The CIA Just Tweeted That Julia Child Helped Develop the First Shark Repellent

by Owen James Burke


In honor of Shark Week, the CIA just dropped a story and a half about the American icon. (Who know the CIA had a Twitter account?) Photo/Art: CIA.

Julia Child: legendary American chef, author, and . . . CIA agent? Well, sort of. Back in 1942 at the age of 29 or 30, following a brief stint in copywriting and advertising after graduating from Smith College, Child (then Julia McWilliams) went to work as a typist for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which would go on to become the CIA. She had wanted to join the women’s Army Corps or the U.S. Navy’s WAVES, but towering at 6’2″, she was too tall to enlist.

At OSS HQ in Washington, D.C., she climbed the ladder fast. It seemed she had an early knack for complex concoctions, and the OSS recognized this. She went on to become a research assistant for Special Intelligence and assigned to work on developing a shark repellent, what was to become “Shark Chaser” (read more about that here). But at the time, rather than to protect soldiers, it was intended to keep curious sharks from detonating ordnances meant for blowing German U-Boats out of the water.


At the same time, the OSS was also producing a manual for soldiers for what to do in case of shark “attack” or encounters–which was, by the way, completely bogus. Photo/Art: CIA.

McWilliams was later posted all around Asia and awarded various merits for her services. After World War II, she made her way to France and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu, where, as we all know, her concoctions became considerably less volatile compounds. (Though it’s arguable that the decadent culinary masterpieces she crafted in the kitchen were ultimately what pickled her kidneys and slowly, painfully ended her life in 2004. Then again, at the age of 92, it’s a small wonder she didn’t go sooner.)


If you don’t own Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes III, or The Way to Cook, which she considered her magnum opus)–even if you’ve never spent more time in the kitchen than the minute-and-half it takes to heat up a Cup-a-Noodles–it’s time. It goes without saying that some of the world’s best seafood recipes lie within, and while she’s published other books, this is my favorite.

Read a complete (and visual) history of shark repellents here. –OJB

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