Thomas Edison's Vision

The first step came in May 1915, a time when Americans were deeply worried about the great European war. Thomas Edison, when asked by a New York Times correspondent to comment on the conflict, argued that the Nation should look to science. ``The Government,'' he proposed in a published interview, "should maintain a great research laboratory.... In this could be developed...all the technique of military and naval progression without any vast expense." This bust of Thomas Edison, which graces NRL Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels seized the opportunity created by Edison's public comments to enlist Edison's support. He agreed to serve as the head of a new body of civilian experts - the Naval Consulting Board - to advise the Navy on science and technology. The Board's most ambitious plan was the creation of a modern research facility for the Navy. Congress allocated $1.5 million for the institution in 1916, but wartime delays and disagreements within the Naval Consulting Board postponed construction until 1920.

The Laboratory's two original divisions, Radio and Sound, pioneered in the fields of high-frequency radio and underwater sound propagation. They produced communications equipment, direction-finding devices, sonar sets, and, perhaps most significant of all, the first practical radar equipment built in this country. They also performed basic research, participating, for example, in the discovery and early exploration of the ionosphere. Moreover, the Laboratory was able to work gradually toward its goal of becoming a broadly based research facility. By the beginning of World War II, five new divisions had been added: Physical Optics, Chemistry, Metallurgy, Mechanics and Electricity, and Internal Communications.

Link to Highlights of NRL's First 75 Years

Sign Up for NRL News