The Innovation Race: Photos of the female factory workers who helped save Britain in World War I

By Culture24 Reporter | 31 March 2015

New exhibition at Museum of Science and Industry tells story of innovation race to turn First World War around

A greyscale photo of a group of women in factory uniforms during the first world war
Female munitions workers during the First World War, including members of the family of factory owner Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti
In 1915, a year into the First World War, facing likely defeat, low morale and a munitions crisis, the government created the Ministry of Munitions, appointing David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions.

As part of an appeal which ensnared everyone from female factory workers to eminent engineers, Lloyd George visited Manchester to call for help. Some of the most revealing of the unique, rarely-seen artefacts in the exhibition are the diaries, archives, sketches and letters of Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, an Oldham factory owner and electrical engineer.

De Ferranti masterminded the conversion of his entire factory output from domestic goods to shells and fuzes. His letters to his sons, Basil and Vincent, who fought at the front, appear alongside rare sketches of his munitions and images of his daughter, Vera, who worked on their production in her father’s factory.

Leading Mancunian manufacturing companies helped saved lives during the war. Mather and Platt’s company designed sprinkler systems, Thornton Pickard were responsible for aerial reconnaissance cameras and Beyer Peacock switched from locomotive manufacturing to anti-aircraft gun carriages and bomb-throwers for ships.

Their efforts helped the Lancashire Anti-Submarine Committee, who worked on the River Mersey, to develop ways of countering the devastating threat U-Boats posed.

In the absence of a specialised defence industry, the general public were encouraged to submit their own ideas on how to break the stalemate during the war. A Rejected Inventions section shows how ideas were often eccentric and unfeasible - from training seagulls to defacate on enemy periscopes to mounting machine guns on artificially frozen clouds.

Visitors are being invited to design and create their own novel solutions to wartime problems. And an interactive and tactile installation, the Story Juke Box, features tales from the region’s factories and families through six war testimonies.

  • The Innovation Race: Manchester’s Makers Join the First World War is at the Museum of Science and Industry until April 2016.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Pictures courtesy MOSI.

More from Culture24's First World War section:

Blackouts, Zeppelin raids and peace: New Scars on the City exhibition shows Edinburgh in World War I

Wrest Park reveals a First World War love story that lasted a lifetime

Aircraft of the First World War: A tour of the Grahame-White Factory at the RAF Museum London
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