By Brig. Gen. J.C. ODELL
The Quartermaster Review – July/August 1954
The Research and Development Center at Natick, Mass., the Quartermaster Corps’ newest installation, has been designated Headquarters of the Quartermaster Research & Development Command. It is the inevitable culmination of the rapid and sound extension of scientific thinking in the solution of problems of the Quartermaster Corps.
The responsibility of the Office of The Quartermaster General-that of providing the American soldier with the highest-quality food, clothing, and equipment-is, due to this up-to-date multiple-laboratory, more nearly a complete realization than ever before. The march of science, every year more rapid and more inclusive, has not left the Military behind.
Economic factors influence the trend and scope of research and development work whether in industry or the military. For example, at the close of the First World War, enormous quantities of equipment became surplus at the first stroke of the armistice bells. The danger that a complacent attitude might result from the availability of this huge mass of material was recognized-as if mere volume might suggest a well equipped army. In 1922 therefore the War Department launched a policy of modernization.
To this end, the chiefs of the Army branches were directed to make annual surveys of stocks on hand and to analyze this equipment’s fitness for emergency service. These surveys and reports on deficiencies continued until World War II and proved a stimulus to what little research and development work the Quartermaster Corps was able to accomplish. The national apathy which practically paralyzed military research and development during the befogged optimism of the 1920’s and the fear-stricken depression of the 1930’s reduced Quartermaster research and development work almost to naught, despite the policy of the War Department.
The work, such as it was during these doldrums years, was mainly conducted by the various Quartermaster manufacturing depots; and due to the lack of adequate organization, efforts were beset with misunderstandings, tugs-of-war, and functional duplication.
By the time the national emergency approached a critical stage in 1939, Quartermaster research activities had by degree’s become centered in the Clothing and Equipage Branch of the Supply Division and, were still concerned largely with the correction of equipment deficiencies as they were brought forward by various Army branch chiefs. Very few new items had been developed.
But by the end of 1941 the vastly expanded defense program made it necessary to set up the research and development program as a separate entity and to expand the work. At this time it became clear that product development and the problem of production were closely associated. This concept is still the basic philosophy of Quartermaster research and development. However useful such a generalization may be, the pressure of actual warfare posed problems which were very much particularized, affecting the soldier in combat, the country’s most valuable military asset.
This brief sketch of Quartermaster research and development origins may serve to illustrate how far removed our planning was in those days from a realization of the new Research and Development Center at Natick today. Even with unity of organization during the war, it was necessary for the Quartermaster General to make use of various widespread installations already available to him, because of materials priorities which prevented building new structures much as they were needed.
The work therefore was carried on at The Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington; the Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot, which housed the textile and mechanical shops; the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot, in which were located the Pioneering Research Laboratory and the Chemicals and Plastics and Textile laboratories; at Lawrence, Mass., where the Climatic Research Laboratory was located; and at Chicago, the headquarters of the Quartermaster Food and Container Institute for the Armed Forces.
Now for the first time, The Quartermaster General is able to bring together in one location the greater part of the program’s technical and operational supervision. Overlapping and duplicative effort caused by geographical dispersion will be eliminated and our problems can be attacked on a team basis in a healthy scientific atmosphere under closely coordinated military supervision.
The fields of research and development activities are distributed among six divisions, each under the guidance of a qualified research director. These divisions are Environmental Protection, Mechanical Engineering, Chemicals and Plastics, Dispensing and Handling Equipment, Textile, Clothing and Footwear, and Pioneering Research Laboratory.
The Quartermaster Research and Development Command has been able to attract scientific and technological personnel of a very high caliber. Fifteen different sciences are strongly represented on the staff; chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, geography, anthropology, and so on, requiring, to begin with 236 top-fight research workers, supported by more than 200 specialists such as varied technologists, military analysts, designers, librarians, writers, laboratory aids, and many more.
At the present time the Command has somewhat over 100 active research and development projects aimed at the improvement of items for soldier use. Most of these projects are conducted with the participation and/or coordination of 22 other government agencies, principally the Army Field Forces, the Air Force, all the Technical Services, the Office of The Surgeon General, the Navy; Ordnance, Signal and Chemical Corps; and the Atomic Energy Commission.
Under the supervision of the Command’s scientific and technological staff, many of the projects are farmed out under contracts to leading industrial and university laboratories where special kinds of technical information are known to be located. These contracts number 250, and range in size from $3,000 to upwards of $100,000. One project may have a number of contracts outlying. For example, there are eleven universities at work on a single project.
The new Center has made a good start. A strong nucleus of Quartermaster scientific and technological personnel has made the move to Natick, and a serious lag in the work has been avoided.
It is evident that the choice of Natick, in the Metropolitan Boston area, as the site for this research and Development activity was guided by long-range foresight. In this community many of the country’s greatest universities, with unlimited reservoirs of scientific information, are located. On these we may freely draw, at the same time renewing cooperative contacts already made and establishing additional fact-finding bases, both in the research stockpiles of educational institutions and in those of nearby industrial concerns.
It is reasonable to believe furthermore that from the various universities in this area, where thousands of scientific students are pursuing their studies, new men of high imagination and ability may be drawn into Quartermaster research and development work, thus, revitalizing from year to year the spirit actuating the important tasks to which the Command is dedicated. We must look toward this constant renewal of strength as a necessary factor in making The Research and Development Command at Natick a vital, sustaining force within the Quartermaster Corps.