Aircraft Mass Production

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Elsie MacGill courtesy of Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

The queen of the hurricanes.

Elsie MacGill’s life was one of firsts: the first woman in Canada to earn a degree in electrical engineering; first woman in the world to be awarded a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering; first woman to design a plane; first woman to hold the position of chief of aeronauti-cal engineering at an aircraft company; and the brains behind the world’s first mass-produced aircraft. Soon after World War Two erupted in Europe, Elsie’s Canadian Car and Foundry in what is now Thunder Bay, Ontario, was selected to manufacture the Hawker Hurricane for the Royal Air Force in 1939. Elsie swung into action. She took control of production, streamlined operations to churn out increasing numbers of aircraft, and even designed a series of modifica-tions to equip the fighter for cold-weather flying. By 1943, the company had produced more than 1,400 Hurricanes and its workforce had grown from 500 to some 4,500—more than half of them women. Elsie had devised and perfected the mass production of aircraft, a mode of production that was soon the norm worldwide. No wonder this Canadian woman of firsts was crowned “ Queen of the Hurricanes.”

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