In the beginning…

When Plant Engineering magazine was introduced in November 1947, the United States was transitioning from World War II and the Cold War. The United States emerged from World War II to face a political and military scene changed forever by that conflict. In 1947, the Soviet Union was becoming an actively hostile and dangerous opponent.
By Lindsay Saran January 1, 2007

When Plant Engineering magazine was introduced in November 1947, the United States was transitioning from World War II and the Cold War. The United States emerged from World War II to face a political and military scene changed forever by that conflict. In 1947, the Soviet Union was becoming an actively hostile and dangerous opponent. In order to combat the Soviets, President Harry S. Truman wanted to create the structures that guaranteed America’s national security as well as lasting world peace.

Investments in the war effort led to a sizeable and significant contribution to growth in manufacturing from 1947 to 1972. The U.S. aviation industry was the largest manufacturing industry in the world in that era. The need for better aircraft for the military and more modern aircraft for the commercial airlines included new airports, the training of mechanics and technicians and the development, production and storage of fuel.

While America’s growth in manufacturing soared, the rest of the industrialized world sat in postwar wreckage. Europe and Japan were physically and economically shattered by the war, which gave U.S. manufacturers a virtual monopoly in international trade. The U.S. economy escalated. The GNP grew an astounding 250% between 1945 and 1960. Personal income began to grow, and, as a result, reached a record high rate of 3.9% in 1960. Consequently, life became easier after the war; the grinding workweek was no longer a necessity. Instead, workers had spare time and greater purchasing power, which further stimulated the economy. Automation helped worker productivity rise by 35% between 1945 and 1960. Peacetime production had to meet the growing demand for consumer goods that was fueled by wartime incomes, so after the war, American industrialists put $10 billion a year into new plants and machinery.

Automobile manufacturing increased to meet demand, and provided jobs and a surge in the postwar economy. During World War II, large automobile manufacturing firms produced the majority of aircraft engines and propellers, but the automakers rapidly left the aircraft industry at the war’s end, and their factories were converted to automobile manufacturing and other civilian purposes. The petroleum industry also made a decisive contribution to expanding the industrial world.

Plant Engineering magazine emerged because of the growth in generation and utilization of power. In the magazine’s first issue, the publishers stated, “Plant Engineering will be developed to the needs and interests of those men who are responsible for the general operation and maintenance of the entire plant. It will concern itself with such matters as steam distribution throughout the plant, with plumbing, heating and drinking water systems.”

The editors and publishers also recognized that, “WWII did more to advance the art of maintenance than any other event in the history of our country,” so one of their main focuses was maintenance. “Maintenance Hints,” along with “New Equipment and Methods,” “Digest,” “Question and Answer” and “Plant Engineer’s Library” were the features in its early years. These focused on description of new commercial products, abstracts of articles in other publications, readers’ problems and book reviews.

Many of the key topics in 1947 were different than the ones in 2007. Topics like safety, estimating and reducing costs are still a focus, modern washrooms are not. The keyword 60 years ago was modern, and the idea of using color was a modern one. In the first editions of Plant Engineering , color was used sparingly and the cover was the only page to fully use the beyond black-and-white appearance.

From Plant Engineering ‘s first issue in 1947 through today, the publishers and editors have strived to stay on top of emerging issues. In 1947, it was the impact of the Marshall Plan. Today, it is the evolution of wireless monitoring.

The global economy that was devastated in 1947 has caught, and in some places passed, the U.S. Breaking the sound barrier in 1947 was considered revolutionary; today, manufacturing changes at the speed of light.

That change, as we will see in the coming months, has been chronicled in Plant Engineering , which has kept readers informed about how to run a better plant for 60 years.