Before the Second World War, only a few countries had optical glass and optical munitions experience - one of those was the United States of America (USA). However, the USA was strictly neutral at the start of the Second World War, and their firms and laboratories would not help Australia by providing advice, glass blanks or machinery to help establish an optical glass industry in Australia. The firms were also wanting to protect their knowledge and thus their industry from perhaps another avenue of competition.
In mid-1940, the Optical Munitions Panel arranged for Mr H.G. Little (a chemist for Australian Consolidated Industries) and Mr G.H. Grimwade (appointed by the Department of Munitions) to visit Canada and the USA where 'they spent three weeks "running everywhere into a brick wall of secrecy"'.(1) They found only one institution that would give them more than a rushed inspection tour: the National Bureau of Standards.
At the National Bureau of Standards, the two Australians finally found people who were prepared to share their glass-making knowledge. The scientists at the Bureau also looked over and commented on Australian Consolidated Industries' optical glass factory plans. The assistance and advice provided by the National Bureau of Standards was invaluable and enabled the quick and efficient establishment of optical glass production in Australia.
The USA entered the Second World War in December 1941, and in 1942, they were grateful for Australia's newly established optical industry after they realised they were short of prisms and lenses. L.J. Hartnett arranged for the USA to receive a shipment of about 7,000 prisms (2,000 full sets of optics for one telescope and 5,000 prisms for another).
We also exported quite a lot of lenses and prisms to America. I was in Washington when some arrived at the Franklin arsenal, where every one, 100%, passed their inspection and the Americans had never inspected any better than those from Australia ... We earned a great reputation for optics. - Sir Laurence Hartnett.(2)
D.P. Mellor (1958), 'Optical Munitions', Australia in the War of 1939-1945: The Role of Science and Industry, ch. 12, series 4: civil, vol. 5, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p. 254.
(2) Sir Laurence Hartnett (1985), 'Recollections of the Optical Munitions Panel in Australia', Australian Physicist, vol. 22, May, pp. 158-60; with notes by H.C. Bolton, p. 159.
Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 30 April 1997
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (email@example.com)
Prepared by: Denise Sutherland and Elissa Tenkate
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 19 February 1998