nothing.

Q. Did you add anything? (More laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I did. (Turning to Mr. Early) I added several touches, didn't I?

Incidentally, in this method, which has been so well lived up to by the newspaper publishers and all of the others, is an illustration that we are giving you prompt publication of the news, as fast as it can be properly given, and that is being lived up to. There are various items- various elements that enter into it—into a trip of that kind, including placing in jeopardy the lives of our relatives and friends who are in the naval services.

Now, on impressions on the trip, I have spoken about the large number of women workers. It's an amazing thing how they are working into the production of munitions with very great success. In some of the plants we saw, these are not just stenographers in the office, these are women running machines, and inspecting parts as they come out of a machine. And some plants run 20 percent. Some of the airplane plants are running 30 percent, even—I think one of them—40 percent, and it is getting up, according to the managers and operators of these plants, so that probably within another year in very many of the plants, half of all the labor in the plants will be women.

Then I am going to create an awful disappointment in the ranks of a few people who put a thing down, not as a guess, an erroneous guess, but as a fact. The only people I saw on the trip who were remotely connected with politics, but with whom I did not discuss politics at any moment, were the eleven Governors of the eleven States that we passed through. Nobody running for Congress, or the Senate, or for local or State office. No chairman, no committee member. Nobody at all but the eleven Governors, all of whom we saw at the plants and said good-by to at the plants. So I am sorry to have to shock certain writers.

As we come down to the question of labor and management, I would say that labor and management both are going along magnificently with the whole objective of output, as fast and as good as we can get it. I would say as a whole that I am very well satisfied, because the production is so nearly up to the goal. Every once in a while you find a plant that isn't clicking quite as well as it should. Occasionally the labor is not as efficient as it will be when it gets more trained. Occasionally there are small shortages of materials which prevent an operation from going through as fast as it would be otherwise, but I would say offhand that the production as a whole through the country is around 94 or 95 percent of the objective.

And remember that last January, when I talked about the objective in the Message to Congress, there were a great many "doubting Thomases" who said we couldn't do half of it, people who most deliberately sabotaged the program before it got started. Well, I think 94 or 95 percent is an objective that covers the working out of a great war. It's a pretty darn good record.

Q. Mr. President, do you think it's going to reach 100 by the end of the—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) No. No. It's impossible. That would be impossible.

Q. Impossible?

THE PRESIDENT: Why, sure. In other words, you take anything-you take a newspaper office. In a newspaper office, if you are running a big paper, if you have efficient men on the mechanical end to the tune of 94 or 95 percent efficient, wouldn't you call that a pretty good record? If you had a hundred reporters, and a hundred out of the hundred reporters were satisfactory to the desk, wouldn't you call that impossible? (Laughter)

Q. A miracle.

THE PRESIDENT: There, you see it? You can't have anything that's perfect, but when you get up to 94 or 95 percent, that's a pretty darn good record.

Q. Could you indicate where there is diversity of causes for the 4 or 5 percent?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, all kinds, little and big. I would say the majority of them are completely unpreventable—completely. . . .

Now, going back to reactions of people, I think it can be said that the people of the country as a whole have got the finest kind of morale. They are very alive to the war spirit. I am making no invidious distinctions between sections. Everywhere I went the spirit was excellent. The understanding was good.

Even on things like- oh, a certain amount of trouble in the Southwest, where they have a lot of oil wells, yet because of the shortage caused by lack of transportation, of getting gasoline up to New England and New York, we had to ration gasoline there. There was a tremendous howl from people who couldn't understand, because they were out living next to an oil well, and they didn't want to be rationed. And finally, as it is working out, as you know, we are coming to a rationing of mileage all over the country, and the people down there understand it, and are wholeheartedly behind it. That's a change in attitude because now they understand it.

I would say, on the other hand, that there is less understanding in just one place in the country—it's a lot less—Washington, D. C. . . .

I would say, in regard to Washington, D. C., that there are three situations in this town which are not good. And I will put the two most important ones first, and the less important one third.

The first is the fact that we all know that- and it is perfectly natural, I would do the same thing, so would you- in the Congress you have a great many people who want to justify their help to the war effort. And it's a tendency that isn't new at all. It was a tendency which started with the Continental Congress in 1775, and it has been going on ever since. A perfectly obvious, understandable and human effort to take part in the war by looking into this, that, and the other thing, about which they can't possibly have opinions that are of any great validity, because there are so many facts in a war which either are based on military information or which cannot be explained to a lay mind. They are essentially facts for trained military and naval officers, who are responsible primarily for the conduct of the strategy and operation of the war. As I said, it's a perfectly normal, natural development, dating back to 1775. And of course, there are literally hundreds of examples in our past history.

Then the other factor in this is the press, which doesn't seem to know the country, and like the Congressman is very apt to think in the local terms of the papers that they represent, giving out sententious views—perfectly honest views, which are nevertheless sententious—because of the fact that they don't know. That's the radio too, the radio announcers. Not all—of course not. Not all of the news stories by any means. Most of them, I would say, are straight news stories. But there is an unfortunate minority of news stories which just "ain't" so. They just are not based on fact. And more than that, they tell people in the country things that are not in existence. Some of them are honestly written. Some of them are written for other reasons, which perhaps we need not go into. They represent a minority, but at present they are doing infinite harm to the country. The greatest offense of course is among the commentators, and the columnists, in both the press and the radio. . . .

The third point relates to a great many people in the Administration itself, who are very apt to rush into print or hand out stuff. Well, they may be the fourth or fifth man down the line, or they may be seeking publicity. If they are the fourth or fifth man down the line, probably they don't know the whole story, except their own version of the little individual piece of work which they themselves are doing for the Government. They haven't got a rounded view. Sometimes it's in a speech which seeks to be picturesque. Sometimes it's with the perfectly honest belief that their particular "ism"—specialty—is not being properly handled. We have that type of person, of course, in the Administration. And so there you have those branches of the Government and the "fourth estate," all of whom are guilty to a greater or less extent. . . .

Q. Mr. President, in that connection, we have had four speeches here in the last week by high Government officials, all along exactly the same theme, that we are losing this war, largely by reason of our failure to produce as rapidly as we should.

THE PRESIDENT: (interjecting) Yes.

Q. (continuing) In the light of your report here, those reports seem to be exaggerated. I gather you—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I haven't seen all four that you refer to. I have seen two or three, and let me put it this way: If I had been in their place, I would not have said it. . . .

Q. Mr. President, I am not quite clear in my mind. What is the complaint about the press?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it's very simple. I am saying that about certain elements in press and radio that are hurting the war effort. And we all know. I don't have to particularize on it at all. You people know even better than I do who the fellows are, who the owners of the papers are. You know far better than I do. . . .

Q. Mr. President, would you care to deal specifically with any one community where you visited?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. I think they all stand out as having a perfectly grand spirit. And that, incidentally, applies not only to the munitions plants but to almost all the other things as well.

Agriculture! The number of stories that I heard about how they are getting the crops in, with half of the hired hands gone. Those small communities where they haven't got enough men to pick the fruit, and they then decide on three days, or four days, and the banker, and the editor of the paper, and the drugstore fellow, and the garage man, and the children, they all give up what they are doing and go into the fields for three or four days, and -by gosh! —get the crops in.

Now that's the kind of spirit that we lack in Washington, D.C. Out there, you've got the reporters, you've got everybody else going into the fields, and they have got the crops in as a result. It's a community effort. We need more of that.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210884

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