NDIA History Snapshots: A look back at the history of the association as it celebrates its centennial year. This month: the story of National Defense Magazine.


"DECENTRALIZED PRODUCTION."That was the headline of the lead story in Volume I, Edition I of Army Ordnance magazine, published July 1920.

The forerunner to National Defense magazine was a natural outgrowth of a post-World War I gathering. In October 1919, 500 charter members of the Army Ordnance Association met at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to "witness demonstrations of the latest type of ordnance materiel." Ten months later, the new association had published its first magazine. Subscriptions were $3 per year.

The magazine established a forum for industry and government to share a wealth of information and opinions on military preparedness, and it became the leading publication for the defense industry. "Originally, it was focused on one part of the military, Army ordnance," said Stew Magnuson, National Defense's current editor-in-chief. "But even then, you could see that they were expanding their scope to just about anything that would deliver the ordnance, which encompassed ships, tanks, all the services."

The early reader base consisted mostly of industrial engineers. "It was very technical. It wasn't much news-oriented, but more scholarly," Magnuson said.

Lengthy articles in the first issue focused on "The Ordnance Engineer," "Commercial Possibilities of Government Nitrate Plants" and "The Machine Gun of the Future."

While industry continued to pursue innovation and many in government saw the need to be prepared for military action, there wasn't always universal acceptance of the defense buildup. In his 50th anniversary history of the association, consulting editor Leo Codd noted that the years between the world wars saw a rise in pacifism in Europe that spread to the United States. The magazine published a series of editorials objecting to the idea that "munitions makers are merchants of death," sparking a strong reaction from readers.

Heading into the last year of World War II, some stories took on a different tone. Automobile dealers were praised as dedicated industrialists who continued to produce much-needed materials. The magazine swelled to 200 pages during the war, which was mostly advertisements.

By 1956, the Army Ordnance Association became the American Ordnance Association and the magazine simply titled, Ordnance to encompass the expanding domains of warfare. To celebrate, the magazine featured its first full-color cover. As the battles moved from Europe and Japan to Korea and later Vietnam, so too did the focus of...

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