#4. Ford Builds One Bomber Per Hour in World War II
During World War II, the key to victory was being able to build lots of weapons as fast as humanly possible -- and sometimes faster. FDR had promised to deliver 50,000 military aircraft per year, which happened to be more aircraft than existed in the entire world at the time. Factories were busting their asses to turn out one complete B-24 bomber per day, which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that each bomber meant a team of thousands of laborers had to put together a 100,000-part aircraft without the aid of computers, and without the aid of many of the men who had been working in the factory before the war started.
We're torn between "arousal" and the uncomfortable awareness that she might be one of our grandmas.
Charles Sorenson, vice president of production for Ford, had one day to get that time down from one bomber per day to one bomber per hour. The reason for this self-imposed deadline was that on a visit to a Consolidated Aircraft bomber plant, he couldn't resist commenting on how crappy their process was, which led to them asking if he supposed he could do better, which led to him promising he'd have something by morning.
"There. They only fly upside down now, though. Is that a problem?"
Thanks to opening his big mouth, he was up all night making calculations and rearranging stacks of paper on the floor, trying to solve the puzzle of how to get 100,000 bomber parts together in the right order in one hour. He had the plans drawn up by morning for what would become the Willow Run plant, which eventually did produce one bomber an hour, as promised.
U.S. Army Signal Corps via Wikimedia Commons
A couple dozen B-24s, seen here putting the most productive day of your life to shame.
By the end of the war, Willow Run had produced 8,685 B-24 bombers, which probably shut those Consolidated assholes right the hell up.
#3. Iowans Build a 380-Mile Road on Their Lunch Break
Around the beginning of the 20th century, Americans discovered cars, and then shortly afterward discovered that driving cars over grass and mud really sucked, especially in the cars they made back then.
Well, there's your problem. You're using wheels from a 10-speed bicycle.
Iowa decided to get down to business and build a real road across the entire state, and to do it, for some reason, in one day. Presumably, the state of Iowa's schedule was booked solid for the remainder of the week.
Iowans along the route spent months stocking up on supplies, and one Saturday in the summer of 1910, everyone went to the road at 9 a.m. sharp and started paving. One hour later, the road was done, and by evening, all the road signs were up.
And a ceremony was held for the fleeing wildlife now permanently encased in concrete.
The fact that they'd built a 380-mile-long road in one hour was pretty amazing, but the funniest part is what happened next, in the convoluted journey the road took from physically existing to officially existing as a state highway.
First, they had to wait three years for the Iowa State Highway Commission to come into existence in 1913 as an independent state organization. Three years after that, one of the road's sponsors finally sent a letter asking to register it with the state. Letters then went back and forth with lags of up to eight months in between, and together with that and an almost farcical amount of incomplete paperwork and bureaucratic mix-ups, it was 1918 before the road was formally registered with the state.
And by then, everyone had one of these. True story.
It had taken one day to physically build the road and eight years to get it registered with the government, which, depending on your perspective, is either a cute funny story about the stupidity of bureaucrats or something to rile up the crowd at your next Tea Party rally.
#2. Transcontinental Railroad -- 10 Miles of Track in Less Than 12 Hours
The Transcontinental Railroad across the Western United States was finished in 1869, the most giggle-worthy year of the 1800s. It was built by two companies working from either side, the Union Pacific from the east and the Central Pacific from the west, so there was a bit of a rivalry going on.
By TomStar81, from Wikimedia Commons
At the closing ceremony, making nice for the camera before going back to circling each other slowly with their dukes up.
However, what really got the rivalry going was the Union Pacific boasting about laying 4.5 miles of track in a single day. When the media began fawning over the claim, Charlie Crocker, the Central Pacific labor boss, directed his crews to beat the record, which they did, laying 6 miles of track.
The Union Pacific boss wasn't going to let that stand, so he bravely sacrificed hours of other people's sweat and manual labor to top that record, and even cheated by having the "workday" go from 3 a.m. to midnight, generously giving the people three hours to sleep between shifts of 21-hour-long grueling labor. The cheating paid off -- they laid 8.5 miles of track.
"That's with time lost to accidentally building, like, four, five guys into the tracks."
With 14 miles of track to go before their railroads met up, Crocker bet the Union Pacific boss $10,000 that his Central Pacific boys could lay 10 miles of track in one day. Knowing that he'd needed to cheat just to get 8 miles of track down, the Union Pacific boss gladly accepted. At 7:15 the next morning, as orchestral music swelled in the background, crews of Irish and Chinese immigrants hit the rails and worked their hearts out to earn $10,000 for a rich white guy, and also probably to prove to the world they were the best track layers that ever lived.
They had already proven they had the best hats.
By 7 p.m., and without cheating, they had laid 10 miles of solid track that you could drive a train over at 40 mph -- which someone promptly did. They built new, permanent track at almost 1 mile per hour, at certain points going as fast as a person might walk. Even today, with human labor mostly replaced by automated machinery, 10 miles in one day is considered pretty impressive.
#1. The Day After D-Day: The Allies Build a Floating City
Everybody's familiar with World War II's D-Day, where Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy at great human cost while Steven Spielberg's camera crews stood there filming, not lifting a finger to help.
After the big battle, though, the Allies had to keep pushing on into Europe, and they needed more than the bunch of wet soldiers that had just landed. They needed more soldiers, and tanks, and trucks, and thousands of tons of fuel and supplies, on a scale that required daily dumps from full-sized cargo ships, not rowboats landing on a beach. The problem was that cargo ships need harbors, and Normandy was a beach. All the harbors that could handle big enough ships were controlled by the Germans. So the Allied troops brought their own harbors from home.
"Yeah, hi, I got a harbor here that someone needs to sign for?"
Known as Mulberry Harbours (they were developed by the English, so they were allowed to misspell it), these artificial harbors were massive structures built out of concrete blocks, sunken ships and wooden roadways, all floated over in pieces, moved into position and locked down, making it by far the largest Lego project ever undertaken.
At about 1 mile long, each harbor was like a floating city, with depots, docks and roadways sturdy enough to drive tanks on.
U.S. Navy Department Library
All of this was built in roughly the same amount of time it takes a group of Internet comedians to set up one tent.
The skeleton was mostly laid out in a day, the bridges were usable within three and the whole thing was completely assembled within a week. Over the course of 109 days, the week's worth of work allowed 2.5 million troops and 17 million tons of equipment to pour into occupied France and finish Nazi Germany for good.
Why, what'd you do at work this week?
For more innovative genius, check out 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World and 5 Simple Things You Won't Believe Are Recent Inventions.