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Tuesday–The Aerospace Industry: The Structure of Production

What were the causes & consequences of the revival of the aerospace industry in the Cold War?

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.

After participants reconvene in the adjacent meeting room, Keirn will provide a transition to the postwar revival of the aerospace industry by leading a discussion of assigned readings. Roger Lotchin’s “Getting on Target: Nuclear Weapons, Jet Technology, and the Metropolis” explores the local politics of luring military industries to particular metropolitan regions like LA, while Allen Scott’s “Missile and Space Industry: The Southern California Nexus in National Context.” places Southern California’s military-industrial growth in national context. Then conversation will shift to Blue Sky Metropolis, a new 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. Edited by Peter Westwick, this collection explores the consequences of aerospace development for the region and for the nation.

Westwick will provide a lecture-discussion during lunch entitled “The Southern California Aerospace Industry and the Cold War,” providing a chronological historical analysis of the question posed in Blue Sky Metropolis: What shape did aerospace development in Southern California take in the Cold War era, and what were its consequences for the region, as well as the broader implications for the nation as a whole? He will highlight the structural features of this development in terms of regional and national politics, economy and finance, and industrial leadership and technological breakthroughs.

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 participants will be able to peruse archival materials and explore the Columbia Memorial Space Center, an interactive museum designed to help visitors to explore the history of the space program. Blackburn will facilitate a roundtable of retired employees from a range of fields in the aerospace industry to share their experiences.

The afternoon provides a transition from the day’s larger-scale structural focus on the industry to Wednesday’s more personal focus on workers’ experiences in the industry. After returning to Long Beach, participants will join in a short meeting debriefing the day’s activities. After dinner, participants will complete daily evaluation online through MERLOT and then spend time outlining their proposed lesson plans in consultation with Neumann and Keirn.

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