Abstract: An Existential Entrepreneur: The U.S. Military and Microcircuitry, 1940 to 1965

David C. Brock


From World War II through the High Cold War, the U.S. military responded to existential threats posed by electronics through activist entrepreneurship. Military planners and leadership determined that electronic systems were essential to fighting World War II and to waging the strategic military competitions that defined the High Cold War. Within the logic of electronics technology itself, military thought-leaders identified a number of roadblocks to the development of electronics to meet their needs: assembly of complex circuits, circuit and component robustness and reliability, manufacturing cost, as well as size and weight. In response the U.S. military undertook a continuous program of activist efforts that can best be described as entrepreneurship. It supplied funding for R&D activities at government laboratories and industrial firms, it provided direct funding for the development and deployment of new manufacturing technologies and capabilities in the U.S. electronics industry, and, importantly, it engaged in large-scale market-making for new electronics technologies, acting as a growing, price-insensitive customer for the products for which it funded R&D and manufacturing. This paper presents an overview of U.S. military entrepreneurship in the development of the technology of and industry for transistors, printed circuitry, microcircuits, and the microchip in this period.