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US Army donates its oldest GE 'Copper Man' to a Washington DC museum

23 August 2011

Another gem from GE's archives is pictured here. One of the oldest 'Copper Men', quarter-inch-thick, electroplated copper mannequins from the early 1940s that the US Army used to evaluate the thermal-insulating quality of protective clothing issued to B-17 and B-24 airmen, has been donated to a Washington DC museum.

At the request of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine recently agreed to donate its oldest Copper Man—built in 1944—for permanent display. “GE was using a similar Copper Man to evaluate electrically-heated blankets and then heated flight suits for the Army Air Corps at the beginning of World War II,” explains Thomas Endrusick, a Research Physical Scientist with the Institute. The Institute, Endrusick adds, continues to use a Copper Man from 1951 to test the thermal comfort of modern military attire.

As test subjects go, GE’s pseudo soldier has proven its scientific and financial mettle. Copper’s high malleability and excellent heat conductivity make Copper Man an ideal stand-in for a human being in the early stages of testing. Endrusick notes that comparable studies using humans can cost the military $150,000 over five months versus $15,000 over two weeks with Copper Man on the job. That makes him an extremely cost-effective preliminary screening tool for determining which articles of clothing deserve more expensive human study, and which don’t.

With an original price tag of nearly $10,000 and a current scrap value around $400, Copper Man’s enduring worth is hard to calculate. Gold may get all the headlines today, but copper was once arguably the more precious metal. By 1943 demand for copper—a critical component in many munitions—had so outstripped supply that the US mint opted to produce a steel penny.

Another recent image released from the GE archive was the 'Walking Truck'. The story is posted on the DPA site.

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