Office of War Mobilization (OWM)


An executive “super agency” created in 1943 to more effectively coordinate America’s industrial and economic mobilization efforts during World War II.

On May 27, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the Office of War Mobilization (OWM). Roosevelt took this action because many of the federal agencies that had been created to prepare America’s resources for war were frequently at odds with each other and plagued by waste, inefficiency, and political self-interest. Realizing that he needed to reorganize America’s entire mobilization effort into one strong agency, the president gave the OWM and its director, James F. Byrnes, considerable authority over America’s wartime economy, so much so that people routinely called Byrnes the “assistant president.”

However, unlike the directors of past mobilization agencies, Byrnes, who had served as a senator from South Carolina and Supreme Court justice before becoming director of the OWM, had extraordinary political and administrative skills. These skills allowed Byrnes to work with other agencies and played a large part in the success of the OWM. Byrnes ensured that the OWM did not encroach on the jurisdiction of other agencies or become too involved in the small details of wartime production and procurement. Instead he chose to set larger national goals and coordinate the activities of his subordinate agencies via the larger and stronger OWM.

Primarily because of the efforts of the OWM, American wartime production rose steadily after mid-1943, so that by 1944 the United States was producing 60 percent of all Allied munitions and 40 percent of the world’s arms. The OWM formally ended in October 1944 when Congress converted it into the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion (OWMR). Unlike the OWM, which helped mobilize America’s resources for war, the OWMR was responsible for returning the United States to a peacetime economy.

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