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Technical Reports and Standards

The Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) Collection

The materials from the Office of Scientific Research and Development represent original research conducted by the Allies during World War II. The tens of thousands of items in the Library's OSRD collection include technical reports, drawings, memos, medical research results, and other documents that were either in the open literature or have since been declassified. The National Archives contains OSRD / NDRC Records for the Office's administrative history.

   Development of the OSRD

War Poster. 1941

In June of 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) "to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare." A similar effort had occurred during World War I under the Council of National Defense (the CND Records are at the National Archives).

Much of the NDRC's work was completed under strict secrecy, but Roosevelt's decision gave the United States an 18-month head start for employing science in the war effort (see: Report of the National Defense Research Committee for the First Year of Operation, June 1940 - June 1941). Members of the NDRC included: Dr. Vannevar Bush (chairman), president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and formerly Dean of the faculty of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) ; Prof. Richard C. Tolman (vice-chairman), dean of the graduate school and professor of physical chemistry and mathematical physics at the California Institute of Technology; Dr. Irvin Stewart (secretary), formerly Federal Commissioner for Communications and chairman of the Committee on Scientific Aids to Learning; Rear Admiral Harold G. Bowen, director of the Naval Research Laboratory; Conway P. Coe, U.S. Commissioner of Patents; Dr. Karl T. Compton, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. James B. Conant, president, of Harvard University; Dr. Frank B. Jewett, president of the Bell Telephone Laboratories; and Brigadier General G. V. Strong.


The NDRC administered its work through five divisions:

Division A - Armor and Ordnance
Division B - Bombs, Fuels, Gases, & Chemical Problems
Division C - Communication and Transportation
Division D - Detection, Controls, and Instruments
Division E - Patents and Inventions.

The NDRC, however, had neither the authority nor the funds to carry research forward into development and production. Concerned that the NDRC needed additional support, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8807 on June 28, 1941 establishing the Office of Scientific Research and Development as an independent entity within the Office for Emergency Management. Vannevar Bush was appointed director of the OSRD and given the authority to enter into contracts and agreements for studies, experimental investigations and reports (James B. Conant replaced Bush as chairman of the NDRC).

Vannevar Bush. Chief of Scientific Research and Development

Bush immediately undertook a survey to identify scientists in government, universities and industry that could be recruited for military-related research. Thousands of draft deferments were granted as experts were employed and contracts signed (primarily to a select group of established institutions) to further weapons research and development.

Administratively, the agency was divided on a subject basis into the Sensory Devices Committee, the Insect Control Committee, the Office of Field Services and two very large committees, the reorganized National Defense Research Committee and the Committee on Medical Research (CMR). The NDRC was now composed of the following divisions, panels and committees:

    Division 1 - Ballistic Research
    Division 2 - Effects of Impact and Explosion
    Division 3 - Rocket Ordnance
    Division 4 - Ordnance Accessories
    Division 5 - New Missiles
    Division 6 - Sub-surface Warfare
    Division 7 - Fire Control
    Division 8 - Explosives
    Division 9 - Chemistry
    Division 10 - Absorbents and Aerosols
    Division 11 - Chemical Engineering
    Division 12 - Transportation
    Division 13 - Electrical Communication
    Division 14 - Radar
    Division 15 - Radio Coordination
    Division 16 - Optics and Camouflage
    Division 17 - Physics
    Division 18 - War Metallurgy
    Division 19 - Miscellaneous

    Applied Mathematics Panel (AMP)
    Applied Psychology Panel (APP)
    Committee on Propagation
    Vacuum Tube Development Committee
    Tropical Deterioration Administrative Committee

The Committee on Medical Research was subdivided as follows:
    Division 1 - Medicine
    Division 2 - Surgery
    Division 3 - Aviation Medicine
    Division 4 - Physiology
    Division 5 - Chemistry
    Division 6 - Malaria

In addition, in early 1944 the Army and Navy, with the assistance of the OSRD, established the Army-Navy-OSRD Vision Committee to investigate vision problems related to military activity. The Committee's headquarters were located at the National Academy of Sciences office building, and after the war, the Committee was reorganized as the Army-Navy-National Research Council Vision Committee. TRS holds hardcopy reports issued under the OSRD banner.

Radar in operation in the second World War / Signal Corps photo.

By the end of the war, the OSRD had spent $450 million to provide U.S. and Allied troops with more powerful and accurate weapons, more reliable detonators, safer and more effective medical treatments and more versatile vehicles (alphabetical list of OSRD contractors). Bush had expected that the relationship he forged between the military and civilian scientists - especially the dissemination of information - would change after the conflict (see his article "As We May Think" in the July 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly). His wartime efforts however actually transformed the American research enterprise, and contribute to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's lament in his 1961 Farewell Address about a growing military-industrial complex. As Captain F. R. Furth, U.S.N, told scientists attending a June 1944 Symposium on Airborne Electronic Equipment at M.I.T. (part of the OSRD collection):

"To gain this electronic superiority [in radar] has taxed to the limits the combined best efforts of our scientists and of our manufacturing facilities. It has been a battle of wits between our scientists and the enemies' scientists and it is reasonable to expect that this battle will continue until the war's end - and should not stop even then as when the war ends we must continue this research and development so as to be prepared for the next 'sneak attack.'"

Although the OSRD was disbanded on December 31, 1947 and its remaining functions transferred to the National Military Establishment, the Office had proved emphatically the advantages of having a central agency organize and disseminate technical information in an easily recognizable format. At the same time, the tie between military and civilian scientific research became permanently entwined.

   Importance of the Collection:

The research reports contain some of the most prominent names in American science and technology, including Claude Shannon, John von Neumann, Richard Courant, Theodore von Karman, and Milton Friedman. These materials are still significant because:
  • Much of the technology developed during the war still has application today.
  • The historical aspects of this literature are invaluable for tracing the progress of individual careers, technologies and the relationship of universities and non-profit institutions with the military.
  • They may be of value as evidence in patent cases.
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   The Library of Congress OSRD Holdings and Guides to the Collection:

In 1946, in connection with the termination of its war-time contractual research program, the OSRD recalled the hundreds of thousands of copies of technical reports which had been prepared and issued by its contracting laboratories. Recognizing the importance of this body of technical literature to postwar research, the OSRD asked the Library of Congress to serve as the official receiving point for these reports and to undertake redistribution of the documents - in sets - to a number of centers throughout the world. Classified reports were sent to selected military installations and unclassified sets to some 90 research libraries. Because the number of copies of different titles varied from one to over a hundred, the sets differed greatly in their degree of completeness. Set No. 1, constituting the most nearly complete single record of World War II OSRD research, was retained by the Library of Congress and became the principal source of material for the OSRD Cataloging Project. This project got under way in 1949, but due to changing budget priorities, was discontinued in 1952 before all the material was described.

In 1960, all of the 35,000 to 40,000 hardcopy reports in the OSRD collection were declassified and made available to the public. Completed catalog records on index cards - covering thru Division 14, the Panels and the CMR reports - were filed in a card catalog that is housed in the TRS Unit. These cards contain contractor numbers, OSRD numbers, issuing group, and author and title information. The collection also included over 400 reels of OSRD microfilm containing 15,000 of the "most important" research reports found in the hardcopy collection, and 70 bound volumes of Summary Technical Reports. There is also a bound index volume to the microfilm reels. Also available on microfilm is The Card Index File to Medical Literature from the National Research Council, Committee on Aviation Medicine. This is a subject index to medical literature published during the War years. The Master Subject Index of the NDRC was issued as AD 221610 and is available online from DTIC.

As indicated, the OSRD card catalog and other finding aids in the Technical Reports and Standards Unit do not completely describe the collection. Some reports have never been cataloged and the finding aids are limited to only some parts of the collection. Please consult with the staff in TRS to begin your research.

Other OSRD materials are also found in the Library's general collection by searching United States Office of Scientific Research and Development or United States Dept. of Commerce. Office of Technical Services. Also see the Publication Board (PB) historical collection of technical reports held by the Library.

   Further Reading:


United States. Office of Scientific Research and Development.
Science--United States--History.
Science and state --United States.
Technology and state --United States.
Scientists--United States.
Military research--United States.
World War, 1939-1945 --Science.

Sample Titles:

Albanes, Joanne S., ed. Reports of the Committee on Vision, 1947-1990. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press, 1990.

Baxter, James Phinney. Scientists against time. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968.

Bush, Vannevar. Science, the endless frontier. New York : Arno Press, 1980.

Bush, Vannevar Index. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Correspondence and reports dated between 6/27/40 and 7/16/42; correspondents included FDR, Bush, Rudolph Forster, and others. Topics included: National Defense Research Committee, Physical Chemical Problems, Interchange with British and US scientists

Clark, Ronald W. The Birth of the Bomb. New York: Horizon Press, 1961.

Clark, Ronald W. Tizard. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, c1965.

Cochrane, Rexmond Canning. The National Academy of Sciences: the first hundred years, 1863-1963. Washington, D.C: The Academy, 1978.

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.

De Wolf Smyth, Henry. Atomic energy for military purposes (The Smyth report): the official report on the development of the atomic bomb under the auspices of the United States government.

Guerlac, Henry. Radar in World War II. New York: American Institute of Physics, 1987.

Hall, Peter S., et al. Radar. London, Washington: Brassey’s, 1991.

Herken, Gregg. Brotherhood of the bomb: the tangled lives and loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002.

Jewett, Frank Baldwin. "The Academy in World War II." In: Rexmond C. Cochrane, The National Academy of Sciences: the first hundred years, 1863-1963. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1978, pp. 382-432.

Leslie, Stuart W. The Cold War and American Science. NY: Columbia University Press, 1993.

MacLeod, Roy M., ed. Science and the Pacific War: science and survival in the Pacific, 1939-1945. Boston : Kluwer, 2000.

Stewart, Irvin. Organizing scientific research for war: the administrative history of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Foreword by Vannevar Bush. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1948.

Summary technical report of NDRC. Master subject index. Washington, D.C.: Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Defense Research Committee, 1946. Also identified by report number: AD 221610.

Zachary, G. Pascal. Endless frontier: Vannevar Bush, engineer of the American century. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Zimmerman, David. Top secret exchange: the Tizard Mission and the scientific war. Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.

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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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   November 18, 2015
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