Making Numbers Live

50 million men registered for the draft during World War II. 16 million men and women served in uniform. There were 400,000 casualties. The US sent 1.5 million vehicles and 85,000 aircraft overseas to support our troops. The numbers are astounding in and of themselves. But the quantities are hard to grasp when simply put down on paper.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has done a remarkable job of communicating what words and paper cannot and to find innovative ways to display the different facts and figures so as to keep the visitor’s interest.


Take for instance how far behind the United States was at the beginning of the war when we had less than 500,000 soldiers pitted against the overwhelming German and Japanese forces. Here’s how the Museum chose to represent that disparity.

Then, there are the numbers of American Liberty Ships, aircraft carriers, tanks, bombs, and helmets and boots—as examples of the thousands of items that had to be manufactured, crated, and shipped abroad to where they were needed when they were needed. No sterile list of items soon to be forgotten. Here the museum assembled representative pieces as if in crates ready for shipment.

As a final example, the Museum carved out space for an exhibit for the often overlooked Merchant Marines. In a prominent passage way between two buildings the relevant numbers are lit against a dark background, making them inescapable. Merchant Marines manned many of the ships traveling in convoys 160 strong but, in carrying out their duty suffering some of the greatest losses of the war—1,554 ships and a casualty rate of 1 out of every 26 men.

Thank you to the Museum for keeping history alive and making the numbers live. Don’t miss the chance to see the museum and take with you whatever image that illustrates the war best in your mind.

Visit the Museum online at https://www.nationalww2museum.org

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