Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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RAND Corporation

Independent, nonprofit think tank founded jointly by the U.S. Army Air Forces and the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1945 to ensure the continuation of technological advancements begun during World War II. Since its foundation, the RAND Corporation (RAND is short for "Research and Development") has served both the public and private sectors. Although it mostly addressed the defense concerns of the U.S. Air Force during its initial years, it was later expanded to tackle social problems as well. RAND played a significant role in the advancement of technology during the Cold War.

Project RAND, precursor to the RAND Corporation, began in October 1945 as the brainchild of Henry "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army. He worked in collaboration with a number of influential individuals from both the public and private sectors—including Edward Bowles, Donald Douglas, and Major Generals Lauris Norstad and Curtis LeMay—to establish an institution that could successfully coordinate efforts among the military, government, industry, and academe to promote the development of science and technology.

In March 1946, Project RAND was inaugurated as a division of the Douglas Aircraft Company. RAND reported to the U.S. Army Air Forces' deputy chief of air staff for research and development, which was established in December 1945 and headed by LeMay. The RAND staff grew to include several fields including mathematics, engineering, aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, economics, and psychology. RAND produced its first study in May 1946 and has since produced many volumes of original research.

Project RAND split from Douglas Aircraft in May 1948 and thereafter became the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research and design enterprise. Both its goals and purpose are explicitly set forth in its articles of incorporation, which seek "to further and promote scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare and security of the United States."

The exigencies of the Cold War, more than anything else, dictated RAND's research agenda during its first years. Its directors' insistence on cross-fertilization and free inquiry culminated in innovative approaches to defense problems that included systems analysis and game theory. Essential to RAND's innovation was its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. RAND is also responsible for having created a number of precursors to modern-day technologies that were essential to both the space age and the computer age. These innovations ranged from infrared detection, missile targeting, and reentry technology to video recording, computers, and the Internet.

In the 1960s, RAND began to move beyond defense matters, addressing domestic policy issues as well. This was in part because of a decrease in U.S. Air Force contracts as other research and design organizations emerged. Moreover, the armed forces had learned much about how to conduct their own research from years of collaboration with RAND. Aside from science and technology, RAND began to specialize in education, civil and criminal justice, the environment, population studies, terrorism, and transportation. Despite this shift, however, in the 1990s two-thirds of RAND's research focused on national security issues.

R. Matthew Gildner


Further Reading
Collins, Martin J. Cold War Laboratory: RAND, the Air Force, and the American State, 1945–1950. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 2002.
 

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