Before Lockheed, There
Was The Bell Bomber Plant
Before there was Lockheed, there was Bell Bomber. Years ago,
James Carmichael, the plant’s first general manager, gave an
account to Marietta historian B.C. Yates on how the the military
plant came to our area.
(Edited here for publication):
When World War II began, war industries began to spring up
across the land, some even in the South despite the lack of skilled
labor in the region.
At the time, Cobb County was farmland with limited income
and no major industry, an important source to any community if it
was to have a better standard of living. Larger tax funds from
industry would mean better health facilities, roads and utilities,
Cobb Commissioner George H. McMillan, Marietta Mayor Rip
Blair and State Representative James Carmichael, alert to growing
wartime needs, constructed a local airport, hoping it would be a
factor in attracting favorable attention to the area. When the field
was completed and paved, it was named in honor of Captain
Edward Rickenbacher, the famous World War I aviator.
The field did catch the attention they wanted when Lawrence
Bell visited the region, looking for a site to build an aircraft
assembly plant. He came to Marietta and ordered a land and labor
survey. The results interested him.
But there were problems, of course. Bell pointed out the need for
better roads, larger water supply and houses for the workers. He
was assured those needs could be met. It looked like the plant was
a done deal.
Then came a bombshell. The Naval Air Station in Chamblee said
it would commandeer Marietta’s Rickenbacher Field for use in
flight training. Because of that, the Army withdrew its support of a
plant in Marietta in order to avoid
conflict with the Navy.
Cobb County officials were thunderstruck. Once what seemed a
sure thing was gone, at a moment's notice. Disappointed and
downcast, they asked the Army to defer its final decision for a day,
which was granted.
Local citizens, through some influential people, quickly
contacted the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox , and asked him
to move the flight training elsewhere. He agreed.
The Army recommitted and worked out an agreement with the
Bell Aircraft Corporation. Cobb was about to make a big change.
Newspaper headlines on January 23, 1942, read: "Cobb County
Gets Big Bomber Plant!." The new plant would employ 40,000
people in a county that only had 35,000 citizens at the time.
To man the plant, many had to be recruited outside of county.
Small homes for the influx of workers would be built near Clay
Street (now the South Loop).
In May, 1942, ground was broken for the Bell plant.
Commissioner McMillan, Mayor Blair and State Representative
Jimmy Carmichael were among the first to turn the first blade of
With that, progress finally came to Cobb, in a very big way.
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