Office of Scientific Research and Development

Thomas Edison,
photo 14.915/66 from ENHS
Vannevar Bush
"General of Physics"
from Time, 1944/04/03
ship telephones,
from Life, 1944/10
tank radio,
from Life, 1944/10


Characteristics of OSRD:

  1. was independent
    • was civilian controlled, not military, under Vannevar Bush
    • not like Brit. organization, fragmented, much Churchill interference
    • James Baxter's study has argued that the proximity fuze would never have been made if OSRD had been under military control

  2. systematic search made of all scientific personnel in government, universities, industry
    • 9766 draft deferments given
    • administered by the Scientific Personnel Office

  3. projects contracted out to other institutions,
    • e.g. CIT huge rocket lab
    • e.g., Western Electric & Bell Labs, as in WWI sound amplifier
  4. OSRD was permanent (not like Advisory Committee On Uranium)
  5. much flexibility allowed rapid development
    • organization and administration shifted to meet problems
      • e.g. OSRD placed over NDRC
      • e.g. prox. fuze contract from Carnegie Institute to John Hopkins
    • OSRD mphasized concentrated, massive rapid development
      • e.g. May 23, 1942 A-bomb decision
      • e.g. "Few-quick" organization (Engineering and Transition Office) under Fred Gordon to hasten production from model to field, esp. e.g. of Jap. torpedo jammer developed in 1 week
    • vertical integration of methodology
      • WWII different from WWI = structure created to innovate (OSRD)
      • not random like WWI Naval Consulting Bd.
      • not run by committees like NDRC
      • from fundamental science to final production and testing
      • e.g. smoke screen (Lord Rayleigh to Langmuir to SOC M-1)
    • Conflict between military and scientists
      • much military resistance to technology
      • Stimson pushed coordination (e.g. radar - Aldred Loomis)
      • military did not see importance of high muzzle velocity ordnance (Ger. did-led throughout war)
      • Navy reluctant to use airplane anti-sub methods
      • GM developed Dukw because Army and Navy not interested


Radar will win the war,
from Life, Aug. 9, 1943, p. 3

1886 - Henrich Hertz proved radio waves that he had discovered also were reflected from solid objects

1925 - sent pulses to measure ionosphere; scientists of many countries adopted this pulse technique

1935 - Naval Research Lab developed ship radar

1940 May - Signal Corps distrib. long-range AA radar; used at Pearl Harbor

Brit. built first operational radar system on England's east coast 1935-1939;

MIT developed high frequency radar for antiaircraft, esp. V-1

Radar ad by Western Electric,
from Time, 1943/06
electric gun director,
from Life, 1944/06
electric gun director,
from Life, 1944/12

3 devices used ag. V-1 that was anticipated by OSRD Aug. 1943, and OSRD was ready with defenses when Germany first used V-1 ag. Brit. June 12, 1944, and the V-2 first ag. London Sept. 12, 1944

SCR-584, from Life, 1944/12
Irving Langmuir, from GE History
worker compares tiny proximity fuze tube with large cathode tube
  1. SCR-584 radar
  2. M-9 director
  3. proximity fuze

M-9 fire control director was result of the important role of Applied Math Panel

3-cm. radar developed in Radiation Lab 1942 (high-resolution clear scope picture)

By 1943, Radiation Lab (under Lee DuBridge) changed emphasis from research to production, and contractors sent engineers to lab for instruction

Radar countermeasures

Germany too late in developing microwave radar

Bell Labs - Dumbo radars for patrol planes    




Anti-Submarine Warfare

During World War I

Harvard Underwater Sound Lab. - developed"sonar"    


Proximity Fuze

Proximity fuze, from NMAH - article

most significant scientific achievement, next to A-bomb

newly-designed miniature vacuum tubes by Sylvania

government had to find reliable way to mass produce tubes

Merle Tuve - Section T (Carnegie Institute)

when research ended beg. of 1942, new contract made by OSRD, Navy, Johns Hopkins Univ.



Amphibious Vehicles



Land Warfare Devices

1. Mine detector

2. Flame thrower

7th Division used flame throwers on a block house on Kwajalein Island,
from Patch-NA 2/4/44

3. Bazooka

bazooka hits German tank in Normany
ILN 1944/08/02




a major effort of NDRC and OSRD - 2nd only to radar in expenditures

LSMs sending rockets at the shores of Pokishi Shima, near Okinawa, 5 days before invasion, 03/1945 (NWDNS-80-G-324262 ) from NAIL
Five-inch rockets being loaded under the wing of an F4U of MAG-33. Just before take-offs, the safety pins are removed and the rockets are ready for charging. Okinawa, Japan, 06/1945 (NWDNS-127-N-126413 ) from NAIL





Chemical Warfare




Atomic Bomb    



WWII Timeline start | Links | Topics | Pictures | Maps | revised 4/15/07 by Steven Schoenherr