Josie the Riveter

Josie the Riveter
Pictured above: Josephine Rachiele holding the poster created in 2018 with her own image replacing the original, and on the right, her Republic Aviation ID badge.
Artist J. Howard Miller’s poster created in 1942 came to represent all “Rosie the Riveters.”

I met Josie the Riveter on 29 June 2018, at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, N.Y., where she was being honored for her service at Republic Aviation during World War II. Josie (Josephine Rachiele) was twenty years old in 1943 when she joined Republic as a riveter on its famous P-47 fighter plane production line.

In the 1920s and 1930s almost all factory jobs involving machinery such as lathes and power welders had been the strict domain of men. Women workers predominated in shops fabricating clothing as well as in secretarial and clerical jobs. They were notably absent from the United States aircraft industry; prior to World War II they were believed to contribute about one percent of its total employment. In 1943, two years following active entry of the United States into the war, some 300,000 women worked in the aircraft industry, representing about 60 percent of its total workforce. Most, like Josephine Rachiele, had been encouraged to do so because men were in short supply, large numbers of them having enlisted or been drafted into the armed services.

Soon the women employed became known as “Rosie the Riveter.” Some had actually assumed riveter jobs, but others operated similar production equipment, or worked in production-support jobs.

The arrival of “Rosie”

The fictitious Rosie the Riveter is believed to have been introduced through a song composed in 1942 and popularized by the Vagabonds in 1943. Rosie was described in verse as “All day long, whether rain or shine / She’s part of the assembly line / She’s making history, working for victory.”

In May 1943 the Saturday Evening Post published a cover of Rosie created by Norman Rockwell. Her feet were resting on a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Mary Doyle (Keefe), who had posed for the photo used by Rockwell to produce the cover, was paid $10. (In 2002, the original Rockwell painting sold at Sotheby’s for close to $5 million.)

In 1942 artist J. Howard Miller had created a portrait for Westinghouse with the headline “We Can Do It.” Although its glamorous depiction of a bandana-wearing production worker was unnamed, over time it has become the principal image associated with Rosie the Riveter. The photo is believed to be that of Naomi Parker, a war worker at Alameda Naval Air Station. (Although I was briefly stationed at Alameda NAS during the war, my shipmates and I were not then aware of Parker’s role.)

Finally meeting Rosie (or Josie)

My first meeting with Josephine Rachiele had taken place some 75 years following creation of the famous “We Can Do It” poster. At the American Airpower Museum, Josie was presented with an updated poster with the title “We Did It!” In it her photo replaced that of Ms. Parker.

Josie readily describes her work at Republic Aviation. In an article published in Newsday she recalled how her hands would vibrate as she used a rivet gun to shoot a rivet through the hole on part of the P-47 fighter plane. Her partner would back the rivet-stand with a steel bar wedged against the part.

The P-47 was a 13,500-pound fighter plane manned by just one pilot, who controlled eight machine guns and a single 500-pound bomb. P-47s were flown as cover for B-17 bombers over Germany. In all, more than 15,600 were built, some 9000 at Republic Aviation.

Josie’s work consisted of five 10-hour days, plus eight hours on Saturday. She was paid 60 cents an hour—by war’s end it had been increased to 90 cents. She then gave up her job to a returning veteran, but rejoined Republic a year and a half later. Josie’s total time with Republic was more than 40 years.

She also served as treasurer of the Long Island-Republic Aviation Historical Society and was named vice president of the P-47 Alumni Association.

Josie (or Rosie—she is pleased to answer to either) is a fine representative of the Rosie the Riveter family. She and her compatriots played an important role in helping women become a significant part of today’s technical and engineering professions.

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Donald Christiansen is the former editor and publisher of IEEE Spectrum and an independent publishing consultant. He is a Fellow of the IEEE. He can be reached at donchristiansen@ieee.org.

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