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Technical Reports and Standards

PB Historical Collection

The TRS collection of 160,000 Publication Board (PB) hardcopy and microfilm reports dating from 1945 to 1964 documents the history of technology during the immediate post-war period. Many of the early reports were published only after they were declassified, and even then they had a limited distribution. Reports released prior to 1948 were typically captured materials from Germany and Japan that had been obtained by Allied research teams (please also consult the "German Captured Documents Collection" Finding Aid for materials held in the Manuscripts Division of the Library). These reports included patents, company papers, interviews of key scientific and administrative personnel, and related scientific or technological materials (see War Department Training Circular, TC 81, 1942, Processing of captured materiel for intelligence purposes). Domestic reports became the primary materials after captured reports ceased to be processed.

The creation of the Publication Board was the first effort by the government to collect, organize, and distribute a wide range of federally sponsored research in diverse disciplines to interested groups in the private sector. In effect, this was the beginning of the use of the technical report as an instrument for the mass release of scientific and technological data. Today, the PB series continues to be issued by the Department of Commerce and collected by other institutions as well as the Library of Congress.

Scaled (1:50) drawings of the Horen IX prototype, from the PB series

Scaled (1:50) drawings of the Horten IX prototype, from the PB series

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Origins of War-Related Scientific Research

President Truman created the Publication Board by an executive order issued in 1945; it was the precursor to today's National Technical Information Service (NTIS). The Board was established to acquire and disseminate the vast amounts of scientific and technical information created as a result of federal contract research during and after World War II. The reports were distributed by the Board to business, academia and the general public and became known as the PB series.

report cover

Sample title page
from the PB series

The series collection, comprising thousands of reports on paper and microfilm, originated with the government's desire to make technological research conducted by both sides in World War II—the victors as well as the vanquished—available to the American public.

In August 1945, the scope of the Publication Board was expanded to include the distribution of "enemy scientific and industrial information" for commercial, academic and public use. The Allies' collection of this kind of information revealed many important technologies developed by adversaries that were cutting-edge at the time and could be adapted and modified for peacetime applications in the United States (for a subject index to the material, see the Classified List of OTS Printed Reports , which contains the FIAT, BIOS, CIOS, PB, ARCO (Aircraft Resources Control Office) and BIGS (British Interrogation of German Scientists) numbers). Even today, entrepreneurs are making use of decades-old processes described in the PB series that may now be economically viable, such as synthetic fuel production.

   The Rise of Research Programs

In the Spring of 1940, the United States was in imminent danger of being forced into a war for which the country was unprepared. The leading and most influential scientists of the time realized that the coming war would require a massive mobilization of scientific and technological research, particularly in the development of offensive and defensive weapons technologies.

These scientists believed that the nation's interests would be best served if researchers familiar with the latest advances in science became more knowledgeable about the needs of the military. This marked the first time that scientists took the initiative and approached the government to offer their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the nation. Thereafter, the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) and its advisory and contracting arm, the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), were created as part of the War Department to consult with scientists and military authorities to advise on what research efforts were needed and to administer the necessary contracts. Research reports of the OSRD and the NDRC are among the earliest reports in the Library's PB series.

NDRC was organized into subject-oriented divisions. Among the most significant of these in size and scope was Division 14, Radar, organized by A.L. Loomis. Loomis was an investment banker who, after accumulating a great deal of wealth, indulged his passion for science by building one of the best-equipped physics laboratories in the world in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., and inviting world-famous scientists to use it.

In 1941, President Roosevelt asked Loomis to organize a research program within the NDRC for the development of microwave radar detection systems for military applications. Already concerned about the threat of Hitler's Germany in Europe and fearful of the consequences for his own country, Loomis quickly agreed. With his good friend Ernest O. Lawrence, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1939 for the invention of the cyclotron, Loomis recruited scientists of astonishing accomplishment, including at least six eventual Nobel laureates, to work on the problems of radar development.

Photos of the "Horten Tailless Aircraft" from the PB series issue on "German Underground Installations"

PB series issue on
German Underground Installations Horten Tailless Aircraft

Division 14's work had important research consequences, including the development of many devices still in use today, such as microwave radar warning systems, the ground-control approach to the blind landing of aircraft, and the eventual development of the maser, nuclear magnetic resonance and MRI machines. Microwave spectroscopy equipment, the transistor, the memory systems of digital computers and even the ubiquitous microwave oven are based on the research undertaken by Division 14. These and other important discoveries of Division 14 are contained in hundreds of reports in the PB series.

   Fears and Rumors of Enemy Technology

In the summer of 1944, Allied forces had broken out of Normandy and were rapidly moving through France to the Low Countries and the borders of Germany. Allied leaders learned of the existence of advanced technology in Germany and Japan that held the potential to turn the tide of battle. They recognized the V-1 and V-2 rockets were threats, and worried about what else might be waiting beyond the Rhine for Allied troops.

Intelligence agents operating within Germany, German-occupied territories and Imperial Japan confirmed persistent rumors from fleeing refugees about the manufacture of chemical and biological munitions, the development of jet and other high-speed aircraft, and kamikaze submarines. Other rumors included the existence of submarines capable of accommodating specially-designed fighter-bomber aircraft to penetrate American defenses and destroy strategic targets such as the Panama Canal.

The Allies also knew that the invasion of the Japanese home islands would be a long and bitter battle. Scientists looked for weapons in the German arsenal that could be adapted quickly for use against the Japanese. They were especially eager to learn more about the Germans' growing expertise in the field of nuclear fission. It was common knowledge in the scientific community that the Nobelist Werner Heisenberg, Otto Hahn and other German physicists had been active throughout the war in experimental work on nuclear fission. For these reasons, and because the United States and its allies thought that the gathering of the combatants' advanced scientific and wartime technologies would be of great value to post-war industries and a boon to society as a whole, they mounted an effort to gather as much of this information as they could.

   Collecting on the Front Line


Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, signing the ratified surrender terms for the German army at Russian headquarters in Berlin, May 7, 1945.

American and British organizations frequently teamed in their effort to gather war research. Allied intelligence crews of scientists and industrial experts from academic, research, and industrial facilities fanned out behind the advancing front line, confiscating documents and equipment and interrogating personnel found in the research laboratories, industrial plants, and storage and transport facilities as they fell into Allied hands. They encountered a staggering amount of diverse material, that was then translated, organized and made available to government and private industry.

For American teams going to a commercial site in newly-liberated territory, policy required that representatives from at least two separate and competing corporations accompany the investigation. Still, all documents, material, and reports of their findings were sent directly to the intelligence organizations and not to the employers of the experts on the scene. Virtually all of the reports, including thousands of pages of original captured material, as well as many documents reflecting the research activities and weapons information of U.S. armed forces, were eventually released in the PB series.

These documents, based on information gathered by the intelligence teams, provide a vast array of scientific and industrial data that were subsequently used in the United States and abroad as the basis for new methods and technologies. The documents collected included studies of materials used in aircraft and aviation fuels. Other reports covered acetylene, an intermediate in the production of synthetic rubber, vinyls and industrial alcohols, hydrogenation of coal for mining and other fuel production, plastics and synthetic fibers. They also included ventilation, sanitation and safety data gleaned from the German experience in building underground facilities to withstand air attacks, among many other production topics.

At the conclusion of the war in the Pacific, Allied intelligence teams conducted a similar exploration and assessment of Japanese scientific and technological efforts. Many of these reports also appear in the PB collection.

   Post-1964 PB Series

After the war, unclassified technical reports resulting from federal research contracts, primarily with government agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, continued to be released under the PB series in hard-copy and roll-film formats through the Office of Technical Services (OTS). In 1964, OTS was abolished and its functions were absorbed by the Department of Commerce's new Clearinghouse for Federal Scientific and Technical Information (CFSTI). The PB series now includes research reports produced by many U.S. agencies. In 1970, CFSTI's name was changed to the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which distributes technical reports and the PB series to this day.

   Further Reading:

Subjects:

Science and state --United States.
Technolgy and state --United States.
Science--United States--History.
Scientists--United States.
Military research--United States.

Sample Titles:

Conant, Jennet. Tuxedo Park: A Wall Street Tycoon and the Secret Palace of Science That Changed the Course of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

National Academy of Science. The Role of the Department of Commerce in Science and Technology. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, 1960.

National Archives. General Records of the Department of Commerce. (RECORD GROUP 40) 1898-1991.

United States. Naval History Division. Operational Archives. Reports of the U.S. naval technical mission to Japan, 1945-1946 [microform].

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United States Copyright restrictions prevent copying entire copyrighted documents. However, the fair use provision does permit reproduction of relevant portions (small parts) of these documents. Photocopiers, microform reader/printers and computer terminals are available for patron use in the Science Reading Room. TRS materials are non-circulating and are not to leave the Science Reading Room area.

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   February 19, 2014
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