Spotlight: Anderson Plant Lighted the Way For GIs
For nearly 80 years, the General Motors Guide Lamp Division in Anderson, Indiana was a bustling metropolis, employing more than 6,000 at its peacetime peak. The 155-acre manufacturing site -- located on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard – was home to multiple plants, the largest at 3 million square feet.
(RACER is selling two of the plant properties. Click here for details on the Delphi I Plant land, and click here for details on the Venture 2000 Industrial Park.)
Guide was responsible for the design of the interior and exterior lights for GM vehicles, and the employees were proud to be master builders of lamps.
Early in 1940, two officers from the Cincinnati Ordnance visited the site and invited the Guide Lamp Division to become part of the “arsenal of democracy” in support of the American effort of what would become World War II.
The employees put their lighting expertise to work. They designed blackout lamps for front and rear installation on a wide range of military vehicles. They designed and built tank dome lamps, special spotlights, signal lights, and lamps that could function when fully immersed in water. The Guide employees knew the science of lamp design and construction, and the military needed lamps that would guide convoys at night -- without shedding a misdirected beam that could be seen by the enemy.
“There is no doubt that lamps have played nothing less than a major role in the war,” said a booklet that GM published about Guide’s wartime effort.
By June 1, 1944 – when the booklet was prepared – the plant had shipped approximately 6.5 million articles of lighting equipment for the war effort: Headlamps; tail-lamps; dome-lamps; blackout lamps; and signal lamps.
But the plant’s wartime focus moved well beyond lamps. By that same date, they were producing approximately 1,000 complete M-3 submachine guns every 24 hours. In addition, they had shipped:
- approximately 2.6 million Simsonite reflector units;
- enough spinner-noses and adaptors to outfit 18,000 P-39 Airacobra fighting planes;
- about 900,000 water-jacket sleeves for Allison aircraft engines;
- more than 23 million cartridge cases in five different sizes, and
- about 1.1 million barrels for Browning machine guns: the Guide Lamp plant was believed to be the biggest producer of barrels for the Browning heavy gun.
The workers had to re-tool their manufacturing operations to produce these new items, revamping the layout and changing the machines. The workforce grew from the pre-war level of 2,200 to more than 5,000. Women joined the assembly lines, eventually reaching one-third of the total workforce. There was a renewed focus on safety: “Many of our people were new to any sort of machinery,” the booklet states, “and few of us had any experience with equipment of such tremendous power as that required for war.”
The entire Guide Lamp workforce in Anderson participated in a payroll deduction program, investing more than $3 million in war bonds by mid-1944. Many saved their money by joining “share-the-ride” clubs and taking public transportation. Twice, the Guide workers were recognized with a coveted home-front citation: The Army-Navy “E” pennant for excellence in production of war equipment.
After the war, Guide designed and manufactured all exterior and interior lighting for GM cars and trucks. Because the lamp trimming and bezzels were chrome, Guide became the largest chrome platting operation in the world, reaching its peak employment in the 1970s. Its name changed over time, to Fisher Guide, Delphi Interior Lighting, and back to Guide.
The manufacturing complex was fully demolished by 2009. Now known as two sites -- the Delphi I Plant and Venture 2000 Industrial Park – they await the next chapter in their history.
Note: Quotes, historical information and imagery were taken from “Guide’s Page in the History of American Industry at War,” which was published in 1944 by The General Motors Guide Lamp Division.