Cold War Science in American Life

By Andrew Johnson

The Cold War was a treasure trove for valuable information in the field of science. Constant competition between the Soviet Union and United States caused each country to invest and produce scientifically. Whether it was a matter of nuclear power or vaccines for diseases, the U.S. and the Soviet Union always tried to beat each other. Research command centers proved important in a war that was not fought with weapons, but science that impacted the military, the government, and even everyday life. Every bit of information was top-secret, every source used.

Cold War - Styx

Cold War Science Video

Silicon Valley

A main source of science and technology was, and still is Silicon Valley in California. Funding and research was key in producing new Cold War technologies and military armaments. By focusing on a "dynamic, high-tech economy" the major companies were able to withstand the Cold War and bring in enough profit to continue manufacturing. By the 1980's, Silicon Valley, like other major military contractors, began to decline. Currently, Silicon Valley remains business oriented and is thriving in the San Francisco Bay area.
Silicon Valley, known for its "continuous innovation," was partly responsibly for microwaves, various electronics, missiles, satellites, and semiconductors. Some are everyday objects, most are everyday words.


National Science Foundation

Science, due to the thermonuclear nature of the Cold War, was extremely important for the United States. Because of the high stakes tension, free-flowing information ceased to exist. President Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that the Cold War was supported by a "technological revolution" sparked by "intellectual curiosity." Heading the National Science foundation, was a committee that acted as a sort of Cold War think tank. These qualified scientists would discuss major technological advances and generate ideas regarding the use of these new advancements. They would discuss major issues such as military industrial complexes, weapons, and NATO. These workshops would result in the progression of numerous fields of science and technology.

Space Race Science

America was troubled by the launching of Sputnik, the world's first satellite spearheaded by the Soviet Union. Due to the increase in space race pressure, new materials were needed.

Major Science Corporations

Many companies joined forces, or worked independently to achieve scientific success. Many companies put effort and research into various materials to better the United States in case the Cold War becomes an all-too-real threat. There were two companies that were especially active in Cold War preparations: Raytheon and DuPont. Raytheon and DuPont were both started in the early 20th century. Raytheon was especially vital in everything from military jet fighters to space exploration. DuPont contributed more than 20 high-tech polymers to the space race. One of these polymers, Kevlar became a household item in kitchenware, mattresses, and bulletproof vests. Neil Armstrong's space suit contained "25 layers, 23 of which were made of DuPont materials."


Supernatural Science-Fiction

The looming Soviet Union had a frightening affect on the U.S. Many Americans, constantly on edge, took science for granted. Many abnormal events such as documented UFO crash landings and witnesses depicting fictional events took place during the Cold War.
After an alleged UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, an interest in supernatural science was sparked. Morticians and Scientists were called to the scene to observe the debris and corpses from the wreckage. Debris was transported to the nearest military base where it was never heard from again.
New technology led to an increase in imagination for many American people. The scientific advancements made during the Cold War generated many authors and writers to take part in the science-fiction movement. George Orwell, a famed writer of that time, wrote Animal Farm and 1984 about the poisons of communism and the danger our country faces. This mass media informed the American people about not only communism, but the consequences and benefits of science in American life.

Nuclear Power Goes Awry

In 1986, an unforeseen disaster occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, but at the time it was controlled by the Soviet Union. The nuclear power plant essentially exploded during a test run, killing two workers immediately and 30 operators in the coming weeks. The dangers of nuclear science became very real for the rest of the world. The area was contaminated with radioactivity for decades, and relocation has just started. Many Ukrainian natives wish to return to their once safe area, but that cannot be accomplished until there is no threat of raditation poison.
As a result of this problem, the United States has become increasingly aware of the dangers of nuclear power. Many Americans, already fearful of nuclear weapons in their daily life, became engrossed with the many bereavements of nuclear power plants. This problem is still evident today, but the Cold War brought these issues to the forefront. Science was not only a bearer of safety, but a bearer of devastation. And because of the Cold War, many Americans began to understand that in their daily life.


Advancements in Daily Life

During the early stage of the Cold War, new appliances such as the microwave became available. The first microwave cooker went on sale in the United States in 1947. U.S. scientists were able to do something no other scientist could do: make a plane fly at supersonic speeds. X-Rays were discovered in 1947, but not perfected until the 1980's. Televisions were widespread and transcontinental. The 1940's, was a technological sonic boom in regards to American daily life.
Meanwhile, biological scientists discovered DNA and reinforced the elements of chemistry. Lasers, were perfected as well, and by the 1960's lasers were actually effective in the science industry. Astronomy and planetary observation became extremely relevant again because of the scientific advancements made since the ages of Galileo and Copernicus. Human biology and the immune system were subsequently studied and relayed to the public. Robots in the 1960's not only became a reality, but a way to manufacture items in various factories across the nation. All of these advancements led to a new age of information and convenience for the American people. Most of this was accomplished during the "heat" of the Cold War.

Star Wars

In the waning era of the Cold War, the United States employed a strategy known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or simply "Star Wars." The military was the main benefactor of this initiative, and it was accepted by the American people because of it's ties to the popular science fiction movie and it's promise of "new and creative technologies." Unfortunately this idea was abandoned in the end due to budget problems and international pressure. The revolutionary defense system was still an option until 2001, but it has minimal value due to a more stable relationship with what is now known as Russia.



The Cold War fought only in the American mind, was a boom in the science industry. Many of the technological advancements made impacted the American people directly through their daily life. New materials, textiles, and appliances created an age of innovation for Cold War companies. Americans, who lived in constant fear of Soviet attack or invasion, came to feel the effects of Cold War competition. Scientists pushed to work harder and faster to beat the Soviet Union in any way possible.


As a result of this innovation, many Americans came to appreciate the technological developments made during the Cold War. Science was a hazard and a helper. Americans could witness the benefits of science everyday, but feel the terror that was caused by Soviet science. It was a double-headed sword during the Cold War. Destruction was evident as much as construction due to the many uses of scientific discoveries. The effects of Cold War science are still felt today, and many inventions and breakthroughs are still used in hospitals, schools, and even major business corporations.


Works Cited

CBC Digital Archives. 2011. Radio-Canada. May 2, 2011. <>

Cold War Connection. 2000. Carnegie Mellon University. April 28, 2011 <>

DuPont. 2011. DuPont. April 28th, 2011

Hellemans, Alexander, and Bryan Bunch. The Timetables of Science. New York: Touchstone, 1988.

"Nuclear Energy." Earth Sciences for Students. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2011. Gale Science In Context. Web. 2 May. 2011.

Oxford Journal. 2011. Business History Conference. April 29, 2011

Raytheon. 2011. Raytheon Company. April 28, 2011