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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois in the Cold War Era 1945-1975: The U of I and the Defense Department

The U of I and the Defense Department

During World War II and the Cold War the Department of Defense gave large contracts to American research universities to improve military technology and intelligence.  Technology had been a major factor in winning the war, and the use of the atomic bomb changed the world forever. The four-decade-long arms race between the United States and the USSR continued the pattern of large sums of funds going to educational institutions towards technological and medical advances. The Defense Department often attached strings to their grants, however, such as pressuring universities to purge scientists with past involvement with radical groups and staunchly refusing to grant security clearance to left-leaning scientists.  The military demanded the right to scrutinize curricula of about 200 universities engaged in classified work under military contracts. Although the University of Illinois benefited greatly from this government largess, the relationship was not always a comfortable one, as many officials, professors, and students objected to the university’s status as a partner of the Pentagon. This association became especially controversial during the Vietnam War as the war became more and more unpopular.

University of Illinois Sources:

Trustees’ Secretary Classified Records Management File, 1948-65 (RS: 1/1/16): contains correspondence, lists of Department of Defense contracts, visitor register, Office of Naval Research Security Office communications, and Defense regulations on classified research and materials.

Professor Edward C. Jordan Papers, 1934-91 (RS: 11/6/27): Includes information on U.S. Defense Department & Air Force research.

Professor Lyle H. Lanier Papers, 1952-55 (RS: 5/1/22): Research subjects include indoctrination and basic training, attitude modification, factors in military performance and factors influencing attitude.

Professor Louis N. Ridenour Papers, 1946-1950 (RS: 7/1/20): Includes information relating to scientific research projects, military research and development, nuclear energy, atomic and hydrogen bombs, international understanding, and loyalty and security.

Air Force Contract Research Reports, 1947-1963, 1970- (RS: 11/6/811)

People Publications, 1970-71 (RS 41/66/969): Includes The Geek

Biological Computer Laboratory Contract and Conference File, 1946-73 (RS: 11/6/17)

Air Crew and Technical Specialists Personnel and Training Research File, 1951-55 (RS: 15/19/822):  Includes studies in military psychology for the U.S. Air Force.

Army Contract Research Reports, 1954-63, 1969-70 (RS: 11/6/812)

Trustees’ Contracts, 1871-1983 (RS: 1/1/10)

Professor Albert Wattenberg Papers, 1941-2003 (RS: 11/10/25): Includes information concerning the history of Wattenberg's involvement with Enrico Fermi and the group of physicists responsible for developing atomic energy, the atomic bomb, and the first nuclear chain reaction.

Graduate Student Association Subject Files, 1967-71 (RS 41/62/15): Includes files on protests over Illiac, a Defense Department funded computer program on campus.


David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: 1978).

Sigmund Diamond, Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities with the Intelligence Community, 1945-1955 (New York: 1992).

Thomas F. Richards, The Cold War Within American Higher Education: RutgersUniversity as a Case Study (Raleigh, N.C.:  1999).

Ellen W. Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: 1986).

Jerome B. Wiesner, “Can the University Continue to be an Important Source of Scientific Research?”  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 115 (Feb., 1971), 22-27.