Although the Corps is primarily an engineering and construction organization, historically it has been committed to research and development. Some early Corps' research and development activities have already been mentioned: Long's work on wing dams, Gillmore's design of early dredge boats, Merrill's use of concrete, and Humphreys' and Abbot's hydraulic theories. The inventive Stephen Long also developed a new design for railroad bridges in the mid 1830s. Although it was a private venture, he sold 20 copies of his design to his chief in Washington, Colonel John J. Abert, but it reflects the capability and industry of the engineer officer. The Long truss was widely used and played a role in the transition from wooden to iron bridges.
Another important Corps innovator was William Gunn Price, a civilian working with the Mississippi River Commission. Beginning in the early 1880s, Price developed current meters that were significantly more accurate than earlier ones. Under his supervision and using his new meter, teams measured discharges up and down the Mississippi River. Within a short time, the newly created Geological Survey adopted Price's meters to measure current in many of the nation's rivers.
The Corps' military research burgeoned during World War II, expanding rapidly even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Engineer Board, centered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, led the Corps' efforts. Conducting tests at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and on the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona, the board perfected a new steel treadway bridge that could be quickly laid on pneumatic floats as American forces crossed the rivers of Europe. The Engineer Board also developed improved equipment for the Army's road-construction, mapping, demolition, and mechanical needs. With the help of cooperative private firms, the board in 1943 procured a new hybrid vehicle, the tank dozer, which proved its substantial worth in breaching the hedgerows of Normandy after the D-day landings. During this time, too, the Waterways Experiment Station (WES), established by the Corps as a hydraulics laboratory in 1929 at Vicksburg, Mississippi, helped develop the pierced-steel plank and prefabricated bituminous surface used for the rapid construction of airfield runways in theaters of operations.
The Corps of Engineers continued its research and development work during the Cold War. Responding to increased Army emphasis on arctic defenses, the Corps established laboratories at Wilmette, Illinois, and Boston, Massachusetts, to study the impact of cold climates on military construction. These efforts aided in developing the distant early warning (DEW) line radar system in Greenland, northern Canada, and Alaska and building American airfields and bases in that region. The two laboratories consolidated in 1961 to form the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory at Hanover, New Hampshire.
The Corps of Engineers in 1962 created the Engineer Geodesy, Intelligence, and Mapping Research and Development Agency. The agency was renamed the Engineer Topographic Laboratories in 1967. Located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, this facility during the 1960s and 1970s developed automated equipment to produce topographic maps from aerial photographs and improved systems for producing Army field maps. In 1975 the topographic laboratories created the Terrain Analysis Center to provide the Army with state-of-the-art engineer intelligence data. The center made significant contributions during the Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
In 1968, the Corps established the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory to study construction materials and design, energy and utility systems, and housing habitability and maintenance. Located at Champaign, Illinois, this laboratory developed a fibrous reinforced concrete used both in airfield runways and in some civil works projects, a portable instrument to test welding quality, and a centralized facility to control pollutants where Army vehicles are washed.
Since World War II, the Corps has also made major research contributions to civil works. Studies at the Hydraulics Laboratory at WES provided new information about sedimentation, turbulence, and river meandering. While remaining a leader in three-dimensional river modeling, the laboratory additionally developed new computer-generated mathematical models. Its work contributed to engineering design improvements for numerous hydraulic structures, including dams, levees, and locks. A Geotechnical Laboratory at WES continues to study the basic materials of the earth's crust. This research has allowed the Corps to, among other things, protect groundwater sources, abate contamination, and provide more protection for buildings in earthquake-prone regions of the world. The Coastal Engineering Research Center, once located at Fort Belvoir and now at WES, has significantly contributed to improvements in shoreline and jetty protection and the prevention of beach erosion. The WES Structures Laboratory evaluates, maintains, and rehabilitates aging hydraulic structures; and the Environmental Laboratory at WES works on wetlands protection, water quality, environmental cleanup, and the protection of threatened or endangered species.
The Topographic Engineering Center at Fort Belvoir pioneered the use of geospatial positioning through the early use of the Global Positioning System. The technology will revolutionize hydrologic activities throughout the world. The Corps' Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory has become a leader in scientific and engineering research dealing with ice cover and ice jams on inland waterways. Finally, in Davis, California, the Hydrologic Engineering Center developed computer software packages used worldwide by water resources professionals inside and outside the Corps. These packages compute flood runoff in all types of watersheds, water surface profiles for both natural rivers and constructed waterways, annual flood damage and flood damage reduction benefits for projects in the design stage, and flood frequency profiles.
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