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What the Hell is a Skunk Work?

No, its got nothing to do with smoking cannabis

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The term Skunk works originated in a satirical American comic strip "Li'l Abner" in the 1950's. Li'l Abner Yokum was a hillbilly who lived in Dogpatch somewhere in the mountains.

There was not much industry in Dogpatch. Li'l Abner himself was a mattress tester, and most others were either moonshiners or bootleggers. There was, however, one fellow (whose name I forget) who ran the "skunk works" skinning dead skunks (the unpleasant animal). Of course, both he and his "skunk works" were generally avoided.

Anyway, in the late 1950's, at the height of both Li'l Abner's popularity and Cold War paranoia, Lockheed set up a small group of highly skilled engineers to work on very secret projects. The head of this group (whose last name I think was Kelly), christened his group the "Skunk Works" to connote their small size and their distance from the main body of engineering. They became famous for developing some of Lockheed's most radical and successful designs more quickly than anyone else in aeronautical history.

Today in American business, "skunk works" is usually used for a small group of developers who are physically separated from the rest of the corporation to work on special projects, although I don't think there is any group that has ever matched the success of Lockheed's original Skunk Works. ®

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