• Arthur M. Squires


Some of what is wrong in today’s governmental R&D scene has arisen from a simple misunderstanding of the World War II experience. In supporting science and technology after that war, the nation believed it was continuing a process that had contributed much to the Allied victory. But the engineering successes of the war were not typical of the performance of a government, here or elsewhere. Not understanding how unusual they were — not appreciating the management skills that had helped to produce them — the nation did not take sufficient care in its arrangements for conducting R&D after the war.


Natural Rubber Buna Rubber Panama Canal Pearl Harbor Senate Committee 
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Source on distribution of coal in World War I

  1. James P. Johnson, “The fuel crisis, largely forgotten, of World War I,” Smithsonian, vol. 7, no. 9 (December 1976), pp. 64–71.Google Scholar

Sources and suggested reading on Jenny and Liberty Motor

  1. Anon., “America Must Put 22,000 Airplanes in France…,” The Official U.S. Bulletin, August 1, 1917, p. 8.Google Scholar
  2. —, “Letters and Telegrams Concerning Aircraft Production Allegations,” ibid., May 7, 1918, pp. 1-2.Google Scholar
  3. —, “Report of the Bureau of Aircraft Production,” ibid., December 28, 1918, pp. 10-11.Google Scholar
  4. —, “Development of Aviation in U.S. Army during War Reviewed in Report by Major General Kennley, Director,” ibid., December 28, 1918, pp. 6-7.Google Scholar
  5. Charles E. Hughes, “Report on Aircraft Production Inquiry,” The Official U.S. Bulletin, November 6, 1918, pp. 14-48.Google Scholar
  6. U.S. Senate, Investigation of the Aviation Service, United States Army, 64th Congress, 1st session, Senate Report 153, Washington, D.C., 1916.Google Scholar
  7. —, Investigation of the War Department — Aircraft Production, 65th Congress, 2nd session, Senate Report 380, Washington, D.C., 1918.Google Scholar
  8. —, Aircraft Production in the United States, 65th Congress, 2nd session, Senate Report 555, Washington, D.C., 1918.Google Scholar
  9. Hiram Bingham, “Building America’s Air Army,” National Geographic, January 1918, pp. 48-86.Google Scholar
  10. Anon., “The Life Story of an American Airman in France,” ibid., January 1918, pp. 86-108.Google Scholar
  11. Hamilton Holt, “America’s Only Failure in France,” The Independent, August 24, 1918, pp. 248-249.Google Scholar
  12. Benjamin C. Forbes, “Truth about Aircraft Muddling,” Forbes, June 15, 1918, p. 152.Google Scholar
  13. Anon., “What Aircraft Probers Will Report,” ibid., August 10, 1918, pp. 302, 316.Google Scholar
  14. —, “Official History of Aircraft Production,” Automotive Industries, December 5, 1918, pp. 968-969, 987-990.Google Scholar
  15. —, “Army Air Corps Writes ‘Finis’ on Liberty Engine’s Career,” ibid., February 10, 1934, p. 163.Google Scholar
  16. —, “The True Story of the Liberty Motor: The Lightest and Most Powerful Engine Produced on a Quantity Basis,” Scientific American, June 1, 1918, pp. 500, 515.Google Scholar
  17. —, “The Liberty Motor,” ibid., December 7, 1918, p. 455.Google Scholar
  18. C.F. Kettering, “An Engineer’s View of the Liberty Engine and the Airplane Program,” Scientific American, June 8, 1918, pp. 538-539.Google Scholar
  19. Anon., “The Liberty Motor,” ibid., September 29, 1917, p. 222.Google Scholar
  20. F.H. Colvin, “American Aircraft Development,” American Machinist, April 19, 1917, pp. 661-666.Google Scholar
  21. W.F. Verner, “Production of Liberty Motor Parts at the Ford Plant,” ibid., July 17, 1919, pp. 123-130, August 2, 1919, p. 116.Google Scholar
  22. I.B. Holley, Ideas and Weapons, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1953.Google Scholar
  23. Philip S. Dickey III, The Liberty Engine: 1918–1942, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1968.Google Scholar

Sources and suggested reading on aviation gasoline

  1. R. Norris Shreve, The Chemical Process Industries, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1945 (first edition).Google Scholar
  2. A good source on industrial alcohol, synthetic alcohol, synthetic rubber, and aviation gasoline technologies as they developed during World War II. Shreve gives flow diagrams that often convey a sense of the nature of the equipment that these technologies employed.Google Scholar
  3. Charles G. Moseley, Journal of Chemical Education, vol. 61 (1984), pp. 655–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Sources and suggested reading on synthetic rubber

  1. Albert Koch, “Buna Rubbers,” Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, vol. 32 (1940), pp. 464–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Koch presented this paper at the Symposium on Synthetic Rubber and Elastic Polymers, Division of Rubber Chemistry, Baltimore meeting of American Chemical Society, April 1939.Google Scholar
  3. Anselm Talalay and Michel Magat, Synthetic Rubber from Alcohol: A Survey Based on the Russian Literature, Interscience Publishers, Inc., New York, 1945.Google Scholar
  4. Frank A. Howard, Buna Rubber: The Birth of an Industry, D. van Nostrand Company, Inc., New York, 1947.Google Scholar
  5. U.S. Senate Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, Hearings. Part 11. Rubber, March 5 through April 7, 1942, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1942, pp. 4261-4955.Google Scholar
  6. —, Additional Report: Rubber, Government Printing Office, May 26, 1942.Google Scholar
  7. U.S. Senate Committee on Patents, Hearings on S. 2303, a bill to provide for the use of patents in the interest of national defense or the prosecution of the war… and S. 2491, a bill to amend the patent laws, to prevent suppression of inventions, to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.., April 13 through August 21, 1942, pp. 1-5306.Google Scholar
  8. U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Hearings on Utilization of Farm Crops: Industrial Alcohol and Synthetic Rubber, March 20 through December 17, 1942, Government Printing Office, 1942, pp. 1-1336.Google Scholar
  9. Herman E. Schroeder, “The Synthetic Rubber Program during the Second World War,” presentation at the Hoover Institution Symposium, Stanford, California, June 16, 1980.Google Scholar
  10. Robert A. Solo, Synthetic Rubber: A Case Study in Technological Development under Public Direction, Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, U.S. Senate Committee of the Judiciary, Study 18, Government Printing Office, 1959.Google Scholar
  11. —, “The saga of synthetic rubber,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 36, no. 4 (April 1980), pp. 31-36.Google Scholar
  12. William M. Tuttle, Jr., “The Birth of an Industry: The Synthetic Rubber ‘Mess’ in World War II,” Technology and Culture, vol. 22 (1981), pp. 35–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Solo and Tuttle write as if the nation should have expected Jersey Standard or Carbide or someone in the oil or chemical industry to have supplied thinking and action between 1938 and late 1941 on behalf of agriculture that no one in the agricultural R&D establishment saw fit to undertake vigorously. I see no use in imputing incompetence, let alone criminal behavior, on the part of leaders of the oil or chemical industry for these omissions.Google Scholar
  14. A few agricultural researchers did make an effort in early 1941 to relate the nation’s stocks of surplus corn to its possible need for synthetic rubber; but as they pointed out when they told the Gillette subcommittee about this effort, Congress had consistently cut their budgets in the years leading into World War II.Google Scholar
  15. Solo argues that the rubber program was a failure because rubber production in 1943 was only 181,470 tons, while the Baruch Committee hoped for an output of 450,000 tons in that year. He characterizes the Baruch Committee as having “blasted the planning… of the synthetic rubber program.” I do not think this is a fair characterization of the Baruch Committee’s endorsement, almost to the letter, of the program it found in place when it began its review. Solo also writes that the Committee “blasted… the organization of the synthetic rubber program.” The Committee did recommend that Rubber Reserve acquire more technological competence, so that it could form judgments independent of advice of contractors who would build and operate Rubber Reserve’s plants; but this recommendation appears to me directed more toward simple prudence than toward the suggestion that the contractors’ advice had been bad in the past.Google Scholar
  16. Neither Tuttle nor Solo provides a crisp statement of what they think should have been done. Neither seems to understand that 1941, let alone 1942, was too late for the rubber industry to turn away from a decision it had effectively taken in 1939, to adopt Buna-S as its synthetic for tires. Solo hints that a rubber developed in Russia might have been a better choice. No one came from the U.S.S.R. in 1939, as Koch had come from I.G. Farben, to teach U.S. tire manufacturers how to use the Russian rubber. I find nothing in the record to suggest that they would have preferred it to Buna-S if they had been afforded such teaching. Neither Tuttle nor Solo seems to understand that there could have been no turning back in 1942 from the 1941 decision to rely upon alcohol and butylene as major raw materials for butadiene. Both hint that a one-step process developed in Poland, first disclosed in the U.S. in December 1941, might have been better than Carbide’s two-step process; but the Polish process appeared too late, and support for it seemed to evaporate soon after Publicker Commercial Alcohol Company operated a pilot plant in mid-1942. A fermentation to 2,3-butylene glycol, piloted in Idaho on potatoes in November 1941, was also too late — especially given the limited resources of the fermentation industry for R&D.Google Scholar
  17. Tuttle and Solo might at least have given credit to the decision makers at Rubber Reserve who backed Carbide’s process in the summer of 1941 and thereby made possible a shift of emphasis in early 1943 to alcohol butadiene for the short run.Google Scholar
  18. Both Tuttle and Solo, like the Congressional committees investigating rubber in early 1942, seem unable to judge the qualifications of “experts.” I understand that assessing expertise can be difficult. Who would not have credited Weizmann with great expertise on synthetic rubber? After Roosevelt summoned him from England in March 1942, Weizmann urged expansion of his celebrated fermentation process yielding butyl alcohol and acetone, which he had developed during World War I to supply acetone for the Allied cause. After the War, Commercial Solvents Corporation found markets for the alcohol, and acetone became the less important of the fermentation’s two products. In 1942, Weizmann proposed to convert butyl alcohol to butylene. Later, he complained in his autobiography at his curt reception by managers of the U.S. rubber program. Weizmann’s proposal held no interest, and I can empathize with the persons with whom he discussed it in Washington: he was wasting their time. A fermentation route to butylene via butyl alcohol was hopeless as a competitor with fluid cat cracking, of which Weizmann may well have been unaware. And even after his route furnished butylene, he would need Jersey’s dehydrogenation process to continue onward to butadiene. Weizmann recognized that he had to do something with his acetone byproduct, but his proposal to react it with acetylene to yield isoprene was a non-starter for the government’s Buna-S program: materiel for plants to produce acetylene on the necessary scale could be better applied elsewhere, not to mention that their design and construction would take time and that their operation would consume inordinate amounts of electricity. Solo quotes Weizmann’s testimony before the Baruch Committee: Weizmann wrongly supposed that Rubber Reserve planned to obtain all of its butadiene by dehydrogenating butane, and he feared this could lead only to trouble — rightly, if it had been true. Solo should have noticed Weizmann’s error and assessed his judgment of Rubber Reserve’s technical program accordingly; but Solo compounds the error by incorrectly attributing the tardiness of deliveries of petroleum-based butadiene to the troubles experienced at the few butane dehydrogenation facilities that were built.Google Scholar
  19. Solo’s account of the rubber program’s later years is valuable. He describes how little the government received for the money it spent on synthetic rubber research after the war and how progress in synthetic rubber art came from outside the governmental R&D effort. This is an early post-war example of the deterioration in the U.S. R&D scene.Google Scholar

Suggested reading on the Panama Canal

  1. David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1977.Google Scholar

Suggested reading on industry in Nazi Germany

  1. Berenice A. Carroll, Design for Total War: Arms and Economics in the Third Reich, Mouton, The Hague, 1968.Google Scholar
  2. Edward R. Zilbert, Albert Speer and the Nazi Ministry of Arms: Economic Institutions and Industrial Production in the German War Economy, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Rutherford, New Jersey; Associated University Presses, London, 1981.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur M. Squires
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

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