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Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 2.1 (2004) 99-124

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Technology Transfer from Germany to Canada after 1945
A Study in Failure?

Steven T. Koerner

On 15 December 1945, a press conference sponsored by the Department of Reconstruction was held at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, Canada. Its purpose was to publicize the activities of some 45 investigators, who had returned home from a trip to Europe earlier that summer for the purpose of examining German science, technology, factories, plant, and equipment that might become available to Canada through the war reparations programme 1 (Baldwin, 1945; NAC, RG 25, Vol. 5713, 1945a; Waring, 1945).

This was one of the first public announcements from the Canadian government describing its involvement in what had already become the largest and most extensive example of technology transfer in modern history. The Canadians' assignment in Europe was prompted by the physical occupation of one of the world's most advanced technological and scientific countries by its pre-war rivals. This presented a unique and irresistible opportunity for the occupiers to not only help themselves to an extensive [End Page 99] range of technologically advanced hardware and more mundane factory and plant, but also German intellectual know-how.

The investigators, who represented a variety of industrial associations, universities, and government departments and agencies, unanimously expressed great enthusiasm about what they had seen in Germany. Canada was on the verge of not only acquiring a huge amount of science and technology covering everything from sophisticated aeronautical equipment such as jet aircraft engines and wind tunnels, to more ordinary items including textile manufacturing machinery. A purportedly revolutionary butter-making machine that could greatly enhance the efficiency of dairy operators attracted particular attention from those present. The 100 assembled press representatives were told that the importation of such equipment would not only help to pay for the costs of the war but also strengthen Canadian industry as it made the transition from war- to peace-time production (Waring, 1945; Wilson, 1946).

Subsequent press coverage about the reparations programme emphasized the importance of this German technology that was now available to Canada. Featured articles appeared in Canadian newspapers, popular magazines, and the trade press, as well as in American publications reporting on the potential benefits of German technology for the United States. Such articles explained how far advanced German technology was in comparison to that of the Allies, especially in aviation engineering, and highlighted the opportunities presented by the reparations programme. This coverage created public interest in the subject but also raised unrealistic expectations as to the outcome of the programme (Copeland, 1947; Crider, 1945; Flahiff, 1946; Fraser, 1946; Kent, 1948; "Scientific Clean-Up," 1946; Walker, 1946; "War Reparations," 1946).

Yet, only a few weeks after this ebullient press conference, C. J. Mackenzie, President of the National Research Council (NRC) and a key coordinator of Canada's involvement in the programme, was far less optimistic. As he confided in his diary, the whole question of reparations from Germany "has been very badly handled and we all have been negligent" (NAC, MG 30, 1946, p. 1960). Several years later, a confidential briefing provided to senior civil servants arrived at essentially the same conclusion. Members of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Reparations and Implementation of the Peace Treaties were informed that "the reparations plan had fallen down badly," although throwing open German patents to the public domain and bringing in some German scientists and technicians had provided a limited benefit to Canadian industry (NAC, RG 25, Vol. 3919, 1948).

Superficially at least, the public record seems to bear out these pessimistic [End Page 100] assessments. In response to a series of questions put to Ministers C. D. Howe, Louis St. Laurent, and Prime Minister Mackenzie-King in Parliament between 1945 and 1947, all had to concede that, despite considerable effort, Canada had not gained much in the way of reparations from Germany. Indeed, far from being an industrial or technological cornucopia, their replies confirmed that Canada had only received three German freighters that were later...


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