Records Overview for Researchers

The Office of Naval Research was established by act of Congress, Public Law 588, as the U.S. government’s first permanent agency devoted to funding civilian scientific research during peacetime. This guide is meant as an introduction for researchers seeking public documents and records about ONR, its activities, and the science and technology research that it funds and manages. (Download the complete document.)

The Office of Naval Research

ONR manages and funds basic and applied science and advanced technology development through the use of grants and contracts with an array of partners in academia, industry, and government in the United States and around the world. The Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., is a subordinate command. ONR also works in close cooperation with the Navy’s systems commands and their warfighting centers located across the United States. As a major funder of scientific research since World War II, ONR has had a role in fostering scientific and technological innovations in a wide range of fields, as well as in maintaining the basic scientific research infrastructure that makes these breakthroughs possible. Consequently, historical research on ONR can illuminate discourses in the history of public and science policy, the relationship between government and academia, naval technology, and the military industrial complex, as well as of individual disciplines such as biology, robotics, physics, and numerous other fields.

Born in the aftermath of World War II, ONR was established in August 1946 to maintain the successful partnership of government, academia, and industry that had produced a series of technological innovations during the war. Originally focused on basic science research using contracts, grants were added as a funding tool in 1959. Funding for applied research began in 1980 with the establishment of the Office of Naval Technology, a joint organization also headed by the chief of naval research. The two offices were joined together, and funding for advanced technology development added, in 1993.

Originally located in Washington, D.C., in the old Navy Department buildings on the National Mall, ONR is now located in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, Va. The Office of Naval Research is managed by the chief of naval research, a naval flag officer, and the executive director, a Senior Executive Service civilian. Research activities are divided into two research directorates, research (discovery and invention) and technology, which oversee and coordinate the six science and technology departments: Expeditionary Warfare; Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Ocean Battlespace Sensing; Sea Warfare and Weapons; Warfighter Performance; Naval Air Warfare and Weapons.

Other components of ONR include ONR Global, which has offices in Santiago, Chile; São Paulo, Brazil; London, U.K.; Prague, Czech Republic; Singapore; and Tokyo, Japan. Founded in 1946 with a single office in London, ONR Global’s personnel interact with the international science and technology community and overseas operational commands to foster cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

The Naval Research Advisory Committee, also established by Public Law 588 in 1946, is an independent civilian scientific advisory group dedicated to providing objective analyses in the areas of science, research, and development. The committee is the senior scientific advisory group to the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, commandant of the Marine Corps, and the chief of naval research. It produces one or more reports a year on topics of interest to the Navy and Marine Corps. In its early days, the committee’s purview was quite broad, dealing with early atomic energy policy for instance.

The ONR Historian

The office of the historian was created in 2013. The historian provides the command with professional guidance in the field of history and historic preservation, and the public with an extensive program of outreach that includes oral history, research, publications, and multimedia materials. For help with research requests, download ONR's comprehensive research guide and/or contact the historian at or call 703-696-5031.

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