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

See all articles by Daniel P. Gross

Daniel P. Gross

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research

Bhaven N. Sampat

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health

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Date Written: June 2, 2020

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Gross, Daniel P. and Sampat, Bhaven N., Inventing the Endless Frontier: The Effects of the World War II Research Effort on Post-War Innovation (June 2, 2020). Harvard Business School Strategy Unit Working Paper No. 20-126, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3623115 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3623115

Daniel P. Gross (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Bhaven N. Sampat

Columbia University - Mailman School of Public Health ( email )

600 West 168th St. 6th Floor
New York, NY 10032
United States

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