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Ordnance is defined as any military material such as ammunition, weapons, equipment and combat vehicles. Ordnance can also be a division of a military branch that procures and uses those items, such as the Ordnance Corps. All branches of militaries use some form of ordnance including land, naval, aerial and space. The first space vehicles were actually missiles, a form of artillery.

LET ME DO THE TALKING! : Serve in silence / Homer Ansley - CA WPA Art Program - ca. 1941-1943, Library of Congress


Poster by: Homer Ansley- circa 1941-1943
Work Projects Administration - California WPA Art Program
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Technology Transfer from Ordnance

Ordnance has been one of the driving forces of technological advancement throughout history. The number of civilian technical innovations that were derived from advances in ordnance technology is staggering. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, military hardware is usually several orders of magnitude more accurate, precise and sophisticated than any other types of manufactured items. It may be surprising, but this is especially true in respect to large guns.

HowitzerAnother aspect of gunnery technology that has driven technological advancement in all aspects of modern society is simply the enormous size of big guns. The size of large guns caused fabricators to confront a daunting number of problems as they tried to make larger and larger weapons. Armament manufacturers solved problems such as how to cast and forge huge pieces of metal and how to machine such large pieces. Great advances in metallurgy were also made through arms manufacturing.

The following section outlines some of the military technology that has been incorporated into civilian products and services. Civilian application of technology that was developed through military research and development is referred to as technology transfer and sometimes those products and services are called spin-offs. This list is not comprehensive, by any means, and it is likely that there would be no way to compile a complete listing of military technology for civilian use because it is ubiquitous.

Mass Production

It is known that one of the most important improvements to the wheel was the spoke design, and it was developed around 1450 BC in Egypt where military chariots were mass-produced. These wheels had four-spokes and were much lighter-weight than solid wheels. Simultaneously, the rest of the Egyptian vehicle became much lighter and more sophisticated. This basic design of spoke wheels continued in use throughout much of the world without radical changes until about the 19th century AD when bicycles and then automobiles became common.

The next known instance of mass production occurred in China during the 2nd century BC for the production of crossbows, which they manufactured by the hundreds of thousands. Crossbows are a form of mechanical artillery..

After this, the techniques of mass production seem to have been lost and the concept was independently reinvented several times. In the modern era, that is, the era after black powder came into use in the Western world, the earliest standardization began with the classification of cannon so that a group of guns could use the same size-type of ammunition. Before this, each gun had to have its own special ammunition that would only fit that particular gun. Gradually, guns were constructed in specific sizes, classified by the weight of their spherical projectiles. After this innovation, all guns designated as twenty-pounders could use twenty-pound ammunition, a factor that greatly simplified logistics and improved the efficiency of manufacture of both the cannon and ammunition.

Whitneyville ArmoryAs an outgrowth of standardization, the first instances of modern-day mass production occurred for the manufacture of guns. The breakthrough moment of modern-era mass production was the use of interchangeable parts by Eli Whitney to create muskets for the US Army in 1797. Whitney setup machines to make all parts of this particular model of musket all the same, and therefore was able to use unskilled workers to create the weapons. Before this, highly skilled gunsmiths made each musket and all of its individual parts by hand. Whitney was the first to exploit this new system of manufacture on such a grand scale. Whitney did not meet the promised deadline for delivery of the muskets, in fact, he was nine years late in fulfilling the contract, delivering the last 500 muskets in 1809. The results of his experiment were encouraging and factors beyond his control may have contributed to the delays, but he had introduced mass production and interchangeable parts.

Captain John Hall, Assistant Armorer of the Harpers Ferry Armory, carried the idea of standardization further to include interchangeability and reusability of manufactured parts in 1817. This further simplified the task of equipping and outfitting troops. Suppliers were required to conform to the military’s specifications. Manufacturers of non-military products did not adopt this system for at least 25 more years and the practice was known as Armory Practice. This system eventually became known as the American System of Manufacture as it became widespread by the mid-19th century.

The Blanchard LatheAnother important step in industrialization that came directly from gunnery technology was the Blanchard Lathe. Thomas Blanchard, an employee of the Springfield, Massachusetts Arsenal, created a unique design for an improvement to the lathe in 1818. Blanchard’s innovation was a device, known as a duplicator, that caused the cutting tool of his lathe to follow along a pattern thereby creating exact duplicates of the piece that the pattern was designed to produce. The Blanchard Lathe could produce irregularly shaped parts and was the beginning of automated manufacturing. This improvement to the lathe is noted as being one of the ten most important inventions of all time.

Machining Data Handbook

As part of the US military’s direct role in manufacturing, the US Army Ordnance Corps published a machining data handbook with information on all major materials and cutting processes in 1960. The publication was revised twice and grew from 266 to over 1,000 pages. The manual was the first of its kind and is a bestseller at the US Department of Commerce clearinghouse. It is used by military, industrial and educational organizations throughout the world.


Titanium was a product of a 1949 US Department of Defense program to find a high-strength, lightweight, corrosion resistant structural metal. After five years of research at the US Army Material Command Materials and Mechanics Research Center, a process was discovered that could bring powdered titanium to a structural metal. Today, titanium is used in many structural applications and has many other uses such as pigment in paints.

Chemical Manufacturing

The Original DuPont Powder MillApart from metallurgy, many other advances in material technology have been the result of improvements in ordnance. Current high-technology materials such as ceramics and composites have received great boosts through ordnance development. The modern chemical industry is entirely the product of progress in ordnance technology due to the importance of gunpowder. The first plastics, and therefore, the entire plastics industry also sprang from the gunpowder industry except in this case the gunpowder was smokeless powder or nitrocellulose. Consequently, the earliest plastics tended to detonate from time to time. The first commercially available plastics were developed to utilize excess gunpowder materials and manufacturing capacity left over after wartime. The discipline of Chemical Engineering came to exist through the manufacturing of gunpowder, as did the first large-scale or process chemical manufacturing. The process method of chemical manufacturing has since been applied to nearly all types chemicals, including agricultural, industrial, consumer and household products.

Spin-offs is another term for technology transfer and in chemical and biological manufacturing those include many other devices to safely handle those types of substances. Protective suits for chemical and biological hazards were military developments as well as gas masks and other protective devices. Health procedures and new medicines have also resulted from this area of military research. Protective equipment is widely used by people exposed to hazardous substances on the job and other activities.


The US military compiled an enormous amount of environmental and atmospheric data due to some massive accidents and the subsequent concern about pollution from chemical, biological and nuclear experiments. Research about airflow and other pollution patterns generated information that is used to predict the results of all types of pollution, including that from industrial and transportation activities. This research also improved weather and oceanic current forecasting capabilities.

Weather Forecasting

Crewmen Release a Radiosonde at Iceland

Modern weather forecasting capabilities are also the product of military technology transfer. The importance of weather forecasting became critically important due to military aviation activities, especially during World Wars I and II. In the early days of weather forecasting, balloons were used to collect most atmospheric data. The US Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and its predecessor organizations launched the first radio-equipped weather balloon in 1928 and developed most of the equipment now used by the National Weather Service as well as that used by the Department of Defense. The US Army’s electronics laboratories developed the first radar and Doppler Radar, which is now used to locate tornadoes for weather forecasting.


Radar in and of itself was developed for military purposes and now finds uses in many communication applications. It is also used for cooking, in the form of the microwave oven. During World War II, Fort Monmouth Army engineers in Africa first used microwave for communications purposes. Since that time, the equipment has become far more sophisticated and is now used by all common carriers of electronic communications. It is also used for cellular telephone communication.

Walkie-Talkies and Cell Phones

The small two-way radios used by policeman, firemen and civilians throughout the world were developed by the US Army Material Command’s Fort Monmouth laboratories to facilitate battlefield communications. The original design was large and cumbersome and had to be carried about by backpack. As electronic technology advanced the units became more compact than the early handie-talkie and can be very small today.


Gunner of a YB-17 BomberDuring World War II, the Ordnance Corps developed miniaturized electronics specifically for the needs of aircraft gunners. The problems of hitting fast moving targets from fast moving aircraft made calculating the trajectory and timing the detonation of projectiles nearly impossible. Aircraft gunners guessed as best they could, but more precise and faster methods were needed.

The first part of a series of improvements was to develop a fuze that could sense when the target was near and then detonate the projectile. The theoretical solution was to develop a fuze that had a radio transmitter and receiver that could detect the target from reflected radio waves. Creating a reliable radio system that was small enough and light enough to fit into a fuze proved to be difficult with the technology of the day. Another problem was that the radio set also had to be able to withstand the physical rigors that artillery shells are subject to.

The Proximity FuzeThe Ordnance Corps developed a new type of fuze, called the Proximity Fuze, by successfully shrinking down the tube-type radio so that it would fit into the nose of a projectile. The tube-type radio underwent some radical changes during this adaptation and this can be considered the beginning of modern electronics. The Proximity Fuze eliminated the need to calculate the timing of the detonation of artillery shells and it was a smashing success with the Ordnance Corps.

After World War II, the Department of Defense launched programs to apply similar improvements to other military hardware. In order to create more compact, lightweight and reliable electric devices researchers developed the printed circuit originally known as "solder-dipped printing wiring.”

The first uses of transistors and other solid state devices were nearly all military. The first companies to locate in Silicon Valley, California depended upon US military spending for their success. In fact, after World War II began defense industrial requirements transformed California from an agricultural state into an industrial state and the primary industry was munitions. One of the first companies to establish electronic component manufacturing facilities in the Silicon Valley was Fairchild Semiconductor. Fairchild Semiconductor obtained its name because Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, the giant defense contractor and aerospace company, bankrolled the company founded by Robert Noyce when it began mass-producing semiconductors in 1957.

It is interesting to note that the US military purchased at least 70% of all semiconductors manufactured in the Silicon Valley until the 1970s. The first consumer use of any transistors was in 1954, when Texas Instruments, one of the early manufacturers of transistors, developed a pocket radio model TR-1 as a joint venture with the Regency Division of an Indianapolis, Indiana electronics manufacturer named Industrial Development Engineering Associates, or IDEA. The TR-1 was sold under the Regency brand name.

Texas Instruments was not interested in manufacturing radios, but felt that a radio would be the best way to generate interest in using transistors in consumer products. The Regency pocket radio was only on the market for several months and disappeared in the spring of 1955 because Texas Instruments felt satisfied that they had indeed sparked consumer interest in the potential for transistorized consumer products.

A company from Japan named Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo LTD. however, was trying to enter the American market for consumer electronic products and also acquired a license to produce transistors from Bell Labs. The company had some trouble finding a suitable name to market their products under because Americans could not pronounce Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo and that was the market the company wanted to enter. A short time after the Regency radio was released, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo began producing transistor radios under the name Totsuko in 1955 with their model TR-55. A second model, the TR-72, was only sold in Canada and was marketed under the company name Gendis. When the company released their third model in North America, the TR-63, they began using a new company name, Sony. The company’s next model, the TR-610, was a shirt pocket radio that became a huge success.


During World War II, it became increasingly important to create artillery firing and aircraft bombing tables. Since there was so much technological change during the war, many new types of ammunition and devices for firing them came into existence. Each separate projectile-artillery piece combination required individual calculations for each possible trajectory.

ENIACIt became impossible to calculate this data by any known method. On 5 June 1943, the US Army Ordnance Corps contracted with the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering for research and development of an electronic numerical integrator and computer, known by its acronym, ENIAC. When developed, the ENIAC, although extremely slow by today’s standards, was incredibly fast compared to the methods of that era.

Technicians Wire the ENIAC to Run a ProgramENIAC could solve an equation in 30 seconds that took the Bush Differential Analyzer, another machine of the period, 15 minutes to solve. The same problem, calculating a 60-second trajectory for artillery, took a skilled mathematician using a slide rule about twenty hours to solve. This was the most common method used to work these problems before the ENIAC was completed. Although ENIAC seemed speedy when running, it had to be specially setup and manually wired for each program.

ENIAC UnitsThe ENIAC was placed into operation gradually and the first components called the accumulator and cycling units were put into operation in 1944. Following this, components called the initiating and function table units were added in September 1945 and the divider and square root units were added that October.

Replacing a Bad Tube Meant Finding 1 Out of 17,468 PossibilitiesWhen the ENIAC was fully assembled, it had 40 separate panels in a U-shaped arrangement and it weighed more than 30 tons, or 27,000 kilos. It occupied 1,500 square feet, or 457 square meters, and it was 100 feet, or 30.5 meters, long 10 feet, or 3.05 meters, high and 3 feet, or .91 meters, deep. Despite its enormous physical size, it had no memory storage although it had 17,468 vacuum tubes of 16 different types, 15,000 relays, 6,000 switches, 70,000 resistors, and 10,000 capacitors.

President Harry S. Truman and Other Dignitaries Attend ENIAC’s DedicationENIAC was dedicated in February of 1946 and speedily solved many of the nation’s defense related calculations. From 1946 to 1952, ENIAC solved many complex scientific problems in weather prediction, atomic energy, cosmic ray studies, wind tunnel design and thermal ignition studies in addition to its use for ballistics.


Jupiter-C Rocket Photo: NASAThe first known rockets in history appear to have been made for military purposes and it was not until the late-1950s that rockets had any known civilian applications. The first time that a civilian space program even existed was when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was turned into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. The first rockets used in the so-called civilian space program were military rockets developed by the US Army Missile Command as long range surface to surface missiles. Before the creation of NASA, a military Jupiter–C rocket launched the US’s first satellite, Explorer One, into orbit in 1958. Another military rocket, the Juno III, launched the first US lunar probe, Pioneer IV, on 3 March 1959.

The division between civilian and military space activities has always been somewhat vague and the establishment of a civilian space program was the result of political posturing during the Cold War. The original civilian purposes for the space program were more nearly Cold War propaganda than fact. Eventually, as the space program matured and the Cold War cooled, civilian space missions became more common. In any event, research from space programs produced many new materials, industrial processes and revolutionary improvements for the home and consumers. Military activities played a key role in space research and the spin-offs that followed.


Explorer OneIn 1955, both the USSR and the USA announced plans to develop artificial earth satellites and launch them during the upcoming International Geophysical Year, or roughly, 1957-1958. The first satellites were products of the cold war, with Russia launching the first satellite in history and the first of a series, Sputnik I on 04 October 1957. It remained in orbit for several months, burning up in the atmosphere in early 1958. Sputnik caused public Cold War fears to escalate in the free world and reexamination of the West’s defense plans. The United States launched its first satellite named Explorer One on January 31, 1958. Explorer One was developed and launched by the US Army Ballistic Missile Command before there was a civilian space agency in the United States. It had radiation detection capabilities and discovered the inner Van Allen radiation belt that encircles the earth.

Many of the free world’s early satellites were developed by the US Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and generally had communication capabilities. This satellite program was called SCORE, and the first SCORE satellite was launched into orbit on 18 December 1958 on a long-range ballistic missile called the Jupiter–C rocket. From this satellite, a Cold War message by President Dwight D. Eisenhower entitled “Goodwill Message to the World” was relayed around the earth.

Echo TwoSome of the most noticeable and notable satellites ever created were the Echo series and they were launched in the early 1960s. The Echo series had no active communication capabilities, but they could be easily seen in the evening sky because of their shiny aluminum-coated Mylar skins. They could be spotted as fast moving stars because their orbits caused them to circle the earth every two hours. The Echo satellite series was designed to reflect radio waves from their shells to test the feasibility satellite of communications.


Fortification technology also advanced as a direct result of advances in ordnance technology. Civilian derivatives include structural technologies used in the construction of buildings and public structures such as bridges. Medieval examples of fortifications include the castle and they became obsolete by advances in mechanical artillery, especially the trebuchet.

German PillboxA more recent type of fortification, the concrete pillbox or blockhouse of World War II, was thought to be obsolete because of the development of nuclear weapons during the same war. Also known as bunkers, they advanced and influenced the use of steel reinforced concrete and the aesthetics of some civilian buildings. There were many variations of fortifications based upon their intended use.

In Europe, where many bunkers were abandoned after the war, some have recently been adapted into public spaces. For many years, they were painful and unwelcome reminders of the war, but their durability allowed many to survive. Although nuclear weaponry seemed to make World War II style fortifications obsolete for a time, it is also apparent that nuclear weapons are not a good choice of weapons in most cases and bunkers have proven to be useful in recent conflicts.

Nuclear Bunker Under ConstructionThe nuclear age brought a whole new set of problems for the construction of fortifications and one solution was to put bunkers deep underground to survive a nuclear war. There are several installations burrowed beneath the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains in the United States. Another fortification that was developed during the early nuclear era was the fallout shelter.

Most of the preceding information was obtained from:
The United States Army Material Command (AMC) &
The United States Army Material Command Historical Office (AMCHO)
Alexandria, Virginia
The United States Army Ordnance Corps &
The United States Army Ordnance Corps Museum
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland
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