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One woman's hair was the key to the technology behind the atomic bomb

The task of dropping bombs accurately during WWII was not an easy one. This was before the days of radar, lasers, or even computers. Bombs were generally dropped by “bombers” who used a combination of training and experience to decide when to drop a bomb.


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That was the case until the Carl L Norden company developed the Norden Bombsight. This device was revolutionary, and in tests proved to be accuratae to within 75 feet, something totally unheard of in the day. The Norden Bombsight consisted of three main components: there was an analogue computer that plotted the bombs potential trajectory based on flight conditions, a link to the planes autopilot system that provided environmental information relating to wind speed and direction and a set of crosshairs that allowed the bomber to sight the target.

Of the three, oddly enough, the crosshairs proved to be the most difficult to perfect. The army required a material that would withstand huge fluctuations in temperature as well as the rigours of being mounted in a 1940’s aeroplane. The army eventually discovered that human hair was best suited to the job, but the hair had to be blond, long, and needed to never have been treated with chemicals or heated with a hot brush. Even in the 1940’s, this was a tall order.

But, one woman met all the criteria, and so it was that Mary Babnik Brown became the woman who was to supply the crosshairs for the Norden bombsights. Mary’s hair was blond, some 34 inches long and had never been cut or treated by chemicals in any form. Mary washed her hair twice a week with “pure soap” and brushed her hair twice a day.

She agreed to donate her hair to the war effort and refused any compensation for it, claiming it was her patriotic duty. She only found out what her hair had been used for during the war in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan wrote her a letter of thanks on her 80th birthday.


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