Special Report

These Companies Built World War II’s Iconic Planes, Guns, Tanks, and Ships

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The United States emerged as an industrial powerhouse from World War II after supplying its own military and its allies with a wide array of weapons and equipment. Among the many manufacturers contributing to the war effort, several stood out as the most important, helping to shape the outcome of the war. 

To identify the most notable American weapons manufacturers of World War II, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of historical and military sources, including Military Factory. We ordered the manufacturers alphabetically and included supplemental information regarding notable weapons, aircraft, or vehicles each produced.

Boeing, primarily known for its aircraft, played an important role in WWII. The B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress bombers, both produced by Boeing, became iconic symbols of American air power. These aircraft delivered devastating blows to Axis forces, with the B-29s dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. Aside from bombers, Boeing also manufactured fighter planes, reconnaissance aircraft, and transport planes. (These are the 20 fastest planes that flew in World War II.)

To aid in the war effort, General Motors pivoted its vast automotive production capacity to meet the demands of the U.S. military. The company’s plants churned out a wide range of military vehicles, from trucks to tanks. The most famous of these was the Sherman tank, which became the backbone of the Allied armored forces. GM’s expertise in mass production greatly contributed to the rapid mobilization of U.S. forces, providing essential support to the war effort on multiple fronts. 

Another prominent American company of the era was the Colt Firearms Company, which in WWII produced a variety of firearms for the U.S. military. One of its most notable firearms was the M2 Browning machine gun that was used by American troops and Allied forces throughout the conflict. Colt is also known for its iconic pistols like the M1911A among others. (Here are the classic long range sniper rifles of World War II.)

Here is a look at notable American weapons manufacturers of the World War II era:

American Locomotive Company
> Notable weapons: M7 Priest, M4 Sherman Tank

American Locomotive Company produced thousands of tanks in WWII. Perhaps the most notable were the M4 Sherman Tank and the M7 Priest. The company produced a number of other weapons as well, like self-propelled howitzers or anti-aircraft guns.

Beech Aircraft Corporation
> Notable weapons: Beech AT-10 Wichita, Beech C-45 Expeditor

Beech Aircraft Corporation is known for its AT-10 Wichita, which trained thousands of pilots for World War II. The company was founded in 1932 in Wichita, Kansas, but it has since been acquired by Textron Aviation. Beechcraft continues to produce aircraft used in both civilian and military applications.

Bell Aircraft Corporation
> Notable weapons: Bell P-39 Airacobra, Bell P-59 Airacomet, Bell P-63 King Cobra

Bell is an American aircraft manufacturer, known today primarily for its helicopters. However, during its early years in the 1930s, Bell was known for its fighter aircraft like the P-63 Kingcobra or the P-59 Airacomet. This company was bought out by Textron aviation in the 1960s.

Boeing Company
> Notable weapons: B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress

Boeing is one of the most famous companies on this list and one that is still in operation today. The B-29 Superfortress gained notoriety as the aircraft that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. Boeing has also been producing commercial aircraft outside of its military contracts.

 

Brewster Aeronautical Corporation
> Notable weapons: Brewster F2A (Buffalo), Brewster SB2A Buccaneer

Brewster Aeronautical Corporation was originally a carriage builder but pivoted to aviation in the years following World War I. Its aircraft had a significant impact during WWII, namely its F2A Buffalo and the SB2A Buccaneer. However, despite producing these iconic planes, the company would later go defunct in the years after the war.

Colt Firearms
> Notable weapons: Colt M1911 Pistol, Browning M1917, Colt Browning M1895 (Potato Digger)

Firearms manufacturer Colt was responsible for several of the most iconic American firearms in World War II. The most recognizable, and lasting, of these is the Colt M1911 Pistol. The .45 caliber sidearm was developed to replace the U.S. Army’s standard issue Colt .38 revolver. By the end of WWII, more than 2.5 million 1911s had been manufactured. The gun was so popular that the U.S. military continued to use it and its variants through 2023.

 

Consolidated Aircraft
> Notable weapons: B-24 Liberator, B-32 Dominator, PB2Y Coronado

Founded in Buffalo, New York, Consolidated Aircraft is known for producing one of the most iconic aircraft of the World War II era. The B-24 Liberator saw widespread use in the European Theater as over 18,000 were produced in total, even if the plane only entered service in 1941. Consolidated Aircraft would later merge with Vultee Aircraft in 1943.

Cranston Arms
> Notable weapons: Johnson Model 1941 LMG, Johnson Model 1941 Rifle

Cranston Arms is primarily known for its shotguns, specifically the Johnson Model 41, but it also produced light machine guns as well. Over the course of the war, Cranston produced tens of thousands of these weapons, although the reviews among American soldiers were not necessarily positive.

Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company
> Notable weapons: SB2C Helldiver, SC Seahawk, C-46 Commando

The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company produced a number of aircraft, including the SB2C Helldiver used on aircraft carriers across the Pacific Theater. Reportedly, the Helldiver sank more ship tonnage than any other aircraft in World War II. Curtiss would later go on to merge with the Wright brothers’ company to form Curtiss-Wright.

 

Detroit Tank Arsenal
> Notable weapons: M26 Pershing Tank, M4 Sherman Tank

The Detroit Tank Arsenal was the first ever plant built for the mass production of tanks. Founded in 1940 by Chrysler, the company would go on to produce Sherman and Pershing tanks that would march across Europe and help secure the Allied victory.

Douglas Aircraft
> Notable weapons: A-20 Havoc / Boston, A-26 / B-26 Invader, C-47 Skytrain / Dakota

Founded in the wake of WWI, Douglas Aircraft would go on to design and produce some of the most iconic aircraft of World War II. The A-26 Invader and the A-20 Havoc made names for themselves as bomber aircraft throughout the conflict. Douglas would later go on to merge with Boeing in 1997.

 

Fisher Tank Arsenal
> Notable weapons: M10 Wolverine, M4 Sherman Tank, M26 Pershing Tank

Fisher Tank Arsenal opened in 1942 in Michigan, and over the course of World War II it was responsible for producing over 12,000 tanks. Specifically, Fisher was responsible for the Sherman and Pershing tanks. In the Cold War era, Fisher transitioned to producing the M48 Patton tanks.

Ford Motor Company
> Notable weapons: M10-A1 Tank Destroyer, Ford GP/GPW

Ford Motor Company is one of several companies that turned their factories from civilian automobile production to tanks and other vehicles production during the war. In total, Ford estimates that it produced about 278,000 vehicles, including tanks, armored cars, and reconnaissance vehicles.

General Motors Company
> Notable weapons: M3 (Grease Gun), M18 Hellcat, M19 Air Defense Vehicle

General Motors started producing military land vehicles in 1940, shifting the focus of many of its factories to trucks, tanks, powertrains, and ammunition manufacturing. GM delivered hundreds of thousands of artillery and vehicles for the military, totaling more than $12.3 billion. Some of its most iconic weapons included the M18 Hellcat and the M19 Air Defense Vehicle.

 

Glenn L. Martin Company
> Notable weapons: Martin AM Mauler, Martin B-26 Marauder, Martin Baltimore

Glenn L. Martin Company was renowned for producing a handful of bomber aircraft like the B-26 Marauder and A-22 Maryland. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the company eventually became part of what is now Lockheed Martin.

Grumman
> Notable weapons: Grumman TBF Avenger, Grumman F4F Wildcat, Grumman F6F Hellcat

Grumman was a large producer of aircraft in World War II. One of the most iconic was the F4F Wildcat that served on the decks of American aircraft carriers. The F4F Wildcat was originally conceived as a biplane, but Grumman went in a different direction. Over 7,500 of these aircraft were produced in total. Grumman merged with Northrop decades later to become Northrop Grumman.

Lockheed Aircraft
> Notable weapons: Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star

Lockheed produced one of the most famous aircraft to take flight in World War II, the P-38 Lightning. It was considered the most innovative plane of its day, adding incredible speed to four 50-caliber machine guns and a 20mm cannon. Today, Lockheed Martin’s newest jet, the F-35 Lightning II, draws its name from the original P-38 in World War II.

North American Aviation
> Notable weapons: North American P-51 Mustang, North American T-6 Texan, North American B-25 Mitchell

North American Aviation produced perhaps some of the most iconic aircraft of World War II. The P-51 Mustang and T-6 Texan were notorious for their exploits on the battlefield. Like many other aviation companies, North American went through a series of mergers and acquisitions to ultimately find itself as part of Boeing.

Northrop
> Notable weapons: Northrop N-3PB Nomad, Northrop P-61 Black Widow

Northrop started producing aircraft in 1939, but these aircraft would go on to have a big impact on the war. Over the course of World War II, Northrop built roughly 700 P-61s, also known as the Black Widow, which was equipped with four 50-caliber machine guns, four 20mm cannons, and could carry up to 6,400 lbs. of bombs. Northrop merged with Grumman decades later to become Northrop Grumman.

 

Remington Arms
> Notable weapons: Remington Model 10 Shotgun, M1903A3

Remington Arms was founded early in American history. Renowned for its rifles and shotguns, Remington supplied Allied troops in World War II with M1903s and Model 10. The company has since been broken up, but many arms today still bear its name.

Republic Aviation
> Notable weapons: Republic P-43 Lancer, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

Although it was founded years before, Republic Aviation was reorganized in 1939 and produced a series of military aircraft. The P-47 Thunderbolt was first delivered to the U.S. Army in June 1942, designed as an escort for the B-29. The P-47 would become the most-produced aircraft of the war with 15,660 total being built.

 

Rock Island Arsenal
> Notable weapons: M101 Towed 105mm Medium Howitzer, M1 Light Tank, M2 Light Tank

Rock Island Arsenal finds its roots in the Civil War era, and the company has since focused on artillery-type weapons. One of the company’s most famous productions was the M1 Light Tank, although the Pershing and Sherman tanks were later used more broadly than the M1 Light Tank.

Savage Arms Corporation
> Notable weapons: M1 Thompson (Tommy Gun), Savage Arms M720 Shotgun

Savage Arms, founded in the late 1800s, primarily manufactures rifles and shotguns. Perhaps its most iconic is the Tommy Gun. Even though it gained fame from being depicted in gangster films, it played an important role on the battlefield with its continuous fire.

Sikorsky
> Notable weapons: Sikorsky R-4, Sikorsky S-43

Sikorsky, known for its helicopters, is now owned entirely by Lockheed Martin. The Sikorsky R-4 utility helicopter was introduced in 1942 and became the first widely-produced helicopter in aviation history. Just over 130 units of this first generation helicopter were produced.

 

Smith & Wesson
> Notable weapons: S&W Model 10 Revolver, S&W Model 27

Smith & Wesson gained notoriety through its series of pistols, specifically its revolvers, throughout the 1800s. Some of its revolvers, such as the Model 10 or Model 27, were standard issue for American soldiers. S&W is still considered one of the most iconic gunsmiths to this day.

Springfield Armory
> Notable weapons: M1 Garand, Springfield M1903 Sniper Rifle

Springfield Armory has been a staple of American arms since the revolutionary era, and it has produced a bevy of guns since then. One of the most notable guns that saw action during World War II was the M1 Garand, which General Patton famously proclaimed one of the greatest battle implements ever.

 

Stinson
> Notable weapons: Stinson L-1 Vigilant, Stinson L-5 Sentinel, Stinson Reliant

Stinson, founded in 1920, primarily focused on aircraft production in Detroit. It is most well known for its production of the L-5 Sentinel, which was a light reconnaissance and observation aircraft. This aircraft served in World War II up through the Korean War. Stinson produced nearly 4,000 of the L-5s in total.

Vought
> Notable weapons: Vought F4U Corsair, Vought OS2U Kingfisher, Vought SB2U Vindicator

Vought’s F4U Corsair fighter aircraft first entered combat in 1943 despite development beginning as early as 1938. The company would go on to produce thousands of aircraft over the course of the war. Vought specialized in carrier-based aircraft for the U.S. Navy.

Vultee Aircraft
> Notable weapons: Vultee P-66 Vanguard, Vultee A-35 Vengeance, Vultee BT-13 Valiant

Vultee Aircraft produced a series of iconic dive bombers known as the A-35 Vengeance. Nearly 2,000 of these dive bombers were produced, despite having only entered the service in 1941. Vultee would merge with Consolidated Aircraft in 1943, forming the new company Convair.

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Winchester Repeating Arms
> Notable weapons: M1 Carbine, M1917 Enfield, Winchester Model 1912 Shotgun

Winchester Repeating Arms is an American gunsmith that found prominence in the old West with its lever action rifles. While these guns were popular, the company gained notoriety with its M1 Carbine which was standard issue for soldiers in World War II.

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