Inventing the Endless Frontier: The Effects of the World War II Research Effort on Post-War Innovation
59 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020 Last revised: 11 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 2, 2020
During World War II, the U.S. government launched an unprecedented effort to mobilize science for war: the newly-established Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) entered thousands of R&D contracts with industrial and academic contractors, spending one to two orders of magnitude more than what the government was previously investing in science. In this paper, we study the long-run effects of the OSRD-supported research effort on U.S. invention. Using data on all OSRD contracts, we show that these investments had large effects on the direction and location of U.S. invention and high-tech industrial employment, setting in motion agglomeration forces which shaped the technology clusters of the postwar era. Our results demonstrate the effects of a large, mission-driven government R&D program on the growth of domestic technology clusters and long-run technological progress.
Keywords: World War II, Vannevar Bush, OSRD, Mission-oriented R&D, Direction of Innovation, Geography of Innovation, Technology Clusters, U.S. Innovation System
JEL Classification: O31, O32, O38, N42, N72
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