Making Jet Engines in World War II: Britain, Germany, and the United States

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Our stories of industrial innovation tend to focus on individual initiative and breakthroughs. With Making Jet Engines in World War II, Hermione Giffard uses the case of the development of jet engines to offer a different way of understanding technological innovation, revealing the complicated mix of factors that go into any decision to pursue an innovative, and therefore risky technology.

Giffard compares the approaches of Britain, Germany, and the United States. Each approached jet engines in different ways because of its own war aims and industrial expertise. Germany, which produced more jet engines than the others, did so largely as replacements for more expensive piston engines. Britain, on the other hand, produced relatively few engines—but, by shifting emphasis to design rather than production, found itself at war's end holding an unrivaled range of designs. The US emphasis on development, meanwhile, built an institutional basis for postwar production. Taken together, Giffard's work makes a powerful case for a more nuanced understanding of technological innovation, one that takes into account the influence of the many organizational factors that play a part in the journey from idea to finished product.
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About the author

Hermione Giffard is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History and Art History at Utrecht University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 10, 2016
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780226388625
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / General
History / Military / World War II
Science / General
Science / History
Technology & Engineering / Aeronautics & Astronautics
Technology & Engineering / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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After World War II, most scientists in Germany maintained that they had been apolitical or actively resisted the Nazi regime, but the true story is much more complicated. In Serving the Reich, Philip Ball takes a fresh look at that controversial history, contrasting the career of Peter Debye, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, with those of two other leading physicists in Germany during the Third Reich: Max Planck, the elder statesman of physics after whom Germany’s premier scientific society is now named, and Werner Heisenberg, who succeeded Debye as director of the institute when it became focused on the development of nuclear power and weapons.

Mixing history, science, and biography, Ball’s gripping exploration of the lives of scientists under Nazism offers a powerful portrait of moral choice and personal responsibility, as scientists navigated “the grey zone between complicity and resistance.” Ball’s account of the different choices these three men and their colleagues made shows how there can be no clear-cut answers or judgement of their conduct. Yet, despite these ambiguities, Ball makes it undeniable that the German scientific establishment as a whole mounted no serious resistance to the Nazis, and in many ways acted as a willing instrument of the state.

Serving the Reich considers what this problematic history can tell us about the relationship of science and politics today. Ultimately, Ball argues, a determination to present science as an abstract inquiry into nature that is “above politics” can leave science and scientists dangerously compromised and vulnerable to political manipulation.
During the Second World War, German science and technology posed a terrifying threat to the Allied nations. Combined with Germany's generations-old reputation for excellence in science and engineering, these advanced weapons, which included rockets, V-2 missiles, tanks, submarines, and jet airplanes, gave troubling credence to Nazi propaganda about forthcoming "wonder-weapons" that would turn the war decisively in the Axis' favor. After the war ended, the Allied powers raced to seize "intellectual reparations" from almost every field of industrial technology and academic science in occupied Germany. It was likely the largest-scale technology transfer in history.

In Taking Nazi Technology, Douglas M. O'Reagan describes how the Western Allies gathered teams of experts to scour defeated Germany, seeking industrial secrets and the technical personnel who could explain them. Swarms of investigators recruited from industry, military branches, and intelligence agencies invaded Germany's factories and research institutions. They seized or copied all kinds of documents, from patent applications to factory production data to science journals. They questioned, hired, and sometimes even kidnapped hundreds of scientists, engineers, and other technical personnel. They studied technologies from aeronautics to audiotapes, toy making to machine tools, chemicals to carpentry equipment. They took over academic libraries, jealously competed over chemists, and schemed to deny the fruits of German invention to any other land—including that of their allies.

Drawing on declassified records, O'Reagan looks at which techniques worked for these very different nations, as well as which failed—and why. Most importantly, he shows why securing this technology, how the Allies did and when they did, still matters today. He also argues that these programs did far more than spread German industrial science: they forced businessmen and policymakers around the world to rethink how science and technology fit into diplomacy, business, and society itself. A deeply researched comparative history of the American, British, French, and Soviet efforts to control and exploit German science and technology amid fierce internal and external competition, Taking Nazi Technology is the first history to capture the whole picture of this crucial period at the dawn of the Cold War.

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What can history’s greatest breakthroughs in science and technology teach us about the future?


New Thinking: As each new stage technology builds on the previous innovations of the last, advancements begin to increase at an exponential rate. Now, more than ever, it’s important to see how we got here. What hidden stories lie behind much of the technology we use today? What drove those who invented it to do so? What were those special moments that changed the world forever? New Thinking is the story of human innovation, the story of us―through war and peace, it is humanity at our most innovative.


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In New Thinking: From Einstein to Artificial Intelligence, The Technology and Science That Built Our World you will delight in learning and appreciating:

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