History of Charles Stark "Doc" Draper and the Draper Prize

The “father of inertial navigation,” Dr. Charles Stark Draper evolved the theory, invented and developed the technology, and led the effort that brought inertial navigation, which allows vehicles to sense changes in direction by linking gyroscopes and accelerometers along three axes, to operational use in aircraft, space vehicles, and submarines. A pioneer among aircraft engineers, Draper's monumental efforts on the Apollo program and on the guidance systems for strategic missiles bear witness to his genius. Modern aircraft travel their global routes with pinpoint accuracy using inertial guidance systems derived from his original inventions.

Born in Windsor, Missouri, on October 2, 1901, “Doc” Draper began his college work in arts and sciences at the University of Missouri in 1917. In 1919 he entered Stanford University, California, and graduated in 1922 with a B.A. in psychology. He entered MIT the same year, earning an S.B. in electrochemical engineering in 1926 and a Sc.D. in physics in 1938.

As a member of the MIT faculty and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Draper developed an extensive program in instrumentation and control. His team of students and technicians at MIT expanded to become the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, and in 1973 that lab incorporated as a separate, nonprofit research and development laboratory—The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc.

By the time of Dr. Draper’s death in 1987, he had received more than 70 honors and awards in the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. He was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the French National Academy. His awards included the National Medal of Science from President Lyndon Johnson, the Langley Medal of the Smithsonian Institution, the Robert H. Goddard Trophy of the National Space Club, and the National Academy of Engineering’s Founders Award.

Draper Laboratory has carried forward its founder's dedication to applied research, engineering development, education, and technology transfer. While deepening its expertise in guidance, navigation, and control through continuing work for the Department of Defense and NASA, Draper Lab has moved into new technology areas, such as microelectromechanical systems. Reflecting Doc Draper's teaching philosophy of learning by doing, Draper Lab supports advanced technical education through experiences such as the Draper Fellow Program, which allows graduate students, notably from MIT, to perform their thesis research at Draper Lab. Draper also provides significant financial support for undergraduate and graduate education. Draper's technology is disseminated through its Technology Licensing Office and its venture capital subsidiary, Navigator Technology Ventures, LLC.

The Charles Stark Draper Prize

The Charles Stark Draper Prize was established by the National Academy of Engineering at the request of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. to honor the memory of Charles Stark Draper and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology to the welfare and freedom of humanity. Endowment for the Draper Prize was provided by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. Awarded annually, the Draper Prize consists of a $500,000 cash award, a gold medallion, and a hand-scribed certificate. NAE members and non-members worldwide are eligible to receive the Draper Prize. Only living persons may be selected to receive the prize.

Read more about the Draper Prize.