Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Science and the Navy

Science and the Navy: The History of the Office of Naval Research

Harvey M. Sapolsky
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 158
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Science and the Navy
    Book Description:

    Addressing all those interested in the history of American science and concerned with its future, a leading scholar of public policy explains how and why the Office of Naval Research became the first federal agency to support a wide range of scientific work in universities. Harvey Sapolsky shows that the ONR functioned as a "surrogate national science foundation" between 1946 and 1950 and argues that its activities emerged not from any particularly enlightened position but largely from a bureaucratic accident. Once involved with basic research, however, the ONR challenged a Navy skeptical of the value of independent scientific advice and established a national security rationale that gave American science its Golden Age. Eventually, the ONR's autonomy was worn away in bureaucratic struggles, but Sapolsky demonstrates that its experience holds lessons for those who are committed to the effective management of science and interested in the ability of scientists to choose the directions for their research. As military support for basic research fades, scientists are discovering that they are unprotected from the vagaries of distributive politics.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6092-0
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    American indifference to basic research, a common lament among historians and scientists alike, can be exaggerated.¹ America supports an impressive array of scientific institutions and maintains an army of researchers at an unparalleled cost. American scientists have won a disproportionate share of the world’s scientific prizes. It is their work, much more than that of the British, that has made English the language of science.

    To be sure, the federal government until recently has not played a dominating role in developing the nation’s scientific capabilities.² It was state governments competing for economic advantage within the union or wealthy individuals hoping...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Origins of the Office of Naval Research
    (pp. 9-36)

    Neither the U.S. Navy nor any of the other armed services sought the task of supporting science at the end of the Second World War. To be sure, senior military and naval officers were extremely impressed with the rapid progress that had been achieved in weapons during the war. But if on occasion they praised the contribution of science to the war effort, they usually meant the contribution of technology, committing the common verbal error of confusing science and technology, which scientists are not always moved to correct.¹ The task of supporting science, perhaps appropriately, held no special interest for...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Office of National Research
    (pp. 37-56)

    In the years immediately following the Second World War, the Office of Naval Research was the principal federal agency supporting academic science. The nsf was not established until 1950 and did not begin receiving significant appropriations until the Sputnik crisis. Although the Office of Ordnance Research (an Army agency), and the Office of Aerospace Research (an Air Force agency), were patterned after onr, neither was operating before the early 1950s.¹ The National Institutes of Health, limited in interest to the support of biomedical research, did not collectively match the level of onr appropriations until the mid 1950s.² The Atomic Energy...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Office of No Return? ONR and the Issue of Relevance
    (pp. 57-81)

    The Golden Age of academic science in America was quite brief. Between 1946 and 1950, onr was able to support, with public funds, promising opportunities in science, largely free from the consideration of the geographic distribution of the funds and the expected public benefits of the science. Government in America had traditionally been indifferent to the interests of science, supporting only those research projects or fields where the political and economic returns were obvious.¹ During these four years, however, it seemed as if the discovery of new knowledge was coming to be valued in America for its own sake. But...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Managing Naval Science
    (pp. 82-98)

    The harder task in government is not identifying goals, but achieving them. Onr learned through experience that the only politically acceptable objective for its research activities—the only objective that could survive scrutiny within and outside the Navy—was the enhancement of naval capabilities.¹ Some within the organization would argue that the relevance of the research that it sponsored to naval missions had come to be too immediate to serve effectively the Navy’s and thus the nation’s long term interests, but none doubted the necessity and appropriateness of directing research toward furthering naval capabilities. Onr’s basic management problem has been...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Science Advice for the Navy
    (pp. 99-117)

    Public Law 79–588, the statute which established onr in August 1946, also authorized the Secretary of the Navy to create a Naval Research Advisory Committee (nrac), consisting of not more than fifteen preeminent civilian scientists, to advise the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Research on matters relating to research. The committee was formed the following October and included among its initial members such well-known figures in science as Karl Compton, the President of m.i.t.; his brother Arthur Compton, a physicist at the University of Chicago; Detlev Bronk, the President of the National Academy of Sciences;...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 118-130)

    The Office of Naval Research helped American universities enhance their position of world leadership in science in the years immediately following the Second World War. The agency functioned as a surrogate national science foundation precisely during the period when basic research and graduate education in science and engineering needed federal nurturing the most. The war had totally disrupted European science, providing the opportunity for greater American assertion in basic research and advanced training. Hundreds of thousands of veterans were entering the universities eager to make up for lost time. There were dozens of important ideas in science and technology waiting...

  13. APPENDIX: Budget Data
    (pp. 131-138)
  14. Index
    (pp. 139-142)