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Tuesday–The Aerospace Industry: The Structure of Production

What do oral history and other sources reveal about aerospace workers’ experiences?

The morning begins by consolidating the previous afternoon’s discussion of women factory workers. Dr. Ali Igmen, Professor of History and Director of the Oral History Program at CSULB, will introduce students to the Rosie the Riveter Revisited oral history archive and highlight key features of the collection. This collection was developed by CSULB scholar Sherna Gluck, who initiated a digital archive of the oral histories she recorded in the course of her research on women aircraft workers. Transcripts of the oral history interviews, totaling 45 volumes, are housed at CSULB. Audio recordings of multiple interviews with fifty women are available online to the public through the CSULB library. Participants will have the opportunity to explore this collection in the library’s computer lab. Because the interviews describe experiences well beyond the end of World War II, this activity provides a bridge from the World War II period to the Cold War era.

After participants reconvene in the nearby meeting room, they will discuss the first half of Blue Sky Metropolis, a recent collection of essays by a multidisciplinary group of leading scholars and writers that investigates the intersection of aerospace and Southern California through the lenses of anthropology, history of science and technology, labor, business, ethnicity and gender, architecture, and the environment. The discussion will be led by CSULB historian “Tim Keirn, who coordinates the university’s history-­‐social science credential program. Keirn’s discussion will focus on the airplane industry’s postwar revival and its crucial transition to aerospace production with the development of jet technology and rocketry. ”

Dr. Peter Westwick will provide a lecture-­‐discussion on “Working in the Aerospace Industry: Executives, Engineers, and Factory Workers” based on his extensive work with the archival materials of the USC-­‐Huntington’s Aerospace History Project. Resources include the personal papers of several early leaders of Lockheed, historical corporate files from Northrop Grumman, and several thousand previously unpublished photos spanning six decades of American aviation. The Project has over fifty oral histories conducted by professional historians, from workers at Aerospace Corporation, TRW, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Douglas, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed, North American-­‐Rockwell, Northrop, Aerojet, and the RAND Corporation. Westwick will explore the diverse experiences and perspectives of those in the industry, from executives, to engineers, to line workers.

In the afternoon, participants will travel to nearby Downey, the home of Vultee aircraft, which began operations before World War II and produced thousands of planes during the war. It later merged with North American Aviation (NAA). An early experimenter with nuclear energy, NAA constructed California’s first nuclear reactor at its Downey plant. In the 1960s, the company began to focus on the space program, becoming chief contractor for the Apollo Command/Service Module and the second stage of the Saturn V rocket. This former plant is now home to the Aerospace Legacy Foundation, a caretaker for many archival materials related to North America Aviation, Rockwell, and Boeing plants in Southern California. Gerald Blackburn, a Boeing project manager for forty years and recent author of a book on Downey aerospace history from 1947 to 1999, will discuss Downey’s historic aircraft assembly facilities. Then Blackburn will facilitate a roundtable of retired employees from a range of fields in the aerospace industry to share their experiences. Last year’s scholars found these first-­‐hand accounts of aerospace work fascinating and invaluable. Dr. Andrew Jenks and Westwick, who both work on aspects of Cold War aerospace engineering culture, will provide a scholarly complement to the roundtable. After returning to Long Beach, participants will join in a short meeting debriefing the day’s activities. After dinner, participants will brainstorm lesson plan ideas in consultation with Neumann and Keirn.

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