A History of America’s Military-Industrial Complex

Highs and lows in the relationship between the U.S. armed forces and the corporate world.

A History of America’s Military-Industrial Complex


William Boeing renames the Pacific Aero Products Co. after himself and sells 50 of its Model C seaplanes to the U.S. Navy — Boeing’s first production order.



A congressional committee recommends shutting down facilities like the Naval Aircraft Factory to end military competition with private industry. It is finally closed in 1945.


Donald Duck gets drafted, promotes war bonds, and urges Americans to pay their income taxes to “beat the Axis,” in three of the many cartoons Walt Disney Studios produced for the government during World War II.


At the peak of World War II, defense outlays amount to 37.8% of GDP, up from 1.7% in 1940. By 1947, the percentage has dropped to 5.5%.


July 26, 1947

President Harry S. Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, creating what is now called the Department of Defense and the position of secretary of defense.

Jan. 17, 1961

President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers his farewell address, warning against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

May 27, 1963

Bob Dylan releases the song “Masters of War”: “Come you masters of war / You that build all the guns / You that build the death planes / You that build the big bombs / You that hide behind walls / You that hide behind desks / I just want you to know / I can see through your masks.”



Patton, starring George C. Scott as General George Patton, wins seven Oscars.


At the beginning of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, defense spending on procurement tops spending on military personnel for the first time since 1963. The trend continues until 1990.


The FBI launches Operation Ill Wind to investigate corruption among the military, the government, and private contractors. Six major defense con-tractors, 12 government officials, and some 50 private citizens are convicted.



At a Pentagon dinner, deputy defense secretary William Perry tells invited aerospace CEOs that within five years, the Pentagon would need only about half the aerospace companies it was doing business with. Norman Augustine, then CEO of Martin Marietta and later chairman of Lockheed Martin, dubs the meeting “the Last Supper.”

Dec. 2006

The first census of Americans in Iraq finds about 100,000 government contractors (not counting subcontractors), almost as many as the 140,000 U.S. troops in the country at the time.

June 12, 2008

Konami releases PlayStation 3 video game Metal Gear Solid 4, based on the idea of a military-industrial complex taking control of the world’s economy through constant fight-ing. It becomes the highest-selling PS3 — exclusive game.



The national defense budget reaches an all-time high at an estimated $712 billion. In the first three-and-a-half months of the year, the Department of Defense awards more than $25 billion in contracts.