See 50 real-life Rosie the Riveters & other women war workers from WWII

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Rosie the Riveters and other women war workers from WWII

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

“Rosie the Riveter” was the woman on the iconic “We can do it!” posters from WWII.

With so many men in the military for the war effort, women at home were called into service to help build everything the troops needed — and Rosie’s job was to encourage women to join the workforce.

Here are pictures of a few real-life Rosies — women who worked on the Flying Fortress B-17Fs, B-24 bombers, C-87 transports, and the A-31 (“Vengeance”) dive bomber aircraft, among others.

You can see these ladies from the forties painting, repairing, wiring, reaming, bolting and — yes — even riveting these planes to get them ready for service.

Most photos by Howard Hollem, and were originally published by the US Office of War Information.


The original Rosie the Riveter 'We can do it' poster from WWII

The Days of Rosie the Riveter

From Chula Vista Star News (Chula Vista, California) August 19, 1965

Quotas set, passed as workers dedicated themselves to victory

President Roosevelt’s demand in 1940 for a 10-fold increase in the production of military airplanes per year — up to 60,000 — seemed unrealistic.

The number had already gone from 437 to 6,028 between 1934 and 1940.

Airplanes had not yet been assembly line produced, and the need for manpower seemed impossible of fulfillment.

But under war pressures, the industry exceeded the President’s figure. In 1941, it produced 19,445 military aircraft, in 1942, 47,675, in 1943, 85,433, and 1944, 95,272. Bombers, fighters, reconnaissance planes and transports rolled off assembly lines.

Boeing B-17E
Boeing B-17E. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The people who manned the factories came from everywhere; farms, shops, stores, offices. They caught on quickly and became drop hammer operators, assemblers, dispatchers, and, tool makers. They filled the highways from the rural middle-west, traveling in any type of conveyance they could find.

The supply of men ran out as millions entered the armed services.

MORE: See dozens of vintage US Army & Navy shoulder insignia, plus WWII military medals & ribbons

Women entered the plants and learned to sink rivets and assemble small parts. Rosie the Riveter became a collective name for the industry’s heroines, and with each rivet they drove went a prayer for the safety of a loved one who might pilot the planes, or serve the nation on land or sea.

Production was the single objective of plant managers and workers alike. Quotas were set and passed.

3 women drilling a wing bulkhead for a transport plane - Rosie the Riveters

With war’s end, production dropped toward the vanishing point. In 1946, one year later, only 1,417 military airplanes were turned out. Workers were laid off, plant sections closed, and only two companies in the industry — including Rohr — showed a profit.

Increased orders for civilian aircraft, to replace units which had become obsolete and worn-out, enabled the major companies to retain a core of their best employees.

Progress in the development of civilian aircraft was rapid. New designs, new metals, new manufacturing technology combined to change the type of qualifications sought in recruiting employees. The number of unskilled jobs declined, and continues at a declining ratio to the total.

A steady search for talented personnel now marks the recruiting efforts of Rohr’s industrial relations teams. It no longer is enough that a man can handle drill gun or drop hammer; he must have some knowledge of material stresses, creep, metal fatigue, and oven temperatures required for hot-forming parts.

WWII airplane builder Rita Rodriguey at work

The young man with only a desire to work, but no special training, cannot hope to go far in the aerospace industry. And once on the job, he must keep abreast of new methods and materials.

Rohr and other companies in the industry offer training opportunities for employees. To the extent that the employee masters new material and skills, to that extent may he advance.

Many of these skills were undreamed of 20 or 25 years ago, but are commonplace requirements in the aircraft and aerospace industry today. College or trade school training is a must in many areas, and the worker’s knowledge must be up to date.

As an example, the spot-welded of today must have a good working knowledge of materials and processes. The laboratory technician must know the use of cobalt as an inspection tool.

The days of Rosie the Riveter and the boy with no training are gone, but the opportunities for advancement and reward in the aerospace industry are increasing for the trained individual. But they are not here for the high school “drop-out” who doesn’t prepare himself.

The challenge of a progressing industry is for those who progress with it.

1940s woman working on a C-87 plane for WWII


1. Woman working on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc., plant in Calif.

Woman working on an airplane motor for a WWII fighter plane


2. Riveting the outside of a Vengeance dive bomber

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, a woman is working on a Vengeance dive bomber, Tennessee

Riveting the outside of a Vengeance dive bomber


3. Electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F

Production. B-17F heavy bomber. Electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F (Flying Fortress) bombers are made up on forming boards at the Boeing plant in Seattle.

Electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F


4. Landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane

A young woman employee of North American Aviation, Incorporated, working over the landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane, Inglewood, Calif. The mechanism resembles a small cannon.

Landing gear mechanism of a P-51 fighter plane


5. Installing oxygen racks above the plane’s flight deck

Production of B-24 bombers and C-87 transports, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas. Cabbie Coleman, former housewife, works at Western aircraft plant. Installing of oxygen racks above the flight deck.

Building WWII fighter planes in the 1940s - Installing oxygen racks


6. Hydraulic press at Boeing plant in Seattle (1940s)

Parts for new B-17F (Flying Fortress) bombers are formed in a huge hydraulic press at the Boeing plant in Seattle.

The Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber capable of flying at high altitudes, has performed with great credit in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere.

Hydraulic press at Boeing plant in Seattle (1940s)


7. Workers with machine screws for WWII Flying Fortress bombers

Machine screws to be used in building new B-17F (Flying Fortress) bombers in the Boeing plant in Seattle are attached to hangers that suspend them in the anodizing tank. In the tanks, they will receive a protective plating to prevent corrosion.

Workers with machine screws for WWII Flying Fortress bombers


8. Navy assembly and repair department riveter

Mrs. Virginia Davis, a real-life Rosie the Riveter in the assembly and repair department of the Naval air base, supervises Chas. Potter, a NYA trainee from Michigan, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Navy assembly and repair department riveter


9. WWII riveters building a B17-F plane

Women riveters at the Boeing plant in Seattle work at assembly and fitting operations in the fuselage of a new B-17F

WWII riveters building a B17-F plane


10.Texas woman learning to rivet for the 1940s war effort

Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic at the Naval Air Base, in the Assembly and Repair Department, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Texas woman learning to rivet for the 1940s war effort


11. Completing B-17F fuselage framework at Boeing in Seattle (1942)

A woman worker at the Boeing plant in Seattle helps to complete a fuselage framework for a new B-17F (Flying Fortress) bomber

ALSO SEE: How Glenn Miller got the world ‘In the Mood’ – and then disappeared forever during WWII

Completing B-17F fuselage framework at Boeing in Seattle (1942)


12. Two women repairing a WWII propeller plane engine

Bowen, a riveter, and Olsen, her supervisor, in the Assembly and Repair Dept. at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas (1942)

MORE: See how the world joyfully celebrated WWII’s V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) back in 1945

Two women repairing a WWII propeller plane engine


13. Building WWII planes – Painting the American insignia on wing

Painting the American insignia on airplane wings is a job that Mrs. Irma Lee McElroy, a former office worker, does with precision and patriotic zeal. Mrs. McElroy is a civil service employee at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is a flight instructor.

Building WWII planes - Painting the American insignia on wing


14.Real-life Rosie the Riveter-style team working on a B-17F

Woman riveting team working on a B-17F


15. She’s engaged – she’s lovely… she’s a riveter (1944)

ADORABLY PRETTY, adorably in earnest about her war job… Hilda Holder is another charming Pond’s engaged girl, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Holder of one of North Carolina’s first families…

“Dick enlisted two months before Pearl Harbor — I wanted to be doing something necessary, too,” Hilda says, “so I found my job helping to build planes.

“I get up at 4:00 A.M., and don’t get back home until 4:00 P.M. It seemed outlandish at first, but now I like it.

“I do have to watch out for my complexion, though. I give my face a good Pond’s creaming after work every day so I’m certain — sure there’s no greasy dirt clogging up my pores. Lots of the girls keep a big jar of Pond’s at the plant. I guess they love it the way I do.”

Hilda beauty cleans her face with Pond’s like this: She smooths Pond’s Cold Cream over her face and throat and pats briskly to soften and release dirt and make-up. Tissues off. She “rinses” with more Pond’s, swirling her white-coated fingers around in little spirals. Tissues off again.

Her face feels “perfectly lovely,” she says, “so extra clean, so nice to touch.”

Yes — it’s no accident engaged girls like Hilda, exquisite society leaders like Gloria Vanderbilt De Cicco, and Britain’s Lady Grenfell, delight in this soft-smooth cream.

Ask for a big, luxurious jar of Pond’s Cold Cream today. Use it every night, every morning — for day-time clean-ups, too!

MORE: Vintage ’40s beauty salon services: Hairstyles, manicures & more in 1942

EVERY GIRL WHO TAKES A WAR JOB is speeding the return of our men. All kinds of necessary jobs are waiting to be filled — in transportation, stores, war plants, restaurants. Chevk Help Wanted ads — then consult your local U. S. Employment Service.

HILDA’S EXQUISITE COMPLEXION has that appealing baby-clear look every girl wants. “Pond’s Cold Cream is the only beauty care I use,” she says. “I keep a big jar in my locker at the plant—and a big jar at home.”

ASK FOR A LUXURIOUS BIG JAR OF POND’S today! It’s more patriotic to buy large sizes, saves glass and man-power. (You may see different color “war caps” on Pond’s jars now — but Pond’s Cold Cream is the same lovely quality!)

HILDA’S RING — the diamond is set in a hand-wrought design on a slim gold band

Hilda Holder WWII Riveter - Pond's Engaged Girl (1944)I


16. Transport parts in hand mill

Mary Louise Stepan, 21, used to be a waitress. She has a brother in the air corps. She is working on transport parts in the hand mill, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Building WWII fighter planes in the 1940s - Transport parts in hand mill


17. Real-life Rosie the Riveters working on WWII Liberator Bomber (1940s)

Riveters at work on fuselage of Liberator Bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Riveters working on WWII Liberator Bomber (1940s)


18. Two women making electrical wiring assemblies

Electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F (Flying Fortress) bombers are made up on forming boards.

DON’T MISS: 100+ D-Day pictures: See WWII’s Operation Overlord in June 1944, plus get historical insight from 25 years later

Two women making electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F (1942)


19. Building WWII fighter planes: Reaming tools for transport on lathe machine

Beulah Faith, 20, used to be sales clerk in department store, reaming tools for transport on lathe machine, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Building WWII fighter planes in the 1940s - Reaming tools for transport on lathe machine


20. Drilling a wing bulkhead for a transport plane – WWII

Drilling a wing bulkhead for a transport plane - WWII


21. Working with electrical conductors

Worker applies identifying numbers to electrical conductor wires to be used in B-17F

Working with electrical conductors


22. Checking electrical wiring assemblies for a B-17F

ALSO SEE: How vintage actress Dorothy Lamour sold more than $300 million in war bonds during WWII

Checking electrical wiring assemblies for B-17F


23. Real-life Rosie the Riveter working on an A-20 bomber

An A-20 bomber being riveted by a woman worker at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant at Long Beach, Calif.

Riveting a A-20 bomber


24. Drilling holes in a plane part for WWII

Mary Miller, operator of a router at the Boeing plant in Seattle, drills holes in a part for a new B-17F

Drilling holes in a plane part for WWII


25. Trainee learning how to use a cutting machine

Mildred Webb, an NYA trainee at the base, is learning to operate a cutting machine in the Assembly and Repair Department.

MORE: See Camp Roberts, where more than 400,000 troops trained during WWII (1941-1945)

Trainee learnng how to use a cutting machine


26. Texas WWII mechanic-in-training

Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic in the Assembly and Repair Department at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas.

MORE: WWII VJ Day celebrations: Victory – and peace – at last after Japan surrenders (1945)

Texas WWII mechanic-in-training


27. Riveting a Consolidated bomber plane

Riveter at work on Consolidated bomber, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas

Riveting a Consolidated bomber plane


29. Working on a cowling (engine cover) on a plane

Lorena Craig is a cowler under civil service at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas

Working on a cowling (engine cover) on a plane


30. Placing metal parts on masonite at an aviation company during WWII

Metal parts are placed on masonite by this woman employee before they slide under the multi-ton hydropress, North American Aviation, Inc., Inglewood, Calif.

ALSO SEE: How they recruited for the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) during WWII

Placing metal parts on masonite at an aviation company during WWII


31. Completing sections of the B-17F plane

Women workers at the Boeing plant in Seattle helps to complete sections which will be added to the fuselage sections of new B-17F.

Completing sections of the B-17F plane


32. An electric spot welding job on a part for a new B-17F

ALSO SEE: About the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ Andrews Sisters, one of the top singing trios in history

An electric spot welding job on a part for a new B-17F


33. Assembling a section of a wing for a P-51 fighter

Two women employees of North American Aviation, Incorporated, assembling a section of a wing for a P-51 fighter plane

Assembling a section of a wing for a P-51 fighter plane


34. Attaching sheet metal to plane fuselage

A woman riveter at the Boeing plant in Seattle attaches a sheet of the gleaming outer covering of a fuselage section for a new B-17F

Attaching sheet metal to plane fuselage


35. Thousands of vintage machine screws for WWII planes

Machine screws to be used in building new B-17F (Flying Fortress) bombers in the Boeing plant in Seattle are attached to hangers which suspend them in an anodizing tank.

LOOK AT THE FINISHED AIRPLANES: The history of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress planes from WWII

Thousands of vintage machine screws for WWII planes


36. Two Pearl Harbor widows working at the Naval Base (1940s)

Pearl Harbor widows have gone into war work to carry on the fight with a personal vengeance in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Mrs. Virginia Young (right) whose husband was one of the first casualties of World War II, is a supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department of the Naval Air Base.

Her job is to find convenient and comfortable living quarters for women workers from out of the state, like Ethel Mann, who operates an electric drill.

Two Pearl Harbor widows working at the Naval Base


37. Working in the Assembly and Repair Department

Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas

DON’T MISS: Victory gardens: Their history, their importance, and how to grow your own

Woman working in the Texas assembly and repair department


38. Working in airplane assembly and repair department, Texas

Answering the nation’s need for womanpower, Mrs. Virginia Davis made arrangements for the care of her two children during the day and joined her husband at work in the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Both are employed under Civil Service in the Assembly and repair department. Mrs. Davis’ training will enable her to take the place of her husband should he be called by the armed service.

Working in airplane assembly and repair department, Texas


39. Women workers for WWII

Formerly a sociology major at the University of Southern California, Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis (right) now “keeps ’em flyin'” at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas.

She is a supervisor under civil service in the Assembly and Repair Department. It is her job to maintain morale among the women by helping them solve housing and other personal problems. With her is Jo Ann Whittington, an NYA trainee at the plant.

Women workers in Texas


40. Working on a Wright Whirlwind motor

Assembly and Repairs Dept. mechanic Mary Josephine Farley works on a Wright Whirlwind motor, Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas

Working on a Wright Whirlwind motor


41. A31 plane tubing inspection

Two women workers are shown capping and inspecting tubing which goes into the manufacture of the Vengeance (A-31) dive bomber made at Vultee’s Nashville division, Tennessee.

A31 plane tubing inspection


42. An electric spot welding job on a part for a new B-17F

An electric spot welding job on a part for a new B-17F


43. Drilling holes in a sub-assembly for a B-17F

Drilling holes in a sub-assembly for a B-17F


44. Installing fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section

Women workers install fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section of a B-17F bomber at the Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif.

Installing fixtures and assemblies to a tail fuselage section


45. Reconditioning spark plugs for WWII victory effort

Mrs. Doris Duke, who is 26 and a mother of one child, Corpus Christi, Texas. Mrs. Duke is a civil service worker in the A[ssembly] and R[epair] dept. at the Navy Air Base — reconditioning spark plugs

Reconditioning spark plugs for WWII victory effort


46. Real-life Rosie the Riveters working on a B-17

Women riveters at the Boeing plant in Seattle work at assembly and fitting operations in the fuselage of a new B-17F.

Riveters working on a B-17


Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress planes – Wing of battle

The pilot said, “I looked out at our right wing and saw it was all shot to hell. There were holes everywhere. A couple of them were shell holes — big enough to drive a sheep through. The other wing was all shot up, too.”

But with two engines knocked out, with rudder and stabilizers torn by exploding shells, half of the controls shot away . . . the Boeing Flying Fortress fought off 4o Focke-Wulfs and made her way home safely to England.

THAT trip really started on a drafting board in the Boeing plant at Seattle, where the wing you here see under construction was designed.

It is rather a remarkable wing. For one thing, it is today carrying double the load it was originally intended for… including bomb loads ranging up 10 tons, equaling or surpassing any other bomber now in service.

The enemy have found it a difficult wing to put out of commission. Axis pilots have learned that even when they pump hundreds of bullets into a Fortress wing, it does not collapse.

ALSO SEE: A pilot once took up a Boeing 707 passenger jet & did a double barrel roll in the sky – See it here

One reason is that Boeing distributes the stresses in such a way as to minimize the effect of damage in any one locality; the enemy can shoot pieces out, but can seldom destroy the wing entirely.

Such a wing might appear difficult to manufacture, but Boeing builds them in large numbers with a minimum of man-hours — a tribute to Boeing production engineering.

Some day, Boeing’s skills in research, design, engineering and production will be turned once more to products of peace. And then, as now, you may know of any product… if it’s “Built by Boeing,” it’s bound to be good.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress planes - Women workers


Women can make when Louden lifts, turns and hauls it  (1944)

Women can make with Louden lifts it (1944)

DON’T MISS: 100+ D-Day pictures: See WWII’s Operation Overlord in June 1944, plus get historical insight from 25 years later

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