Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe used to be known as Norma Jeane Dougherty, and during World War II she toiled at a California defense factory. But shocking new historical evidence shows that the future movie star helped build the first mass-produced aerial drones—and there are pictures to prove it.
It seems every six months or so these photos of Marilyn Monroe from World War II make the rounds on the good ol' internet machine. At the time they were captured in 1944 she hadn't yet taken the name Marilyn Monroe, nor had she dyed her curly locks blonde. She was simply known as Norma Jeane Dougherty and worked in a factory in Van Nuys, California. David Conover, the Army photographer who snapped these shots is credited with "discovering" her, as she soon went on to fame and fortune. But there's one detail about these photos that rarely seems to gets mentioned: Marilyn Monroe, the future sex symbol that would set a generation's heart aflutter in the postwar era, is assembling a drone.
Though her main job at the factory was spraying down the planes with fire retardant, here she's seen assembling the OQ-2 radioplane, (sometimes called the RP-5A, TDD-l or the "Dennymite" for its designer Reginald Denny), which was the first mass produced unmanned aerial vehicle in the world. Drones have been in the news so much recently that we often think of them as a new concept in war. But they've existed in some capacity in virtually every modern American conflict since WWI — when the U.S. military experimented with the Kettering Bug unmanned aerial torpedo.
The nearly 15,000 OQ-2 radioplanes that were produced during WWII were relatively primitive and only used for target practice by the Americans. But they were quite useful, in that they simulated a more realistic target for the U.S. Army and Navy. It wasn't until the Vietnam War that UAVs would find use as reconnaissance planes, which would be their primary use by the American military until they became more frequently weaponized in the 21st century.
The absolutely fascinating 2009 book Wired For War by P.W. Singer includes this little fun fact about Marilyn, along with many others if you're interested in the history and future of robots in war. And given current trends in unmanned warfare, I can't imagine how you wouldn't be interested.
Images: taken by U.S. Army photographer David Conover