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Systems, Experts, and ComputersThe Systems Approach in Management and Engineering, World War II and After$
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Agatha C. Hughes and Thomas P. Hughes

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780262082853

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262082853.001.0001

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The Adoption of Operations Research in the United States during World War II

The Adoption of Operations Research in the United States during World War II

(p.57) 2 The Adoption of Operations Research in the United States during World War II
Systems, Experts, and Computers

Erik P. Rau

The MIT Press

This chapter examines the adoption of operations research (OR) in the United States during World War II. Despite the relative ease with which it developed in Britain, OR generated considerable controversy when scientists, engineers, and military officials attempted to introduce it into the United States. Incompatible strategies for organizing research and development for the war effort lay at the root of this conflict. The director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), Vannevar Bush, designed his organization not only to mobilize the nation’s civilian research and development capacity, but also to shield that capacity from government influence. The eventual success of OR, despite Bush’s defiance, is symbolic of the ascendancy of systems approaches in collaborations between the federal government and civilian technical experts during and after World War II. Bush’s approach represents the older conservative preference for a weak state bound to the needs and agenda of business and science, labeled by historians as corporatism or the associational state.

Keywords:   operations research, OR, World War II, Vannevar Bush, OSRD, government influence, systems approaches, conservative preference, corporatism, associational state

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