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Making Jet Engines in World War IIBritain, Germany, and the United States$
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Hermione Giffard

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226388595

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226388625.001.0001

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The Construction of a Hero

The Construction of a Hero

(p.199) Chapter Four The Construction of a Hero
Making Jet Engines in World War II

Hermione Giffard

University of Chicago Press

This chapter offers a historical exploration of the origins and perpetuation of the heroic inventor narrative associated with Frank Whittle and later Hans von Ohain. The chapter begins by showing through historiographical as well as archival research how Whittle was turned into a British national hero in 1944 as the result of a deliberate government policy to regulate information about a secret weapon. It then examines how this legacy continued to be shaped and propagated in the post-war period including in museums and history books. This leads to the question of why the German invention narrative never challenged the narrative of Whittle in Britain; the chapter argues that it was by virtue of American advocacy that Hans von Ohain began to be promoted as a German equivalent of Whittle giving rise to the ‘dual inventor’ story known today. The chapter weaves together the literature on the jet engine in Britain, Germany and the United States. It explores technological nationalism and the corrosive effects that it can have on the telling of history, both public and professional.

Keywords:   jet engine, inventor, Frank Whittle, Otto von Ohain, technological nationalism, heroic inventor, turbojet

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