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Industrial Patronage and the Cold War University

Why did industry and academia develop a closer financial relationship during the Cold War?

Historians have provided one compelling answer to this question: the growth of the military-industrial-academic complex, which encouraged universities to use industry and military funding for institutional advance in exchange for shifting their research efforts in more technically and commercially relevant directions. Although this narrative captures a critically important feature of the Cold War context, it does not account for the full range of patronage models academia and industry explored in the immediate aftermath of World War II. This project aims to understand the array of motives and incentives that drove academia and industry into closer collaboration, and to present the close alignment between academic, military, and industrial interests as just one of several possible models for inter-institutional collaboration that emerged in the early Cold War.

The proposed research elucidates one prominent alternative, an appeal to an obligation shared between academia and industry to prevent a government monopoly over basic research. This strategy was deployed at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan to good effect, demonstrating the receptiveness of industry to such an argument. By appealing to industrial actors' commitment to the ideals of free enterprise, especially in an era of burgeoning anti-communism, universities could enlist industry in a common cause, effect an unexpected ideological alignment, and avoid the strictures imposed by relationships based principally on contract research.

Patronage relationships are negotiated relationships, and even in the ideologically charged environment of the early Cold War, universities maintained the agency to craft the types of relationships with industry they thought most conducive to their institutional goals. Documenting the abundance of these types of partnership can show that the quid pro quo model, which incentivize universities to favour research that supports funder values, and which form the basis of longstanding concerns about the content and integrity of university research, was by no means inevitable. This project illustrates the ways in which the motives driving industrial investment in science were contingent, and less rigid than is sometimes assumed.


Joseph D. Martin