Without Benedict Crowell, there probably would be no National Defense Industrial Association. Crowell was an Ohio-born chemical and mining engineer, construction company owner and president of a bank when, in 1916, he was commissioned as a major in the Officer Reserve Corps. In 1917, he joined the General Munitions Board. The task of the board was to manage government contracts so that purchasing agents weren't in competition and there could be a coordinated effort between the U.S. military and its allies to supply the required munitions. He was soon appointed assistant secretary of war and director of munitions.
From that vantage point, Crowell had a bird's-eye view of how totally unprepared America was for modern warfare of any kind: land, sea or air. Two years after founding the Army Ordnance Association (AOA), which would later become NDIA, he wrote about what he had witnessed. The Giant Hand: Our Mobilization and Control of Industry and Natural Resources, 1917-1918, paints a portrait of a nation woefully lacking in munitions, men and war materiel.
Crowell stated that the perception of the world was that America was an untapped reservoir of limitless resources. In reality, "when these foreigners reached Washington, what did they find?" he wrote. "A complete absence of effective industrial preparation for the ordeal ahead. Nothing done. Industry trying to coordinate itself into a single war machine, but groping ahead painfully in a fog of ignorance and misapprehension, without plans, looking for direction to an organization in Washington tragically inefficient and ill-adapted to the effort to come."
Crowell and his co-author were adamant that"... there be no repetition of the painful exploration and experiment of 1917," referring to the United States' lack of preparation for entering World War I.
A number of Crowell's peers apparently agreed with him. Enter the idea behind the Army Ordnance Association.
In October 1919, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, 500 representatives from industry and government met to form the AOA. Crowell served as the association's first president.
On Sept. 7, 1920, members received copies of the first constitution and bylaws for approval. A couple of key tenets set the tone for the new organization. First, national...