Connecticut, like the rest of the country, endured difficult times during the Great Depression, as industries imploded, agricultural prices fell, and thousands were thrown out of work. During the worst years of the Great Depression, about a quarter of the American workforce was unemployed--a level that held in parts of Connecticut, such as Bridgeport. In 1940, more than a decade after the stock market crash, national unemployment stood at 14.6%, and 8.7% in Connecticut. That same year, Congress began to tighten the reins on Roosevelt’s New Deal spending on social programs, but intensifying production for World War II still boosted the economy.
Even though the United States was still officially neutral when Jack Delano toured through Connecticut in the fall of 1940, the state’s and the country’s factories were turning out airplanes, guns, and ammunitions for the Allies. “It seemed only a question of time,” Delano later wrote in his memoirs, “before we, too, would be involved in war. The whole country was rallying for such an eventuality.” As pro-war sentiment grew, the state’s industry prospered, and after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, it boomed. By 1945, Hamilton Propellers, Electric Boat, Pratt & Whitney, and other Connecticut companies had fulfilled over $8 billion in war contracts.
By 1940, Pratt & Whitney’s engines were at the forefront of technology; the company’s largest engine, the Twin Wasp, produced 1,200 horsepower. With an assembly line modeled on those of Detroit, the engine facility at East Hartford, built in 1930, was designed for high-volume output--a feature that let the company expand quickly once President Franklin Roosevelt moved the country on a wartime footing. American aircraft manufacturers were called on to produce 50,000 aircraft a year for the military. By 1943, Pratt & Whitney had expanded from 3,000 employees to 40,000. Pratt & Whitney engines helped to win World War II by powering much of the U.S. fighter fleet as well as many British planes.