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The Naval Research Laboratory

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Today, when government and science seem inextricably linked, when virtually no one questions the dependence of national defense on the excellence of national technical capabilities, it is noteworthy that in-house defense research is relatively new in our Nations history. The Naval Research Laboratory NRL, the first modern research institution created within the United States Navy, began operations in 1923. The first step came in May 1915, a time when Americans were deeply worried about the great European war. Thomas Edison, when asked by a New York Times correspondent to comment on the conflict, argued that the Nation should look to science. The Government, he proposed in a published interview, should maintain a great research laboratory...In this could be developed... all the technique of military and naval progression without any vast expense. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels seized the opportunity created by Edisons public comments to enlist Edisons support. He agreed to serve as the head of a new body of civilian experts--the Naval Consulting Board--to advise the Navy on science and technology. The Boards most ambitious plan was the creation of a modern research facility for the Navy. Congress allocated 1.5 million for the institution in 1916, but wartime delays and disagreements within the Naval Consulting Board postponed construction until 1920. The Laboratorys two original divisions--Radio and Sound--pioneered in the fields of high-frequency radio and underwater sound propagation. They produced communications equipment, direction-finding devices, sonar sets, and perhaps most significant of all, the first practical radar equipment built in this country. They also performed basic research, participating, for example, in the discovery and early exploration of the ionosphere. Moreover, the Laboratory was able to work gradually toward its goal of becoming a broadly based research facility.

Subject Categories:

  • Marine Engineering
  • Test Facilities, Equipment and Methods

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