The Glenn L. Martin Company's Model 179 answered a January 1939 Army Air Corps specification for a high-speed bomber. The Army ordered the streamline twin-engine, all-metal monoplane, designated the B-26 Marauder, in September and the first production example flew in November 1940. The design incorporated several new innovations. The high wing loading of the design and the resultant increased landing and take-off speeds caused many accidents in training. Intimidating epithets such as the "Widow Maker" and "One-a-Day-in-Tampa-Bay" added to the B-26's initial reputation as it underwent Congressional scrutiny.

As those problems were being resolved, Marauders immediately went into combat after American entry into World War II. On June 4, 1942, Army Air Forces (AAF) Marauders defending Midway Island attacked Japanese aircraft carriers with torpedoes, but failed to score hits. The AAF sent Marauders to North Africa after the Allied invasion in November 1942 for service with the Twelfth Air Force. Eighth Air Force B-26s flew the first bombing mission against German forces in Europe on May 14, 1943. In preparation for the invasion of France, the Eighth's Marauders were transferred to the Ninth Air Force, the primary American tactical air force in Europe, in October 1943.

Like the M1 Garand combat rifle, the Sherman tank, and the LST, the Marauder was an important weapon in the war against the Axis powers. B-26 crews flew over 100,000 sorties and dropped approximately 150,000 tons of bombs, primarily against Nazi Germany. The AAF lost fewer Marauders than any Allied bomber it flew—less than one-half of one percent. Besides the United States, the air forces of Great Britain and France operated Marauders in combat. Few Marauders survive today out of the 5,266 produced by Martin.