The Bell Bomber plant: 1942-1945

A B29 in flight

Photo above: a B29 in flight, Public Domain, retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:B-29_in_flight.jpg

In 1942 a small ad appeared in newpapers across Georgia, including this one from the February 20 edition of the Cleveland Courier:

“Persons who desire employment in the new Bell Bomber plant at Marietta are requested to apply through the U.S. Employment Service, NYA or WPA.”

The WWII Bell Bomber plant had a lasting impact on Cobb County. It made Marietta a major employment center, both with Bell Bomber itself, and with the Lockheed Martin facility which has occupied the grounds once held by the Bell Aircraft Corporation since 1951.

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The Bell Bomber plant was also the impetus for the rapid construction of State Highway 280, now known as South Cobb Drive.

In December of 1941, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II.  The entire nation, including Atlanta and its surrounding area, was mobilized for the war effort. 

In February of 1942, the plans for the construction of the Bell Bomber plant were announced after Marietta won out over East Point and Stone Mountain in competition for the plant’s location. 

By March of 1943, the plant began building the B-29 bomber.  According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the workforce at the plant grew to over 28,000 by 1945.

The April 2, 1943 issue of the Jackson Herald described the huge undertaking in detail, stating “It is to be a race of machine and men against the soil and the trees and time.”

“More than $1,000,000 will be spent to move the earth for this plant over more than 1,000 acres. Most of it must be moved in 40 days. Before the 40 days are up, three railroad lines, built in from the near-by N. C. & St. L. lines, will be running into the area, bringing new equipment and materials,” the article continued.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, it supplied the U.S. Army Air Forces with 663 B29s, starting delivery before 1943 had ended.

As the war wound down the huge size of the plant made it a white elephant.

In the October 3, 1945 issue of the Griffin Daily News, a columnist lamented the difficulty of finding uses for the huge industrial facilities that had been built for the war effort.

One of the most stubborn problems will be that of finding uses for the great aircraft plants that were developed during the war. Heading the list in difficulty is the utilization of the $73,000,000 Bell Bomber plant at Marietta, GA. No enterprise that could use the entire establishment on a permanent basis has yet expressed interest in doing so, but numerous firms have indicated an interest in renting portions of the available space.

Six years later as the Cold War era created a revived need for military aircraft, Lockheed-Georgia, later Lockheed Martin, occupied the plant.

The Construction of South Cobb Drive

South Cobb Drive has been a major commercial and commuter highway in Cobb County since the mid-1940s. In fact, until the 1940s, South Cobb Drive, or SR 280 did not even exist.

A B-29, photo taken at an unknown date in the 1940s (public domain)

The state determined that a new highway was necessary to transport workers and goods from Atlanta to the Bell Bomber plant.  At that point, the current Atlanta Road (then called Marietta-Atlanta Road) was the main route from Atlanta to Marietta.

It was determined that Marietta-Atlanta Road was not sufficient to handle the increased traffic of supplies and personnel. So a road was designed that would run roughly parallel to Marietta-Atlanta Road, make a sharp turn near Bell Bomber, and connect the two roads at the entrance to the plant.

South Cobb Drive from a narrow shoulder facing oncoming traffic
A recent shot of South Cobb Drive from a narrow shoulder facing oncoming traffic in Smyrna (Photo by Larry Felton Johnson/Cobb County Courier)

An article in the Atlanta Constitution in April of 1942 reported on the laying of water pipe along what it simply described as “the new Marietta highway.”  Another article in July of 1943 said that construction would be completed by October of that year.  It described the road as follows:

“The road leading from Bolton crosses the Chattahoochee River, skirts Smyrna and Fair Oaks, and leads into the old Atlanta-Marietta Road, about one-fourth mile from the Marietta city limit. The road leads directly to the main gate of the Bell plant, and is approximately 12 miles long”

The Chattahoochee River just south of the GA 280/South Cobb Drive crossing

That road became State Road 280, now known as South Cobb Drive.  It’s an important transportation corridor and commercial highway for dozens of communities in Cobb County.  But it got its start as a single-purpose road, to connect Atlanta with a wartime bomber factory.

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