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The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory began operations July 2, 1923, seven years after inventor Thomas Edison suggested that the Government establish “a great research laboratory.”

The original site on the Potomac River had just two research divisions, Radio and Sound. Over time, NRL added divisions appropriate to perform research in emerging disciplines.

Early achievements included the explanation of the radio “skip distance effect,” the development of the fathometer and early sonar, and the development of the first operational American radar, in time for use in World War II. NRL became a global leader in space science and development, spinning off a significant number of researchers and their work to contribute to the formation of NASA in 1958.

Even with such a large loss of people, NRL continued to lead in space development with the launch of Vanguard I and the Mini-track satellite tracking system, as well as the invention of atomic clocks and prototype systems, which led to the Global Positioning System used everywhere today.

NRL’s technical leadership in basic and applied research disciplines is recognized worldwide, with numerous award-winning scientists, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1985, awarded to Dr. Jerome Karle.

Today, NRL continues to extend its legacy of innovation and discovery with cutting-edge science and transition of capabilities to the Naval Services and constituents.

For Additional Information

Ruth H. Hooker Research Library

Phone: (202) 767-2134


The Ruth H. Hooker Research Library maintains a small but important collection of published and manuscript works related to the history of the Laboratory from its founding in 1923 to the present. In addition, the Library holds copies of many papers and documents written by Naval Research Laboratory scientists in either paper or digital format.

The NRL Historian has a small collection of historical materials including historical documentation and reference materials from the Laboratory's founding to the present. Archival records of the institution to 1942 are in Record Group 19 at the National Archives and Records Administration, and after 1942 at the Washington National Records Center in Record Group 181. Prior arrangements should be made with the NRL Library for access to materials in its custody or with the NRL Archivist for materials at the Records Center.