The National Archives' recent decision to open more than 35,000 official personnel files of men and women who served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the U.S.'s intelligence agency during World War II and the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—has shed new light on the roles that chef Julia Child, actor Sterling Hayden, 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche and others played during the early days of American espionage.

Among the treasure trove of documents are 750,000 pages of material that include initial applications to join the OSS; preliminary training and subsequent work assignments; pay, leave and travel documents; evaluations, basic medical information; and awards, decorations and discharge papers.

The technology Child and her OSS colleagues had to work with is a far cry from the slick digital gadgets of today's intelligence operations (or even from the fictional gear James Bond flaunted throughout the Cold War). Scientific American Online recently produced a slide show chronicling some of this technology, much of which looks like it was assembled in someone's garage. To view this ode to spy gadgetry of old, visit our "Spying on the Spies" report.


Image (Julia Child, 1967) courtesy of the AP