Book Review: Bullets by the Billion

Bullets by the Billion is a short book (77 small pages of large print) written by one Wesley Stout and published by the Chrysler Corporation on 1946. It was a company project to commemorate the feat of ammunition production performed by Chrysler during World War II. And an impressive feat it was – between June 1942 and April 1944 the plant at Evansville Indiana manufactured (with no rejected lots) more than 3 billion .45ACP cartridges. This was done by a management and labor team with no prior ammunition manufacturing experience, and with a mid-production switch from brass to steel cases. Each cartridge involved 48 separate manufacturing operations, and was subject to 334 different types of inspection.

To put this in perspective, the plant ran for approximately 660 days, which equates to an average production of 5 million cartridges per day, including the time spent tooling up the factory. In addition, they plant also set up production lines to produce .30 Carbine ammunition (although “only” half a billions rounds of that were made) and to make .45 ACP tracers. At its height, daily production reached 12.5 million cartridges. What does that even look like? Well, here’s an inspector checking on part of one day’s production (at 1800 rounds per case):

Inspector checking part of a day's .45ACP production from Evansville, early in WWII

The book is, of course, a bit self-congratulatory, as it was a project funded and published by Chrysler – but the pride in accomplishment is pretty well deserved. American industry was a major component in the ultimate Allied victory in WWII, and Chrysler’s Evansville plant is an excellent microcosm of that industry. A few pieces of data that stuck out:

  • In total, there were more than 6 miles of conveyor belts in the factory, including a single one stretching for 2.5 miles (it carried cases out to the explosives area and back)
  • Employees at the plant test-fired more than 850,000 rounds per month as part of the QC process
  • When asked to tool up for .30 Carbine production, the first case was pressed within a week, and the first complete cartridge fired within two weeks

The illustrations in Bullets by the Billion are a mixture of photographs from the plant and paintings depicting Evansville products being used in combat. The plant photos will definitely be appealing to folks interested in industrial technology, as they show both the banks of machine tools for various operations and the many elements of production that were done by  hand and eye. The centerpiece is also worth pointing out; a step by step illustration of the whole cartridge-making process:

Process of making a .45ACP cartridge, step by step
(click to enlarge)

The book is of course long out of print, but copies are actually inexpensive and fairly readily available on Amazon. The originals were hardcover, and it was reprinted at some point in paperback – and both versions can be had. This is not a reference book by any stretch, but it is a great firsthand account of the tireless production that stood behind US military forces in the 1940s.