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Making Jet Engines in World War II

Britain, Germany, and the United States

Our stories of industrial innovation tend to focus on individual initiative and breakthroughs. With Making Jet Engines in World War II, Hermione Giffard uses the case of the development of jet engines to offer a different way of understanding technological innovation, revealing the complicated mix of factors that go into any decision to pursue an innovative, and therefore risky technology.
Giffard compares the approaches of Britain, Germany, and the United States. Each approached jet engines in different ways because of its own war aims and industrial expertise. Germany, which produced more jet engines than the others, did so largely as replacements for more expensive piston engines. Britain, on the other hand, produced relatively few engines—but, by shifting emphasis to design rather than production, found itself at war's end holding an unrivaled range of designs. The US emphasis on development, meanwhile, built an institutional basis for postwar production. Taken together, Giffard's work makes a powerful case for a more nuanced understanding of technological innovation, one that takes into account the influence of the many organizational factors that play a part in the journey from idea to finished product.

336 pages | 34 halftones, 2 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: American History, British and Irish History, European History, History of Technology, Military History

History of Science


“In this brilliant study of the early history of jet engines, Hermione Giffard demolishes [the] myth of German aeronautical triumph and transforms the way we should think about technological change in general. While conventional histories of technology focus on the inventor-hero struggling to fulfil a vision in a corporate laboratory, Giffard turns her attention to the larger institutional-industrial context.”

History Today

“There are many myths surrounding the development of the jet engine in the Second World War. With Making Jet Engines in World War II, Giffard produces the best analysis to date of this complex issue. In the process of providing a fine, detailed analysis of the German, British, and American experience, she clears away the myths and leaves us with a clear understanding of the real history.”

Richard Overy, University of Exeter

“Giffard has produced a bold and novel analysis that contributes to the deepening debate over the models used to explain the relation between science and technology. Making Jet Engines in World War II  is written in a straightforward, thought-provoking, and economical manner, and it is gratifyingly free of theoretical and methodological pretension. A perceptive, well-researched book, it will be an essential resource for teachers and researchers in the field of science and technology studies.”

David Bloor, University of Edinburgh

Making Jet Engines in World War II is a tremendously valuable contribution to the history of technology. Giffard delivers a brilliantly comparative three-nation history, showing a level of attention to national context that is essential for comparative studies, but rarely achieved. The book is grounded in truly impressive research, involving archival collections in three countries and vast troves of published technical literature. Sure to appeal to serious aviation history enthusiasts, aeronautical engineers, historians of technology, and scholars of innovation, Giffard’s argument is well-written and sharply original, and it represents a major revision to the history of the turbojet and an important contribution to the historiography of invention.”

Eric Schatzberg, University of Wisconsin, Madison

“This original study not only makes a valuable contribution to the literature on industry in World War II but also speaks to larger questions about the history of technology and invention.”

Enterprise & Society

“Students of the histories of aviation, technology, invention, and the formation of public memory should put Making Jet Engines in World War II high on their must-read list.”

Michigan War Studies Review

 “Given what we already know from Constant and others, it is not immediately clear why anyone should delve again into this familiar moment of aviation history. But Making Jet Engines in World War II shows how our inability to see the problems that beset our histories of the jet engine are the product of faults that run deep within how scholars think about technical change in the twentieth century. . . . As Giffard points out, machines crucial to the twentieth century – ships, trains, cars – were not produced by lone inventors or scientists, but depended on a vast array of figures centred around industrial firms. Making Jet Engines in World War II is just one example of a history of technical change that discusses where invention really happens. Hopefully Giffard’s hugely transformative insights will be rendered banal. We really should have many more works that seriously grapple with the historical reality of invention.”

British Journal for the History of Science

“This provocative, iconoclastic monograph stands on its head one of the foundational paradigms of this journal and the Society for the History of Technology. . . . there is no denying that this new lens significantly alters our understanding of this topic. . . .”

Technology and Culture

"An excellent book that sets technical development in a historical and organisational context."

Society of Model and Experimental Engineers

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Turbojet Production during World War II
Britain’s Turbojet Engines
Competition in Britain
Abandoning the W.2B
United States (American Turbojet Engines)
Production and Improvement in the United States
Prospects for the H.1
Turbojet Engine Production in Germany
Production Underground
The Remarkable Production of Ersatz Aero-Engines
Chapter 2. The Aero-Engine Industry and Turbojet Development
Rolls-Royce and the Turbojet
Rolls-Royce’s First Internal Combustion Turbine
The Whittle-Rolls-Royce Engine
Rolls-Royce at Barnoldswick
Back at Derby
The British Aero-Engine Industry
De Havilland’s New Engine
Armstrong Siddeley Motors Changes Course
Bristol Aircraft Company Is of Two Minds
D. Napier and Son
The German Aero-Engine Industry
Junkers Motorenwerke
Bramo and BMW: A Good Team
Daimler-Benz Makes Time for Turbojets
Development in the United States
The NACA Starts Work
The Air Force Pushes Development
General Electric
Chapter 3. Inventive Institutions
Power Jets
Small Beginnings
The Contradiction of Power Jets
Rapid Growth
A National Resource
The Royal Aircraft Establishment
The End: Government Company and Back Again
The Ernst Heinkel Flugzeug Werke
The Beginning of EHFW’s Turbojet Work
The Inexorable Expansion of EHFW’s Turbojet Program
New Prospects for von Ohain
Chapter 4. The Construction of a Hero
The Jet Story Enters the Public Domain
Publicity after the First Press Release
Relations between the British Government and Its Inventor-Hero
New Medium, Old Story
The First Academic Histories
Historiographical Success
The German Challenge
Birth of the Dual-Inventor Narrative in the United States
The Jet and the Rebirth of the History of German Aviation
Professionals Borrow the Tale
Conclusion. The Jet Engine and Innovation
Appendix A. Power Jets Ltd., Schedule of Shareholders, November 1, 1943
Appendix B. Air Ministry Jet Publicity (1944–45)
First press release, January 6, 1944
Second press release, September 27, 1944
Third press release, February 28, 1945
Appendix C. Engine Comparison Table
Archives Consulted

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