The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
Centerpieces   Places of Invention
An exhibition under development

Places of Invention tells the stories of historic and modern communities where people, resources, and spaces have come together to spark inventiveness.

Invention hot spot:
MIT and Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the Second World War

Charles Stark Draper (left) in the MIT aeronautics lab, around 1930

Charles Stark Draper (left) in the MIT engine laboratory, 1931. Courtesy of MIT Museum

Vannevar Bush (left) and Karl Taylor Compton, around 1932

Karl Taylor Compton (right) appointed Vannevar Bush the first dean of the School of Engineering at MIT in 1932. Courtesy of MIT Museum

A Rad Lab employee pushes a microwave radar down the corridor

An employee pushes a microwave radar dish down a Rad Lab corridor. The name, Radiation Laboratory, was meant to suggest atomic research (then thought harmless) and conceal the Lab’s real work. Courtesy of MIT Museum

The region surrounding Cambridge, Massachusetts, is known today as a vibrant place of invention. But an earlier hot spot started to form there in 1930, when Karl Taylor Compton became president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He transformed the curriculum, raising the profile of science and promoting research partnerships with government.

Compton found a kindred spirit in Vannevar Bush, an electrical engineering professor and mentor to his students, and he named Bush the first dean of the new School of Engineering in 1932. Though Bush left MIT in 1939, he and Compton continued to work together, most notably when Bush became chairman of the newly established National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) in 1940, and later, the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).

As World War II approached, the links between MIT, the federal government, and the military grew stronger. The campus bustled with a growing network of inventive people and new and expanding research laboratories. Three of these--Charles Stark Draper's instruments lab, the Radiation Laboratory, and Harold Edgerton's strobe lab--contributed directly to the war effort and illustrate how the work of Compton and Bush turned MIT into a hot spot of invention.

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-- Joyce Bedi

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