Ford Helps Privatize RAND

  • Prosperity
  • 1952

The RAND Corporation (the name is a truncation of “research and development”) began as a U.S. military project at World War II’s end. Air Force General “Hap” Arnold wanted to continue the scientific advances that had contributed to so many military successes. He gave the organization unusual freedom from government bureaucracy, and allowed its 200 researchers wide latitude in digging into subjects as far flung as math, economics, physics, aerodynamics, and psychology. By 1948 government authorities agreed RAND should be made even more independent by spinning it off as independent nonprofit. The Ford Foundation provided an interest-free loan and guaranteed a private bank loan, providing $1 million in operating capital. In 1952, Ford expanded the loan so RAND could diversify its research into new areas like the space industry, computers, industrial cost analysis, social problems, and much more.

RAND’s first report, issued in 1946, detailed the need for multi-stage rockets and for satellites to improve reconnaissance, weather forecasting, and communications. The government dawdled on satellites until embarrassed by the Soviets’ Sputnik launch. RAND’s theorists pioneered the building blocks of what would become the Internet, but government bureaucrats similarly dragged their feet on digital networks. RAND researchers spurred the Air Force to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, and helped pioneer magnetic-core memory, computer printers, and video recorders.

In the late 1960s RAND began shifting focus from technology studies toward policy analysis. It started a graduate school. Today the think tank is an active producer of ideas and research on a wide variety of subjects extending far beyond military matters.