One woman survives today to tell her story of making Gibson guitars at the Kalamazoo factory after all the men had gone off to war. 

A rare 1944 photograph of seventy women lined up in front of the Gibson Guitar factory at 225 Parsons St. in Kalamazoo inspired a law professor to become an author. An amateur guitar player, John Thomas was captivated by that photograph and knew he had to tell the story of this musical version of Rosie the Riviter.

Watch the video below, as Irene Stearns, the last surviving "Kalamazoo Gal" who worked at Gibson during this time tells her story. She loved her job at the guitar factory and says, "the good about Gibson is that I had a job and I liked what I was doing....I knew everybody and made a lot of my best friends there." The guitars that Irene and the women made are known as "Banners" because of a decal attached to the headstock and are prized possessions today among collectors.

Now recognized, nearly three quarters of a century after their manufacture, as among the finest acoustic guitars ever produced, over 9000 Banners were built during a period when, according to 'official' accounts, no Gibson instruments were produced because the company had shifted to churning out war goods. Even more remarkable, much of the work that went into Banners was performed by a group of young Michigan women with no prior training in musical instrument construction!

John Thomas, author Kalamazoo Gals

Irene has some great stories about what it was like to work in the Gibson guitar factory in the 1940's. You can learn more about author John Thomas and his book here.

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