On December 29, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered one of his most famous Fireside Chats. His topic, however, was a somber one for the holidays. “Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now,” the president said.
World War II was underway, and Germany with its Axis allies had overrun much of Europe and Asia. Roosevelt’s speech reflected America’s approach to entry into that war. If Great Britain fell, FDR predicted, Americans “would be living at the point of a gun.” (That very night, German bombs fell on London.)
FDR explained that America had no choice but to use its industrial strength to help arm the nations battling the Axis powers. The president’s words, “we must be the great arsenal of democracy,” came to specifically reference America as the primary military supplier for the Allied war effort.
In the following months, American factories began producing planes, tanks, guns, and ships at a rapid rate. British journalist Alistair Cooke wrote, “The Allies would not have won the war… without the way the American people, with amazing speed, created an arsenal no coalition of nations could come close to matching.”