Inventing the Endless Frontier: The Effects of the World War II Research Effort on Post-war Innovation
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.
We thank Ashish Arora, Pierre Azoulay, Wes Cohen, Jon Gruber, Adam Jaffe, Simon Johnson, Tom Nicholas, Scott Stern, and audiences at the HBS Faculty Research Symposium and the Urban Economics Association meetings (discussant Alex Whalley) for helpful comments. We also thank Hayley Pallan, Greg Saldutte, and Innessa Colaiacovo for outstanding research assistance, and the Harvard Business School Division of Faculty and Research Development and NBER Innovation Policy grant (2016) for financial support. All errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Federal support for research led to a surge in wartime patenting and also propelled innovation hubs that fostered post-war...