The Higgins Boat: Technological Innovation in Peace and War

June 6, 2019   Joseph Kochanek

  • Property, Markets & Trade
  • Intellectual Property
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With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, the USPTO reminds us of the role played by intellectual property in that military operation. According to the USPTO (https://www.uspto.gov/dwcstories/higgins.html), the Higgins Boat “landed Allied troops not only at Normandy, but on the beaches of North Africa, Italy, and countless islands across the Pacific, as well as the German banks of the Rhine River in March 1945.”

One interesting element of this invention has to do with questions of how technology is diffused. Descriptions of military technology often include among its benefits the fact that military innovation leads to products used in civilian life, or contributes to non-military innovation. In the case of the Higgins Boat, the diffusion moved in the opposite direction: Higgins solved a problem in civilian life, and then adapted it for military need. According to Peter Neushul in “Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Mass Production of World War II Landing Craft” (Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 39:2, Spring 1998) Higgins produced boats that were used by a variety of non-military personnel whose occupations demanded that they be able to swiftly navigate the shallow waters of bayous and similar wetlands while transporting people, cargo, and heavy equipment. These included fur-trappers, oil-drillers, and timber harvesters, and may well have also included bootleggers and those in pursuit of bootleggers. (Neushul, 141-143) The needs of these users informed the development of landing craft capable of supporting amphibious assaults. These boats, according to Neushul, “had a decisive effect upon the success of amphibious operations during World War II.” (Neushul, 166)