Workers in the Nation’s Arsenal

From the time the war started in 1914, Bridgeport’s factories – including companies like Remington-Union Metallic Cartridge, Locomobile, and the American-British Company - expanded rapidly to fill wartime orders for munitions and armored cars.  Bridgeport became a major center for military production, turning out weapons for Russia, England, and France long before the U.S. entered the war.

Bridgeport’s women workers found new opportunities in this wartime boom, shifting from garment and paper box factories to higher-paying jobs in munitions factories, where many made cartridges. Across Connecticut, factory employment overall more than doubled during the war years, as workers seized on new opportunities.

Workers in these wartime factories used their power to secure better hours and wages by going on strike. Bridgeport workers, including many young women working in munitions and corset factories, launched a city-wide strike in the summer of  1915. They won the eight-hour day and other concessions, inspiring workers in other cities to follow their lead. 

Minute Women Ad

"Minute Women of Bridgeport" advertisement, Bridgeport Evening Farmer, September 23, 1918

The government hoped to attract new workers to defense plants with patriotic messages. In 1918, military airplanes circled Seaside Park and dropped thousands of cards urging women to go to work for Uncle Sam. This was followed by 3,000 "Minute Women" knocking on doors all over the city, taking a census of available women and urging them to go to work. They placed a thousand women in jobs, but fell short of their goal, since most of the women who wanted to work were already in the factories. 

Remington Co. Factory Postcard

Remington Co. Factory Postcard
Courtesy of Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport Public Library

In 1915, having purchased Union Metallic Cartridge (UMC), Remington became one of the world's largest munitions makers, expanding its plant to a 73-acre complex and employing 17,000 workers at its peak. Remington built a new factory to make rifles for Russia, as well as manufacturing artillery shells, ammunition, and pistols.

Remington Workers

Women assembling cartridges, in Remington Arms Union Metallic Cartridges Co., Inc., Bridgeport, Conn.
Library of Congress

By the middle of 1915, more than 5,000 women were working at the Remington Arms-UMC plant, making cartridges and other small munitions.

Mark VIII Tank

Mark VIII Tank

Engineer James D. Skinner was sent to Bridgeport in 1917, where he supervised military production for the Army Ordnance Corps. Among other responsibilities, he headed the team that developed the Mark VIII tank, which was designed to meet the needs of Allied forces, especially in crossing trenches. British designs had been furnished the U.S. in 1916 following the Battle of the Somme in which they had been introduced and had proved successful as a combat innovation. The Army used the Locomobile Company factory in Bridgeport to build the prototype pictured here. The war ended before the tank could be produced on a large scale, but Congress authorized the production of 100 tanks for American use. 

Together We Win poster

James Montgomery Flagg, Together We Win. (United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation).


"Nothing Stops these Men"

Howard Giles, Nothing Stops These Men, 1918. (United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation).

"The Ships are Coming"

James Daugherty, The Ships Are Coming, 1918.  (United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation).

Sword bayonet

Sword bayonet 
 
This bayonet was produced at Remington's Bridgeport plant. It was designed to go with the .30 caliber Enfield rifle, patterned after a 1913 British rifle.  

 

Workers in the Nation’s Arsenal