Scientists, Business, and the State, 1890-1960

By Patrick J. McGrath

264 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7441-7
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7528-5
    Published: January 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6796-4
    Published: January 2003

Luther H. Hodges Jr. and Luther H. Hodges Sr. Series on Business, Entrepreneurship, and Public Policy

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Awards & distinctions

A 2002 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In the late nineteenth century, scientists began allying themselves with America's corporate, political, and military elites. They did so not just to improve their professional standing and win more money for research, says Patrick McGrath, but for political reasons as well. They wanted to use their new institutional connections to effect a transformation of American political culture. They succeeded, but not in ways that all scientists envisioned or agreed upon.

McGrath describes how, between 1890 and 1960, scientific, business, and political leaders together forged a new definition of American democracy in which science and technology were presented to the public as crucial ingredients of the nation's progress, prosperity, and political stability. But as scientists became more prominent, they provoked conflicts among themselves as well as with their institutional patrons over exactly how their expertise should be used. McGrath examines the bitter battles that erupted over the role scientists should play during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War arms race, and the security and loyalty investigations of the 1950s. He finds that, by the end of the 1950s, scientists were regarded by the political and military elite not as partners but as subordinate technicians who were expected to supply weapons on demand for the Cold War state.

Originally published 2001.

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About the Author

Patrick J. McGrath has lectured in American history at New York University, Fordham University, and Pace University. He is currently an independent scholar and historical consultant in New York City.
For more information about Patrick J. McGrath, visit the Author Page.


"[McGrath's] story helps us to understand the ideas of scientists inside the military establishment."--American Historical Review

"A valuable study of scientists' political thought and their participation in designing the modern state."--Journal of American History

"An extremely important intellectual history of American science in the 20th century."--Wilson Quarterly

"McGrath's book documents, in a compelling and readable fashion, how the notable nineteenth-century ideal of science in the service of the state led to the triumph of 'scientific militarism' in the Cold War."--Gregg Herken, author of The Winning Weapon

"McGrath's book is rich with insight and, even better, constructively argumentative. It places American science on a large stage in such a manner as to provoke discussion with historians and the public generally."--Larry Owens, University of Massachusetts