Second World War: Woman Draftsman at Emerson Electric

Woman draftsman at Emerson Electric in Missouri recalls designing electric turrets for bombers and fighter planes during the second World War.

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The nearest I ever came to becoming a movie star - my one fleeting brush with fame - was during the second World War. I was married by then, but Uncle Sam said to Bob, "I want you!" So, it was the Army Air Force for him: aircraft schools all over the United States and then off to the island of Saipan. 

A year before Bob went overseas, 1 had answered an Emerson Electric want ad for training women to be draftsmen. 1 was trained at Hadley Technical School and began working in the West Florissant, Missouri, office of the Emerson Electric Turret Plant.

Being a woman draftsman was a far cry from the movie world, but the pay was much more than teacher's pay, and the work was almost as interesting. At least 1 felt that I was doing my bit for the country. The office itself was larger than any room 1 had ever seen in my life, and it was completely filled with draftsmen and engineers.

For those who are too young to know about turrets, they are gunner's enclosures on all fighter planes, which protected the breech portion of the gun. The breech is the part of the firearm at the rear of the bore. The bore is the interior tube of the gun. Some turrets were stationary, and some revolved.

The men with whom 1 worked were. constantly designing and perfecting more types of turrets for warfare on Navy aircraft carriers and tanks. The ones the Emerson Plant turned out were turrets for bombers and fighter planes of all kinds.

One day I was working away at my drafting table when a little man with thick lenses surprised me. He said, "Mrs. Moffitt, how would you like to be in a movie?" I couldn't believe what I had heard; I couldn't speak. He said, "I mean it. We have picked you out of all the Emerson women to show off our turret designs. Will you come with me?"

In a daze I followed him to his photo lab. He gave me a jump-suit like the factory women had to wear every day. It fit perfectly, and when I came out he said, "Now, you look like an Emerson Electric worker."

It was my first time in the factory. The noise was overwhelming and I thought how great it was that I worked in a quiet office. It was very interesting to see the turrets come to life from drawings in which I had had a small part.

The photographer took me through the factory to a room with the finished product, their newest turrets. He filmed me at all angles with those monstrous things, and every time I smiled he barked, "Don't smile! This is serious business."

Other than the fact that I couldn't smile, the lights were hot, and my co-workers were teasing me about being a star, it was all great fun. But mainly, it was something exciting to write about to my husband.

I was always mystified about why a woman should be able to point out the parts and workings of a turret, but I never questioned the bosses, even when Stuart Symington, who was president of Emerson Electric at that time, told me the film was to be shown all over the world to every Allied airplane factory that planned to strengthen their country's defense.

Nelle Moffitt Allen
Redford, Missouri

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.