When Wartime Came, Buffalo Did Its Part to Help
The Buffalo News; May 2nd, 1982
This article was published in Buffalo’s 150 Year Anniversary edition newspaper!
Buffalo played a major role in bringing victories to America in the two-front conflict of World War II.
The overwhelming air superiority that brought the Nazi government of Germany and the militarist government of Japan to their knees was aided in a major way by the output of Buffalo-area plants.
The furnaces of Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel and other heavy industrial plants of the Niagara Frontier glowed around the clock to add to the sinews of American military might.
But the most visible contribution to the war effort came from area aircraft plants.
Buffalo already had a tradition as an aircraft manufacturer. In World War I days, Glenn Curtiss organized the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corp. to make 140 different models of planes for the US and its allies.
The Curtiss Company expanded from a Churchill Street plant to Elmwood Avenue manufacturing units. By the end of World War I , Buffalo was the allies’ chief aircraft producer.
But Glenn Curtiss, a brilliant aviation design pioneer, was not noted for his business acumen. And aviation interests waned in the 1920s until Charles Lindbergh’s electrifying Trans-Atlantic flight of 1927.
World War II put Buffalo back in the forefront of aviation. Curtiss Aeroplane’s successor, the Curtiss-Wright Co. opened a plant next to Buffalo airport in 1940 (now the Westinghouse Electric Plant) and ultimately employed 25,000 workers.
It built more than 16,000 P-40 Pursuit Planes (in the town of Wheatfield, a former Glenn Curtiss associate, Lawrence D. Bell, was putting together the Bell Aircraft Corporation. During WWII, it built nearly 10,000 Airacobra fighters and more than 650 B-29 Bombers.
It also built the first American Jet plane, the X-59A and led the post war development of the helicopter.
Bell’s XS-1 was the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound. Soon, the company was producing rocket engines. But Bell aircraft suffered from what Corporate America calls the “1-Man Company Syndrome.” When its founder dies in 1956, it lost its front space in aerospace and Buffalo’s hopes as an aerospace center also withered.