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Employment of Women in the Manufacture
of Small-Arms Ammunition
One of a series of reports on women’s present and possible employment
in war industries, based on field surveys by Women’s Bureau investiga­
tors since early spring of 1941 (issued first in mimeograph).

A report

on the actual employment of women in the first three months of 1942
will follow.

Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau, No.



For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D, C.

Price 5 cents



Small-arms ammunition
Summary as to women’s possible employment_________ _____
Training____________ ___________ :
Bullet manufacturing _______________________
Cartridge-case manufacturing____________ ,_______________________________
Primer manufacturing____________ _____ :_ _
Cartridge assembly________________________________
Inspection----------------------------------------------- ------------------------- ,------------------Packing
Miscellaneous women’s jobs__________________________ __________:_________
Uniforms 10
Supervision 11



Employment of Women in the Manufacture
of Small-Arms Ammunition 1
Ammunition for small arms is of major importance in the aircraft
defense program. A single airplane in firing action equipped with
eight or more machine guns is reported as pouring out a stream of
1,200 rounds of ammunition a minute from each gun. With tens of
thousands of planes carrying machine guns, the demand for smallarms ammunition is potentially prodigious. Manufacturers of am­
munition for small arms (hand and shoulder weapons and machine
guns and automatic weapons of all sizes up to .50 caliber) have modern­
ized and revamped their old plants in the East and are to operate
new Government-built plants in St. Louis, Lake City (near Kansas
City), and Denver. The Frankfort! Arsenal has doubled its personnel
in small-arms ammunition several times since 1939. Further, many
of the Government contractors are furnishing component parts or
complete rounds of small-arms ammunition.
Since the small-arms ammunition industry has a small product, a
standardized one as to operations and machining, and one which
requires considerable care and attention to detail, women have been
used extensively, and as the new plants get into production many
more women will be employed in this branch of the defense program.
In the Government arsenal at Frankford approximately 40 percent
of the productive workers in 1941 were women, and as the dilution of
labor increases, women undoubtedly will constitute a considerably
larger proportion.
Women comprise a much larger proportion of the munition makers
abroad than in the United States. In the London Times of May 11,
1941, a representative describing a visit to the new Royal Ordnance
plant in Wales reported that 80 percent of the workers were women.
None had more than 7 months’ experience and the majority had less.
A supervisor expressed the opinion that a typically intelligent girl
trained in the factory was as efficient at her work after 6 months as
the average boy who had worked longer.

Ammunition for small arms is less than 1 inch in diameter and the
most common types and calibers are .30, .45, and .50. Caliber is the
diameter of the bore or cylinder of the weapon from which the cart­
ridge is expelled and is stated in one-hundredths of an inch. The
parts of a round of small ammunition include (1) the bullet or pro­
jectile, which is a metal slug or core enclosed in a light gilding metal
jacket, and (2) the cartridge case, which holds the primer and the
propelling charge and when assembled with the bullet makes the com­
1 As of early months of 1941.



plete unit. The primer is a small loaded cup set in the base or head
of the case which explodes when struck by the blow of the firing
pin and ignites the propellant, which ejects and dispatches the bullet
from the weapon.
The types of bullets are: “Ball” for use against persons and light
targets; “armor-piercing” for attacking objects heavily reinforced
with armor plate, concrete shelters, and other bullet-resisting targets;
and “tracer” for observation and incendiary purposes. The ball bullet
has a lead alloy or slug or soft steel core, the armor-piercing has a
hard core usually of tungsten-chromium steel, and the tracer has a
compressed igniting and pyrotechnic charge which gives a bright
flame and makes the path of the bullet visible or may ignite the object
which it strikes.
The findings of this report are based chiefly on a survey in 1941
of occupations of men and women in a Government arsenal which for
many years has manufactured small-arms ammunition and tends to
establish the methods and standards for this industry.
Summary of the Principal Operations in the Manufacture of Small-Arms
Ammunition and the Possibilities of Extended Use of Women
Sex of operatives
(M—men, W—

Bullet Manufacturing:
Bullet jacket:
Drawing (several draws)___ M
Annealing, pickling,
Trimming M and W



Bullet point or core—
Melt and ingot molding____M
Extruding and forming____ M
Washing and drying M
Bullet assembly M
and W
Tracer bullet charging M
and W
Case Manufacturing:
Drawing (several draws) M
Annealing, pickling, and wash- M
Polishing M
Pumping, pocketing, and head- M
Trimming W
Head turning M
and W
Body and mouth annealing_____M
and W
Tapering W
Chamfering M
Primer inserting W
Blanking and forming cup and M
Shellacking strips for foiling____ W
Pellet forming M
Foil and knock out W
Inserting of anvil W
Press anvils into primer cup____ M
Primer inverting W

Extension of women’s employment

Could be substituted in part
for men.
Not suitable.



Not suitable.
Could be used entirely.
Proportion could be



Not suitable.
Could be used entirely.
Not suitable.

Could be substituted in part
for men.
Could be substituted


Could be substituted



Cartridge Assembly:
Loading machine

Sex of operatives
(A/—men, W—

Extension of women's employment

M and W

Could be used entirely.

Inspection—Visual, Gage, Machine. _ M and W
Packing and Labeling M and W



could be in­
creased. .

Most of the work in the manufacture of small-arms ammunition
is carried on by automatic machinery and only short training periods
are needed. All the training can be secured on the job under the
tutelage of another operative; 3 to 6 weeks would seem sufficient for
a learning period with a highly specialized and mechanized set-up.

Bullet jacket.
The light gilding metal jacket which covers the core of a bullet is
formed by a series of drawing operations similar to those on the car­
tridge case, except that smaller presses are used. Men are exclusively
used for these operations, and though the tending of machines
requires little skill and effort, one operator cares for as many as five
machines and there is considerable moving of parts in process, filling
feed hoppers, and moving finished jackets, all of which is manual
work. With further dilution of labor, and providing that additional
“movemen” are employed for heavy work, women could operate the
drawing presses for bullet jackets. The jacket between drawing steps
is annealed, pickled, and washed several times in rotary electric fur­
naces and revolving drums. This work is all done by men and because
much of it is of a heavy manual nature it would not be suitable for
Trimming was the only process on the bullet jacket which em­
ployed women as well as men. The trimming was done on a special
horizontal spindle machine which was simple in operation and re­
quired only a short training period. It would seem that women
might do all the trimming of bullet jackets.
Bullet point or core.
Handling and feeding heavy bars of steel or heavy reels of lead
to automatic machines which require the attendance of skilled set-up
men does not require many workers and apparently does not offer
any possibilities for the employment of women.
Bullet assembly.
The assembly of the bullet, the pointing or nosing of the jacket, the
inserting of the slug, and the finishing operations employ both men
and women. Women in a Government arsenal are employed on the
.30- and .45-caliber ball and armor-piercing bullets, while men are
assembling the .50-caliber bullets and the tracer bullets. Two types
of automatic machines are used, the older dial type and the newer
straight-line assembly press. The pointing or nosing, inserting of the
slug, profiling, sizing, and canneluring are progressive machine



processes, and the work proceeds automatically from one station to
the next so that the operator merely watches the operation of the
machine and sees that an adequate supply of parts is on hand and
that all parts of the machine are working properly. Men adjusters
condition and set up the machines. It seems that women might do
all the work of bullet assembly.
On some of the bullets a special cannelure must be machined sepa­
rately. A cannelure is a groove on the bullet which serves as a
seat when the bullet is assembled into the case. On the .30-caliber
bullets with the extra canneluring, this is a wholly automatic process
and requires only the setting-up of the machine and the filling of the
hoppers, so men are used. On the .50-caliber, the bullets are hand-fed
by women.
Cleaning and polishing.
Ihe assembled bullets are rumbled in drums filled with sawdust
to clean and polish. This operation entails heavy lifting and is
suitable only for men.
Tracer charging.
Tracer bullets must be charged with tracer (a pyrotechnic powder)
and igniter mixture. The bullets are placed in die blocks, topped
with die-funnels, passed on by conveyor belt to the charging machine,
which automatically weighs and compresses the powder charge, and
then moved on to the ejecting machine operator, who inspects the
charge and ejects the bullets with a press from the die blocks.
Usually there are five operators to a tracer-charging group. On the
.30-caliber tracer bullets, women are employed for seating the bullets
in the die block, and placing the funnels. Other jobs'on the .30caliber' and all jobs charging the .50-caliber tracer bullets are loaded
by men.
While it seemed that women might do all the jobs on the charging
of tracer bullets, there are certain conditions of employment which
would require that women of more than average strength and stability
be selected. The die blocks are moved on conveyors but they must
be handled, lifted, and pushed about on the work bench, and since
they weigh as much as 14 pounds apiece and some of the men workers
handle as many as 30 a minute, there are elements of cumulative
fatigue involved. While the amount of powder allowed in the charg­
ing machine is limited, and there is little hazard of a major nature,
there may be an occasional flare-up from accidentally ignited powder,
with a possibility of burns, and the operative must be emotionally
stable and able to continue at work without quailing.

The cartridge case which forms the base of the complete round is
made of one piece of brass by several drawing and machining
processes. The case when assembled contains the primer, the pro­
pellant powder, and the bullet in a waterproofed, airtight unit.
Drawing operations.
A small heavy brass cup of prescribed size and weight for the
various calibers, which has been drawn by the brass fabricators, is



the starting point for the further drawing operations. There are
several drawing, bumping, pocketing, and heading operations in the
shaping and elongating of the cases which are performed on large
crank presses by men. To permit further draws and to secure the
required physical qualities of the metal, the cases are annealed,
pickled, and washed several times during the drawing and machining.
The annealing processes are considered unsuitable for women because
they involve moving trucks filled with cases, heavy lifting, and gen­
eral manual labor to which women are not suited. In the Govern­
ment arsenal visited the sentiment was that the drawing and allied
operations were not suitable or desirable jobs for women. The drawpress operators, in addition to tending their presses, keeping the feed
lines clear, and making visual and gage inspections of the cases in
process, must do manual work moving filled carts, fill the coolant
reservoir with soapy solutions, keep the hopper filled with cases—
the last two requiring heavy lifting—and occasionally must mop
up the floor around the presses, which becomes spattered with oil
and coolant. Most of the time the operator of a drawing press must
stand. Also, the draw-press room resounds with the din of the presses,
the floors are slippery, and in spite of guards on the presses there is
danger of finger injuries. While women might be used as draw-press
tenders, it seemed of slight feasibility. The training period is short,
a few weeks at most for draw-press operators, so women in case of
emergency needs might be put on without any significant loss of time
for a learning period.
After the third and fourth drawing operations, the mouth (top)
of the case is trimmed on a special horizontal spindle machine with
rotating cutters. Women are employed for trimming and the learn­
ing or training period was reported as short, only about 1 week.
The head or base of the cartridge case holds the primer seat, the
vent hole, and the extracting groove. An automatic screw machine
cute the extractor groove, machines the base, and countersinks the
primer pocket as a continuous operation. The operator fills the
hopper, watches the feeding, and makes occasional visual and gao-e
checks of the cases. Machine adjusters set up and service the machines.
Both men and women serve as operators, the former on the .50-caliber
and the latter on the .30 and the .45. Little training is required for
the operation; movemen or truckers usually are promoted to head­
turning. The men operators usually assist with the moving of trucks.
Women undoubtedly might do all the head-turning with the help
of additional movemen for filling the hoppers and trucking off the
finished work.
Body and mouth annealing.
Before the mouth of the case is tapered, it must be annealed to
secure the necessary physical tensile properties. This annealing
process is carried on by feeding the cases on a worm-driven conveyor
with the tops of the cases passing through a series of flaming gas
jets while the heads are immersed in a water bath. The cas<S are
hopper fed and the operator is a machine tender watching the feed



and visually inspecting the process. Both men and women tend these
machines and there seems no reason why women cannot do all such
The body of the case at the mouth is tapered a bit to permit easier
extraction of the case after expansion by the expulsion of the bullet.
Two successive tapering operations are processed on a straight-line
double-action press, which has automatic feed and controls. Women
in a Government arsenal were operating all the tapering machines,
three machines being assigned to each operator.
Finish trimming.
After tapering, a final trimming of the mouth is next in sequence
and women do this operation. These machines also are of an auto­
matic type and one woman may operate as many as four machines.
The operator tends the feeding of the cases along a magazine track,
watches the operations, and gages the trimmed cases at. certain inter­
vals. The operators walk from machine to machine and also make
spot inspections of the cases to be fed into the machine for defects
such as dents. The cutting parts of the machine are shielded, but
there are some flying chips which afford a slight possibility of injury.
The final operation on the mouth of the case is chamfering the edge
to put a slight flare which eases the insertion of the bullet. Chamfer­
ing requires a certain amount of mechanical ability in making ma­
chine adjustments, changing and sharpening the cutting tools when
needed. Otherwise the operation proceeds on an automatic basis,
the men watching the feeds, occasionally inspecting the cases much
as in trimming. Women who are experienced in operating machines
such as milling machines, grinders, and turret lathes could do this
Inserting primers, cutting the vent hole, and waterproofing.
The last operation on the cartridge case before it is ready for the
final assembly with the bullet is inserting the primer, cutting the
vent hole, and waterproofing. The primer is made up of a cup, a per­
cussion pellet, foiling disk, and anvil which have been assembled before
insertion in the case. The vent hole is an opening in the head of
the primer pocket through which the flame from the primer passes
into the case and ignites propellant powder stored there. All the
operations of this final process are carried out on a straight-line auto­
matic crank press which has nine automatic stations which chamfer,
punch the vent holes, inspect for “no-Iiole,” seat the primer, crimp
the head of the case to the primer, and waterproof with a drop of
colored varnish between the primer and the case head. The job,
again, is the tending of an automatic machine, and women operators
tend one or two machines. The training period is not more than a
couple of weeks.
If the machines are not kept clean there is a possibility of an
occasional flare-up from small particles of primer mixture that may
have accumulated in the stations of the machine, but this is of rare



The primer for small arms is a tiny brass cup which contains the
pellet charge pressed to a foiling disk and a tiny anvil through which
the flame from the ignited pellet passes into the vent hole in the
cartridge case.
Forming of the primer cup and anvil.
Small automatic presses blank and cup the parts for the cup and
anvil. Men set up and operate these presses. If women had the
skill necessary to make the set-up, or if set-up men were employed,
women could operate the machines.
Pellet forming.
The pellet is a small explosive wafer which is placed in the cup
under the anvil. The forming of this pellet is a hazardous job and
the men doing this work in a Government arsenal are classed as
explosives operators. The primer mixture is rubbed into holes on a
charging plate with a strip or piece of rubber, and pressure is applied
to the charging plate to form the pellets. The work is carried on
in a shielded booth, with a glass shield that is pulled down while the
pellets are being pressed to enable the operator to watch the pressing
process. There is an explosive and fire hazard in this process and
precautions are taken to safeguard against the spreading of fire from
these booths or boxes. Only a few men are employed on this work,
and except as hazardous jobs are undesirable for all workers there
was no reason from the standpoint of strain and skill required why
women could not do the work.
Primer foiling and anvil inserting.
Strips of foiling paper to be made into foiling disks are shellacked
by women. Women also operate the press which cuts or punches
the disks and presses them down over the primer pellet.
The small anvils are placed in the primer cups by women. It is
a simple hand operation and requires no training.
The anvils are next pressed into the primer cup on a toggle press.
Men are used in the Government arsenal on this job but the work
is light and simple and might as well be done by women.
All the jobs in connection with primer foiling and-inserting of the
anvils, and in primer inverting, are light work and can be done as
well by women. The draw-back of the job is that there is an ever
present though slight hazard of sudden fire explosion. This, how­
ever, is a strain for men as well as for women and the reactions
and emotional stability of operatives probably are more affected by
individual differences than by the sex of the worker.
Primer inverting.
After the primers have been made they are tumbled from a hopper
on a rotary disk until they fall right side up and then they are
arranged in trays for feeding into the primer-inserting machines.
Women are employed for this work, and after the trays are filled each
one is visually inspected with a magnifying "lass for defective primers.
Six inspected trays are placed in small wooden cabinets and are turned
over to the primer-inserting section. Primer-inserting is the last
job under case manufacturing.



A loading machine which fills the primed cartridge case with the
propellant powder, inserts, seats, and crimps the bullet into the case,
and lacquers the bullet point on tracer and armor-piercing with red
or black, completes the operations on a round of ammunition.
Two types of loading machines are used, but both have a sequence
of automatic operations which spread the mouth of the case, load and
weigh the powder propellant, check the weight of the powder, insert
the bullet, seat the bullet at the correct position, and crimp the case
mouth in relation to the cannelure. On the straight-line loading
machine the last operation switches the bullet into an upside-down
position while the point is automatically lacquered and dried, and then
drops it off as a complete round into a move truck ready for final
Both men and women are used as operators on these machines, the
women operating those which load and assemble the .30- and .45caliber rounds and the men the .50-caliber. A period of 5 or 6 weeks
was reported as necessary to become proficient and familiar with the
tending of these machines. The straight-line machine has automatic
feeds for the cases, powder, and bullets. Tracer bullets are hand fed
because in tumbling them from a hopper the tracer powder might
become dislodged slightly and accidentally ignite. The operators who
feed tracers wear gloves and work at a continuous speed of 60 to 80
a minute for .30-caliber and about 50 a minute on the .50-caliber.
Two operators tend these machines, the one feeding and the other
keeping the hoppers filled and watching the machine.
Women might be used on the other .50-caliber loading machines
but it would be advisable to employ men to fill the powder magazines
and the bullet and case hoppers, as the powder cans for the .50caliber were reported as weighing about 30 pounds, or three times as
much as for the .30-caliber, and the bullets and cases also are much
heavier. The operators normally fill the hoppers and lacquer pots.
Tending the loading machine is a standing job. There are pos­
sible hazards of injuring fingers in removing defective cases from the
machine, and fires and explosions may occur from the igniting of the
tracer or the propellant powder. The machines are cleaned and blown
out with compressed air at regular intervals during the day. The
operator must have the nervous stability of being able to work with­
out undue strain under more or less hazardous conditions.

Detailed specifications have been developed for all the component
parts and stages of production. Inspection for defects in material
and manufacture goes on continuously. The finished cartridges are
given a final inspection to make sure that all requirements have been
met and these inspectors in the Government arsenal are not respon­
sible to the small-arms divisions but to a special inspection department.
Similar Government inspectors are employed in the operating plants
and will be employed in the new plants.
Most of the inspectors are women. Much of the inspection is visual
but there is considerable gage and machine checking. Descriptions
of some specific inspection jobs follow.



Case inspection.
After the cases are completed and before the primers are inserted,
all are inspected. A machine device which carries the cases from
left to right on a screw conveyor with mirrors above and below per­
mits the inspector to check the mouth and head of each case for
visible defects. Other inspectors use gages, magnifying glasses, and
checking aids. The lighting must be good, the workers sit, and there
are no hazards. Acuteness and dexterity are required for this inspec­
tion and a training or learning period of 6 to 8 weeks is needed.
Both defective and approved cases are reinspected to make certain
that defective cases are not accepted and that acceptable cases are
not discarded. This worker must be a person of more experience
than the original inspector, though the devices and machines used are
Primer inspection.
Primers are inspected with the aid of magnifying glasses and the
rejected ones are removed with small tweezers. One or two weeks of
training to become familiar with the points for which inspections are
made is all the training required. The work is exacting in that the
individual units handled are very small. Since the primers are
inspected in the room where they are made, and since they contain
explosives, there are the hazards to which all explosives operators
are subjected.
After the primers have been inserted in the cases, there is a special
inspection of the insertion, crimping, and varnishing. This work
is done near the primer-insertion machine and the worker stands.
The cases are greasy, so gloves must be worn if the hands are to be
protected from the oily film. Only a few clays’ training is needed.
Completed rounds of ammunition inspection.
Women operate an automatic inspection machine which checks the
dimensions on six points and also the. weight. The function of the
operator is merely that of a machine feeder.
The preceding are typical of only a few of the types of inspection
done and there are a great many other machine, gage, and visual
checks made by women. Women do all the inspection except the
drop-primer test, the mercury cracking test, and a few other technical
testing jobs. Both the drop-primer test and the mercury cracking
test could be done by women. The mercury cracking test is an ac­
celerated chemical aging test to determine the possibility of cracks
and splits in storage. A simple, chemical routine is followed in
making the test and could be done as well by women as by men.
Gloves are worn to protect hands from nitric acid and mercurous
nitrate. Since this is a random sample or spot-check of a few cases
and cartridges of a large lot, the tester must be a careful and re­
sponsible person, as the acceptance or rejection of the entire lot may
be determined by this test. Since a solution of mercurous nitrate
(1 percent) is used there may be some hazard of mercury poisoning
for the careless worker.

Women are employed to set up cartons, to pack cartridges into
small pasteboard containers and then into the larger cartons, and



hand-paste labels on the cartons. Men pack the cartons into metallined wooden boxes, solder the covers, and test for leaks. The final
packing processes are too heavy for women, as boxes often weigh more
than 100 pounds.

A number of jobs of minor employment significance held by women
working in the Government arsenal visited were on rifle clips,pressure
cylinders, and dummy ammunition.

Rifle-clip manufacturing.
Women blanked out the parts and springs for rifle clips which hold
five rounds of ammunition. The machines were punch presses with
automatic feed, each woman operating from two to four machines.
One woman fed clips and another springs into an assembly machine
which turned out the clips. On another special machine, five car­
tridges were packed in each clip. One woman fed the clips and the
other the rounds of ammunition. These feeding operations were
fast but there was no skill or special experience required.
Pressure-cylinder manufacturing.
A new job for women in the Government arsenal was the making
of .small pressure cylinders—about one-half inch in length and onefourth in diameter—and about 20 women were employed in a corner of
the tool room on work that had formerly been done by men. The
women were operating small bench shearing machines cutting the
cylinders, machine burring, and hand lapping the ends. Approxi­
mately 5,000 cylinders a day were being turned out by the women and
their productive rate averaged about the same as that of the men
who formerly did this work.
Dummy ammunition.
A few women were doing various jobs on dummy ammunition,
chiefly drilling holes.

Though no regulation uniform is required for explosives workers
in the Frankford Arsenal, women are urged to purchase two simple
cotton uniform-dresses, one red and one blue, colors alternated
weekly in an effort to insure the wearing of a freshly washed garment
at the beginning of each week. Lightly starched cotton fabric, which
is somewhat resistant to fire, is the standard for the approved gar­
ments. Clothing made of inflammable cellulose fabric is banned.
The approved uniform at the arsenal is fashioned so that in case it
becomes ignited it can be removed quickly. Hair nets as a safety
precaution must be worn by all women to keep long hair from becom­
ing entangled in moving parts of machinery, to keep stray locks from
being attracted by the static of machinery, and as a protection in case
of a sudden flare-up of powder which might ignite loose ends of hair.
Cotton work gloves are worn by some of the machine operators and
inspectors as a protection against cuts and the grease and oil of the
machines and parts handled. All uniforms, gloves, and hair nets
are provided and maintained by the workers.



The need of adequate supervision in an explosives shop was stressed
at the arsenal. The departments are divided into small units with an
immediate supervisor over each. The selection and training of
women who can supervise other women is a problem in human rela­
tionships which must be studied and met in the new plants. The
supervision of small groups on night shifts must not be relaxed but
should be given as much or more consideration than that on day shifts.