Brigadier General Joseph M. Colby was born in Iowa in 1904, and studied at Virginia Military Institute and at the University of Iowa before completing his undergraduate training at West Point in 1929. He was awarded a Master of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1935.
Originally a cavalry officer, General Colby transferred to Ordnance in the mid-1930s and became an authority on tank automotive design and development.
During the 1930s and 1940s, he was responsible for a number of innovations and inventions, which were incorporated into weapons systems. These included the torque converter transmission for tanks and 75mm motor carriages, transverse transmissions and torsion bar suspensions for a number of different tanks and other weapons, and the concentric recoil mechanism for tank cannon.
He is also credited with development of many of the light, medium, and heavy tanks used by Allied armies during World War II. During the years 1941 and 1942, he took the first American tanks to North Africa for use by the British Army, and instructed the British in the use of these weapons.
His direction of tank production at Detroit Arsenal during World War II brought him the well-deserved sobriquet of Mr. Tank. He was also responsible for incorporating synthetic rubber into American tanks during World War II.
His later responsibilities include the command of Frankford Arsenal and concluded with his assignment as Deputy Commanding General of the Ordnance Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal.
Following his retirement from the Army in 1959, General Colby served for a number of years as Vice President of the North American Rockwell Corporation. He died in 1974.