However, an effort by Karl Compton, the president of MIT, to raise $3 million from a number of firms to support academic R&D was unsuccessful. Some attempts were made in the U.S. Congress in the mid-1930s to create a program of government support of industrial research, but these attempts were roundly rejected, not only on ideological grounds but also because influential members of Congress believed that important inventions came from the minds of individual creative men like Edison, and that organized R&D could contribute nothing useful to the furtherance of new technologies.

The Postwar Era

World War II changed many things in American society. The nation's R&D infrastructure, such as it was, was mobilized by Vannevar Bush to support the war effort. The R&D contract was invented as a means for the government to buy something it could not describe in advance—new knowledge. Major new weapons laboratories were created, and universities for the first time received large amounts of money to carry out research for the government. The newly created defense industry, based on mobilization of preexisting civilian industry, was given government funds to conduct and/or manage largescale military R&D.

As the war wound down, R&D leaders sought ways to ensure that federal funds would continue to flow to the universities, weapons laboratories, and defense contractors. Even though the United States emerged from the war as the world's dominant technological nation, there was concern that R&D would not be sustained to help meet the challenges of reenergizing the civilian economy, addressing unmet health needs, and meeting the emerging threat from the Soviet Union. Vannevar Bush led an effort to crystallize the new views of the role and organization of R&D in his seminal report, Science: The Endless Frontier,1 released in 1945.

The Bush report argued that R&D could help address important national problems, and it called for a government-supported National Research Foundation to support R&D for both civilian and military purposes. This report codified the linear model of innovation, in which investments in basic research could be expected to produce useful outcomes. The report and its supporters envisioned a system in which government would support academic research and industry would exploit the results for practical ends.

Bush lost the organizational battle—his comprehensive National Research Foundation was not adopted. The Office of Naval Research, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Institutes of Health were all established or expanded before a more limited National Science Foundation (NSF) was established in 1950, largely to support academic fundamental research not covered by the other agencies.

However, Bush's vision of the importance of R&D to national well-being, as well as his ideas about which institutions in society should do what kinds of R&D, did get adopted, not only in government but in industry as well. His report ushered in what I call the ''classical" period or the "golden age" of R&D in America. From about 1950 to 1970, R&D infrastructure and funding grew exponentially, largely on the Bush model. Responding to the Bush model of the centrality of basic research, many major corporations set up fundamental research laboratories, usually isolated from the company's business operations.

A key aspect of the R&D model at the time was corporate self-sufficiency; that is, during the golden age, large corporations sought to develop their own capabilities in each area of technology on which

1  

Vannevar Bush, Science-The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1945).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement