Economically, Marietta has been fortunate in its history. From its founding, Marietta was considered a desirable place to live and attracted industry even when the South was mostly agricultural.
Although Cobb County’s prosperity rode the swells and dips along with the rest of the country, visionary leadership in attracting (and keeping) industry helped Marietta stay ahead of the rest of the South. A number of businesses contributed to this, but none more than the Bell Aircraft Company.
As the nation was climbing out of the Great Depression and the Roosevelt administration made contingency plans for war, Marietta was well-positioned, both geographically and politically, to prosper.
First of all, Marietta was inland, and the War Department had already decided by the end of the 1930s that aircraft plants should be built inland to shield them from attack. Secondly, Marietta was close to Atlanta, with its superb railroad system and new airfield. In fact, Marietta may have been more attractive than Atlanta itself: There was more available land in Cobb County that could be built to suit the War Department’s needs, the land was less expensive and Marietta was connected to Atlanta by railroad, by streetcar, by the Dixie Highway and by the newly completed U.S. 41, which was, at the time, Georgia’s only four-lane highway.
Politically, Marietta fared even better: Marietta resident Alexander Stephens Clay had been a popular and influential U.S. senator from 1897 to 1910, and his son, Lucius D. Clay, had risen to the rank of brigadier general and was appointed director of materiel for the War Department in 1940. It was under his leadership that Rickenbacker Airfield was built on the outskirts of town, intentionally designed for future military use.
Two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department approved the newly designed B-29 bomber for production. Produced by Buffalo-based Bell Aircraft, the four-engine B-29 would be the most advanced long-range bomber in the world.
When the government gave word that it wished to build the new aircraft somewhere in the Atlanta area, Cobb County sprang into action. Numerous influential citizens began lobbying for Bell Aircraft to use the land adjacent to Rickenbacker Field, and with Lucius D. Clay representing the War Department in the decision-making process, the deal was quickly closed.
Production began in 1943, and the impact on Georgia’s economic recovery was tremendous. The federal government poured $73 million into the plant by the war’s end, and at its height the plant employed 28,158 people. Ninety percent of these were Southerners, 37 percent were women, and 8 percent were African American.
When the war ended in 1945, production at the Bell Bomber plant ended along with it. The enormous hangars were used for storage until 1951, when Lockheed-Georgia (later Lockheed Martin) reopened the plant to produce military aircraft for the conflict in Korea.
The plant has remained in operation to this day, as has Rickenbacker Field, renamed Dobbins Air Force Base in honor of Capt. Charles M. Dobbins of Marietta, whose aircraft was shot down near Sicily during the war.
For more history on the Bell Bomber, visit the Marietta Museum of History's