“Universal” means “of, affecting, or done by all people or things in the world or in a particular group; applicable to all cases.”
If you’ve ever been a part of an organization, a council, board of directors, or a team, you probably know how difficult it is to get everyone on the same page. People have different ideas and strategies of how to approach a problem. There is rarely a “universal” solution.
That wasn’t the case with Frankenmuth's aptly named Universal Engineering during World War II. Everyone — and I mean everyone — bought in to support the war effort.
Originally a manufacturer of standard bushings, Universal made bullets, cartridges, and various other materials for the war effort. The company itself provided critical materials for the war effort. Each and every employee also contributed in his or her own way.
100% of employees bought war bonds and stamps. They also voluntarily contributed over 20% of their paychecks for an uninterrupted 32 months. On July 25, 1942, Universal employees were praised as the first company in the United States to be awarded the U.S. Treasury bulls-eye flag for voluntary pay deductions.
In October of 1942, another patriotic campaign was launched. Together, over 550 employees pledged $50,000 for the purchase of a fighter plane for the U.S. Army Air Force. In just five months, the project was complete, and Universal presented a P-51 Mustang to the Air Force. It was christened “The Spirit of Universal” at the Saginaw airport.
Major James J. England, an Air Force pilot, flew “The Spirit of Universal” during the war. Following U.S. Army Air Force pilot’s custom, he christened the plane “Jackie” in honor of his wife. “Jackie” shot down eight Japanese planes from 1943-1944. In one mission, it was hit by 38 bullets and was deemed unflyable in February of 1945. Usable parts were taken off and used on other planes, while the metal plate with eight painted Japanese Flags now rests in our museum.
Employees gave their time as well as their money. While absenteeism ran as high as 20% during the war at many factories, it was a mere 2% at Universal. Employees also donated blood, purchased over $1,000,000 in war bonds, and 119 men served in the military, the highest percentage of any manufacturer in the country.
Universal’s employees lived up to the company’s name in their contributions to the war effort. While some gave all overseas, all gave some at home.
Nathan is the Director of Education, Events, & Exhibits at the FHA.
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