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Planning the Home Front

Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run

Before Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7 to be a “date which will live in infamy”; before American soldiers landed on D-Day; before the B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s roared over Europe and Asia, there was Willow Run. Located twenty-five miles west of Detroit, the bomber plant at Willow Run and the community that grew up around it attracted tens of thousands of workers from across the United States during World War II. Together, they helped build the nation’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” but Willow Run also became the site of repeated political conflicts over how to build suburbia while mobilizing for total war.
In Planning the Home Front, Sarah Jo Peterson offers readers a portrait of the American people—industrialists and labor leaders, federal officials and municipal leaders, social reformers, industrial workers, and their families—that lays bare the foundations of community, the high costs of racism, and the tangled process of negotiation between New Deal visionaries and wartime planners. By tying the history of suburbanization to that of the home front, Peterson uncovers how the United States planned and built industrial regions in the pursuit of war, setting the stage for the suburban explosion that would change the American landscape when the war was won.

See a website for the book.

376 pages | 19 halftones, 2 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Historical Studies of Urban America

Geography: Urban Geography

History: American History, Urban History


“Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communitiesat Willow Run by independent scholar, Sarah Jo Peterson is a lucid account of the planning problems inherent in a World War II defense plant. Peterson skillfully weaves a narrative from the ad hoc, disjointed and participatory efforts which included housing for newcomers in an underdeveloped exurban region all at once and right away.”


Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run is a step-by-step account of local issues (particularly housing and transportation, but intermixed with racism, sexism, and classism) that challenged the residents and migrants—both managers and laborers—of Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Extensive notes detail the numerous primary sources that support Peterson’s argument along with her visits to eight different archives to locate documents that had probably remained untouched since the 1940s. . . . Peterson knows the material, and she explains it well, utilizing reams of official records and documents as well as various oral histories.”

American Historical Review

“Through the compelling story of Willow Run, Sarah Jo Peterson illuminates the system of participatory planning—at once contentious, chaotic, and cooperative—that characterized the Arsenal of Democracy. Peterson skillfully weaves together the voices of ordinary Americans as well as national and local government officials, corporate bosses, and union leaders to produce a finely textured and original account of how the wartime planning process responded to and shaped industrial expansion, migration, and suburbanization. Highly recommended.”

Matthew L. Basso | author of Meet Joe Copper: Masculinity and Race on Montana's World War II Home Front

Planning the Home Front is a highly original contribution to the study of intergovernmental relations and many other fields besides. This book will appeal greatly to historians of the home front, business, urban affairs, politics, and the history of American city planning, to name just a few. Drawing on personal recollections, federal government documents, state government documents, city council minutes, and a vast array of newspaper accounts, Sarah Jo Peterson’s research is quite impressive.”

Roger W. Lotchin | author of Fortress California, 1910–1961

“In the tradition of the best historical and sociological work in urban studies, Planning the Home Front shows that cities rise not simply because of spatial succession or in response to forces of supply and demand. Sarah Jo Peterson meticulously reconstructs the messy negotiations between competing interests that actually build urban places. The result is a remarkably compelling narrative that will be of great interest to both historians and planners.”

David M. P. Freund | author of Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America

“The usefulness of this book for those interested in Michigan’s industrial and urban history is obvious. Perhaps less obvious, but still a strength of Peterson’s work, is how it advances an understanding of mid-century urban planning in the US.”

Michigan Historical Review

“ Peterson reminds us that World War II had complex, far-reaching effects on American society . . .  Planning the Home Front is a valuable addition to current scholarly literature on wartime defense industry towns and the relations between different levels of government, business and labor interests, and various community groups.”

Michigan War Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations


1 The Bomber Plant
2 The Local Response to Sudden Industrialization
3 Housing for Defense
4 The Battle for Bomber City
5 What’s Wrong with Willow Run?
6 Building Bombers
7 Building Communities
8 A Bomber an Hour
9 Confronting Race


Archival Sources and Collection Abbreviations


Society for American City & Regional Planning History: Lewis Mumford Prize
Honorable Mention

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