This past June marked the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France. It was the occasion for a wide range of public celebrations commemorating America’s involvement in that watershed event of the Second World War. Recognized in these celebrations were those who served in the military at that time, as well as those who supported them at home. The latter group included millions of females working in U.S. factories (many for the first time), who proved critical in pushing the great American industrial engine to the unprecedented level needed to achieve victory in Europe and the Pacific. These female factory workers would eventually be immortalized in art by the iconic Rosie the Riveter painting by Norman Rockwell and recruitment posters from the war.
One woman who answered the call to support the war effort was Elizabeth Quimby of East Lake (Elizabeth Hmeeza at the time). Shortly after America’s entry into World War II, 20-year old Elizabeth traveled from her native Claremont, NH to central Connecticut. U.S. ball bearing manufacturing was centered in Connecticut then, and the American war machine could not – quite literally – roll without it. Settling into an apartment in Meriden, CT, which Elizabeth shared with a couple of other “girls,” she went to work for New Departure Bearings, a division of General Motors. New Departure had two plants, one in Bristol, CT and the other in Meriden.
At that time, it was the world’s largest manufacturer of precision ball bearings. Elizabeth worked at the Meriden plant, taking a public bus to and from work each day, and putting in many long hours. She labored in a cleanroom environment, painstakingly assembling some of New Departure’s smallest bearings. Elizabeth took great pride in her work, knowing these bearings were destined for sensitive military aircraft instrumentation, which young American airmen would depend upon for their lives. The numerous precision bearings used in the famous Norden Bombsight, installed on all of America’s long-range bombers, were manufactured by New Departure. New Departure bearings were utilized throughout the Boeing-built B-29 Bomber, the most expensive weapon system developed during the war.
Workers periodically received extended breaks from work. For Elizabeth, this allowed opportunities for fondly remembered trips with girlfriends to New York City and Asbury Park, N.J. One significant memory for Elizabeth during her time at New Departure was a morale-boosting visit to her plant by the famous comedian Jimmy Durante. While he was chatting with Elizabeth and her co-workers, she clearly remembers Durante taking note of an individual with a proboscis of significant size and saying, with his trademark style: “I can’t believe it! Someone with a schnozzola as big as mine!”
Elizabeth missed her family back in Claremont and returned home shortly before the end of the war. She would eventually take the skills she learned at New Departure to Split Ball Bearing Manufacturing in Lebanon, NH, where she worked from 1958 to 1993.
We salute Eastman’s “Rosie The Riveter,” Elizabeth Quimby, for her service during the Second World War.
Jim Lacombe is a retired research mechanical engineer who worked 34 years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He lives in Eastman’s East Lake with his wife, Cathy.