Military Enterprise and Technological Change

Perspectives on the American Experience

Edited by Merritt Roe Smith





Building "star wars" weapons systems, so the opposing arguments run, will either conscript technological development and divert it from the civilian economy-or it will further spur "high" technology innovations that will benefit everyone.Either way, this is only the most recent example of the complex military-industrial conflict/symbiosis that has spanned American history, but that has not been subjected to thorough study and debate until recent years. In this book, historians of technology bring their special expertise to probing the influence of the military on technological development over a broad range of history and in a variety of cases.Bracketed by Merritt Roe Smith's overview and Alex Roland's bibliographic review, the case studies explore the relationship between Army ordnance and the development of the "American system" of manufacturing; the Army Corp of Engineers and the origin of modern management in the course of the expansion of the railroads; the Navy's adoption of the radio; Henry Ford's attempt to apply his mass-production methods to military ends in the building of the Eagle Boat; the Army's first large-scale employment of social scientists during World War II and their role in shaping the postwar research agenda; the Army Signal Corp's entrepreneurial role in the development of the transistor; the Navy's far-flung and well-funded postwar research and development program; and the social implications of military and "scientific" management styles, in particular the efforts to militarize management practices in the civilian sector.

The case studies are the work of David K. Allison, Peter Buck, Susan J. Douglas, David A. Hounshell, Thomas J. Misa, David F. Noble, Charles F. O'Connell, Jr., and the editor, Merritt Roe Smith.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262192392 401 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262691185 401 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Merritt Roe Smith

Merritt Roe Smith is Cutten Professor of the History of Technology at MIT and the author or editor of six books, most recently Inventing America: A History of the United States.


  • Eight case studies and a bibliographic essay, with a fine introduction by the editor, add up to a valuable reconnaissance into important and disputed territory. This collection will, I feel sure, be widely adopted for classroom use; but it also calls for a redirection of research. It becomes clear that, in peace and in war, the military has been a key factor in the planning, introduction, and diffusion of technological change.

    hugh G.J. Aitken

    George D. Olds Professor of Economics and American Studies

  • This book is an eye-opener to those who think of military technology as affecting only the conduct of war. Instead, with this group of well-chosen case studies by outstanding scholars, Merritt roe Smith demonstrates the critical and complex impact of miliitary technology upon the organization of American industry and the character of American society.

    Melvin Kranzberg

    Callaway Professor of the History of Technology Gerogia Tech and founding editor of Technology and Culture

  • In his book, Military Enterprise and Technological Change, Merritt Roe Smith has made available for the first time, to both students and scholars, the complexities of the relationship between military technology and the broader field of history of technology. Historians of the late 19th century and all of the 20th century will be interested in this book, which is sure to stimate further research in the area.

    Edward C. Ezell

    Curator and Supervisor Division of Armed Forces History National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution

  • Like Smith's prize-winning study of Harpers Ferry Armory, this bold and original new work makes a landmark contribution to the history of technology. Along with William McNeill's recent survey, The Pursuit of Power, it should produce a much-enhanced awareness of the need to appreciate and explore what has been up to now a truly underdeveloped area of scholarship and research: the crucial relationship between military needs and the emergence of the modern industrial and technological state.

    W. David Lewis

    Hudson Professor of History and Engineering Auburn University

  • The book treats an issue as timely as it is unexplored. Few current issues excite as much passion as the role of the U.S. military in technological design and production. In case after case, Roe Smith's collection of historians articulate the unique character of a military 'style' of technology, making it clear that the U.S. technological style might well have evolved differently in a context more open to market forces. It is immensely helpful to situate the present defense budget debate in this carefully crafted two hundred year analysis of the military-industrial complex.

    Dr. John M. Staudenmaier, S.J.

    History of Technology, The University of Detriot