Everyday Products and Inventions Created Because of War
War is a time of great uncertainty and great destruction. Simultaneously, wartimes have also resulted in great innovations. During times of war, inventors and scientists have been forced to come up with ways to make life during the troubled times as convenient and comfortable as possible. Believe it or not, some of the most significant wars the world has ever seen have resulted in some of our most essential everyday products. Read on to learn more. The items on this list are sure to surprise you.
1. The Slinky
Nobody thinks about the slinky much. To most, it is a useless but sometimes amusing toy that may half-heartedly travel down a couple stairs. Once the toy gets tangled or bent, it will frustratingly never be the same again and will be tossed aside for something more fun. Still, it would not be fair to completely dismiss the slinky, as it has quite the history behind it.
In 1943, as World War II droned on, United States Naval Engineer Richard James was busy at work trying to find a way to ensure that delicate equipment could be protected during transportation, especially in precarious places like the middle of a stormy ocean. He turned to the versatile spring for his answer but instead came across something peculiar: a spring that seemed to move with a mind of its own when dropped. Thus, the slinky was born. Since its invention, millions of the toy have been sold worldwide.
There are perhaps few things more satisfying than a handful of M&Ms. Whether you are craving something sweet or seeking the perfect movie time snack, you can never go wrong with these colorful little candies. Believe it or not, they are not only delicious. These inventions also have quite the history behind them.
A man by the name Forrest E. Mars Sr. oversaw the great M&M empire. He first introduced the candies to the general public in 1941, and they were very well-received. Sadly, the consumers would only get to enjoy M&Ms for only so long. Once World War II kicked in, M&Ms were set aside for the military. Why? With their hard outer shell, M&Ms are much less likely to succumb to heat than regular chocolate bars. Thus, they were a staple treat for many soldiers.
Twinkies are not exactly a wonderfully decadent dessert. They are the kind of snack cakes you hastily throw in your lunchbox when you are running late for work but know you are going to need a sugar boost by noon, or the thing you grab when you are in the middle of writing a term paper and just want some sense of joy and sweetness in your life.
But Twinkies actually have quite the rich history. In the 1930s, James A. Dewar, who was an ambitious baker, wanted to craft the most perfect cake for Hostess he could whip up. At first, he came up with something quite lovely: sponge cake with a juicy strawberry center. But then he realized that strawberries were not exactly cheap year-round since they are seasonal and decided he would need to try something else. As a result, he introduced the banana filling. Even that was short-lived once World War II came knocking. Bananas were heavily rationed, leaving Dewar with no option other than a less exciting cream filling. He gave it a shot and quickly learned that people like boring cream fillings after all.
Yes, that’s right. As fun as it is to browse the Internet on your computer to distract yourself from work, computers actually went through a lot of shaping and reshaping during World War II. One of the inventions to emerge from it all was Colossus, a phenomenal machine often lauded for being the first digital computer.
Colossus looked quite different from the computers to which we are accustomed today. In fact, it was not just one computer but rather a large network of them. As a whole, it lived up to its name: large, cumbersome even, and required some specific training to operate effectively. Invented by an Englishman named Tommy Flowers, Colossus thrived at unraveling Enigma codes sent out by German intelligence.
5. Aircraft Carriers
Before the aircraft carrier, naval forces often found themselves vulnerable when they retreated to safety at a distant staging area. The aircraft carrier made it so that multiple aircrafts could be housed on one properly equipped warship nearby.
Modern aircraft carriers have flight decks for easy access to and from the warship. Carriers were first used in 1912, when a man by the name of Charles Rumney Samson took off via a ramp from a moving HMS Hibernia battleship. While such a carrier served its purpose, its lack of a flight deck made securing jets considerably more difficult, since they would first have to land on the water. Soon after, the HMS Furious equipped with a flight deck.
Next time you get frustrated at your jacket’s zipper for getting caught, consider: at one point, even this seemingly mundane invention was a breakthrough. Of course, the zipper has been around for a while, often dismissed as a practicality rather than a wonder of human innovation. By the time World War I rolled around, however, it became clear just how valuable the zipper could be.
World War I was a life-altering war that required a lot of top-notch gear. This went beyond things like transportation, guns, and other weapons. Even the uniforms soldiers wore had to be virtually foolproof. That is where Swedish-American engineer Gideon Sundback came in. Although variations of the zipper existed in one form or another, Sundback emphasized the teeth feature of his zipper. Before long, the U.S. military was adapting the zipper for various uniforms and even boots. After the war, a new fashion sensation had taken off among the general public: the great zipper in all its glory.
Tanks are another ubiquitous piece of wartime machinery. In old pictures, they often lumber into battle, towering and impregnable, often with a determined soldier perched atop them. Indeed, not only do tanks look intimidating. They serve a practical purpose.
Before tanks, soldiers often found themselves in vulnerable positions as they waited to launch an attack on enemies. Left with no shelter beyond trenches, they were essentially sitting ducks who could easily be attacked when they least expected it. In such cases, the most powerful guns were useless. Moreover, tanks are designed to navigate uneven surfaces and roads fallen to ruins.
8. Synchronization Gear
The image of an unstoppable and agile fighter plane ripping through the sky is a classic war image, often portrayed in Hollywood as a quick, simple affair. When it comes to attacking, though, a plane cannot just rain bullets from the sky haphazardly. By doing that, it risks causing damage to itself, namely its own blades.
That is where the synchronization gear came in. This gear allows for a plane to dispense gunfire straight through its propeller, rather than have a co-pilot operate a gun from above and risk misfiring due to poor calculation. The synchronization gear allows for better accuracy, as the line of fire can be adjusted accordingly for optimal aim.
9. Tabasco Sauce
Tabasco Sauce differs from the other great inventions listed here, as it is a product of the American Civil War rather than any of the World Wars. A savvy businessman named Edmund McIlhenny cooked up the sauce after retreating to Texas from New Orleans, in hope of escaping Union forces.
While in Texas, he found a farm for his family to settle on. Once he got comfortable, he started to get creative. He threw together a strangely tantalizing combination of peppers, salt, and other spices and figured he had something consumers might want to get their hands on. Sure enough, once the concoction was bottled and placed on the market, it ended up going over quite well with people.
10. Daylight Savings Time
The idea of Daylight Savings Time was not solely a war invention. Great minds like Benjamin Franklin considered the concept a way to make use of natural daylight and to save on the use of candles. However, during World War I, it seemed all the more appealing.
In 1916, German officials realized that the nation as a whole was burning through a whole lot of coal, more quickly than supply could be replenished. Thus, it was proposed that the clocks be set forward one hour, as to allow more daylight during waking hours. As a result, the demand for utilities such as heating and lighting decreased. The concept quickly caught on all across Europe, and now Daylight Savings is just part of time’s march onward.
Today, the old trusty wristwatch is a common thing to see, whether as an essential timepiece or a fashion statement. Nonetheless, the wristwatch bears a colorful history worthy of relaying and appreciating, even if you prefer to tell the time by other means.
Even when you are out in battle, you might be wondering where the day is going and what time it is. The problem during World War I was that most soldiers had pocket watches at their disposal and would waste a lot of precious time fumbling around for it on the battlefield. Then, a solution dawned: why not make it so that soldiers do not have to reach for their watch at all, since they will already be wearing it? As a result, manufacturers began to increase the number of strapped watches they produced so that the demand could be adequately met. And with that, the wristwatch achieved great popularity.
12. Air Traffic Control
As might be quite obvious by now, war brings with it a demand for all sorts of new technology, or at least advancements in existing tech. During World War I, one concern was how pilots would communicate with the world below, as well as with other pilots in the air.
For a while, nobody would know how a pilot or his plane was faring until the plane safely landed. This created all sorts of uncertainty and, as a result, led to lower efficiency. The U.S. Army acknowledged this problem and sought a solution: a radio system that would allow for pilots to communicate with an operator. The modern air traffic control system came to fruition in 1917.
Perhaps it goes without saying that many people take modern medicine for granted, especially when it comes to the many different medications we now have at our disposal. By the time World War II started, demand rose for medicine that would adequately treat wounded soldiers and prevent life-threatening infections.
In fact, we have an Australian scientist by the name of Howard Florey to thank for the penicillin used in medicine today. He, along with a colleague named Sir Alexander Fleming, earned a Nobel Prize for their contribution to science. By 1941, this medical breakthrough made its way into the world and proved to be a lasting achievement of modern medicine.
14. Depth Charges
When German U-boats began lurking in waters and causing insurmountable damage and casualties, it became clear that something had to be done. The Allies could not simply avoid the open sea altogether. The solution, then, was some sort of potent device that could stop these U-boats in their tracks.
These inventions are called depth charges. They were launched from boats and used to attack enemy submarines. Moreover, depth charges were specially designed to detonate at a certain depth, thus protecting the ship that launched it from damage. In 1916, the depth charger was put to use and proved to be a perfect weapon against German U-boats.
15. Sanitary Napkins
Okay, so perhaps feminine sanitary products are not the most glamorous or exciting invention out there. But they are very necessary. The material that comprises modern sanitary napkins and tampons first saw the spotlight during World War I. This material is called cellucotton.
Reliably absorbent, cellucotton served as the perfect material for bandages, especially during a time when demand for wound care products was at an all-time high. To sweeten the deal, cellucotton proved to be a lot cheaper than the original material. Thanks to cellucotton, women can now endure their monthly nuisance without worry.
We have already discussed how cellucotton helped revolutionize the tampon. That once underestimated material returns here as another popular item often thrown away without much thought: the Kleenex. Even today, there is nothing more comforting when you have a stuffy nose than the soft touch of these tissues.
The idea for Kleenex was born after the cellucotton-based female sanitary products entered the market. While they certainly found their niche, selling them was hard when women tended to shy away from buying them, especially when they had to interact with male clerks. Kimberly-Clark decided to take that same material and just iron it out a bit, giving it a more delicate texture. That marked the birth of the Kleenex.
Radar technology has come a long way over the years. Today, countless industries and fields of study utilize radars in some fashion. This includes everything from astronomy to geology to certain aspects of medicine. Understandably, radar technology shaped the way World War II was fought.
Back in 1939, Britain’s Royal Air Force established a sophisticated and functioning radar system. The U.S. military did not officially adopt this technology until about a year later, although it had been in rigorous developments. Radar made detecting enemies much easier, which in turn made strategizing against them in a timely manner a top priority.
Radar technology developed during World War II has gone a long way in bringing to life many of the everyday appliances and inventions that we take for granted today. One of these appliances is the microwave. In 1939, a physicist named Percy Spencer was at work at the leading U.S. defense contractor and manufacturer Raytheon. There, he worked with his company to perfect radar equipment that could be used by the Radiation Laboratory at MIT.
While at work, Spencer made a strange discovery: he had forgotten about some chocolate candy he had saved in his pocket. More important, he noted that that chocolate melted very quickly as he ran experiments on his equipment. He decided to test his discovery further with other foodstuff. Soon, he realized he was on to something. Thus, the microwave was born.
Weapons that utilize fire to ambush an enemy are nothing new. In fact, such weapons date back as far as medieval times. The flamethrower, however, is in a class of its own. Its powers were first realized during World War I, although it was not a widely adopted weapon until World War II.
However, flamethrowers were of great use during WWI when it came to trench warfare. Enemies tended to hide in trenches, and flamethrowers allowed soldiers to act quickly against them. Of course, flamethrowers had their limitations. For one, they could be somewhat cumbersome to carry around. The Germans used them for the first time in 1915.
Nescafé is special from many other inventions in that it was created in order to combat an excess of a specific good, rather than to address an increase in demand for something in scarce supply. In this case, that excess was perfectly good Brazilian coffee beans.
The beans had been sitting without purpose or use in a warehouse for some time, sometime after the Great Depression came to a close. The popular Swiss brand stepped forward to take advantage of these valuable coffee beans. The result was Nescafé, first introduced in Switzerland in 1938.
21. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is another one of those inventions that often go unnoticed, usually because we might not recognize it as stainless steel even though we depend on it daily. We instead see shining silverware sets, dutiful factory machinery, and even towering skyscrapers. As it turns out, the hunt for something as great as stainless steel began in the early 1900s.
Specifically, British military officials were looking to perfect their guns and wanted to make them out of a material that would not corrode so easily. The first metal guns were produced using a weak metal and were heavily damaged when the bullet left the chamber. A British man by the name of Harry Brearley went to work to find the perfect material. Sure enough, he found it: the stainless steel we know today.
There is nothing superglue cannot fix! From a cracked china plate to an armless toy doll, superglue can reunite the broken items with ease. The most amazing thing? Nobody set out to create superglue. It sort of came to be by mistake.
In the early 1940s, an earnest inventor named Harry Wesley Cooper Jr. was at work trying to create the perfect gun sight. With World War II pressing on, he knew that people were depending on him to make guns more precise and effective in general. As he puttered away, he noticed a certain substance that stuck to whatever surface it took to and could not be removed without a whole lot of effort. At the moment, it was dismissed as a neat but meaningless discovery. However, more than a decade after the strange discovery, the substance made its way into the market. By 1958, the average consumer could find superglue on store shelves.
23. Sun Lamps
Today, some mental health professionals and even some medical doctors may recommend a sun lamp to their patients just for casual use. The belief is that basking in the light will improve one’s mental state and help one achieve a sense of clarity even in the midst of physical discomfort. Believe it or not, there is actually some science to back these claims. Winter loomed over Berlin with a vengeance in 1918. Within the city, a great majority of children wasted away in the grip of rickets, a disease associated with destitute living conditions. One German physician named Kurt Huldschinsky took note of some of the children’s appearance: their skin was pale, sickly, notable even considering their poor condition.
Hoping he was on to something, he gathered a couple children and had them rest under lamps that gave off ultraviolet light. Gradually, his patients’ condition appeared to be approving. In the summer, he did away with the lamps and instead had the children take in the natural sunlight. They continued to make great strides in healing. It was soon determined that that ultraviolet light helped promote the build-up of vitamin D. During war, these children lacked the vitamin in their diets due to poor nutrition and lack of quality food. The lamps’ light helped the children obtain the vitamin D they would not get otherwise.
24. Jet Engines
Thanks to jet engines, jets are able to navigate the skies swiftly and effortlessly, propelled forward by an abundance of air, sometimes water. Now, traveling by air is as speedy and safe as ever, thanks to the evolution the jet engine has undergone over the years. Today, they are also used in so much more than just aircraft. They also have improved industrial machinery in many areas, which in turn leads to greater efficiency and productivity.
So, what led to the invention of the jet engine? The sort of jet engines most of us are familiar with first came to fruition as early as 1939, at the hand of a German scientist named Hans van Ohain. That year, his engine-powered jet left his lab and took to the sky. The jet engine was, in fact, an effort to better strategize warfare. It was still in its early stages of development at the time and required more resources, namely fuel, for it to be practical in the long-term. All was not lost, obviously, as the modern jet engine has come in handy in the modern industrialized world.
As it didn’t require a pilot aboard to operate, this fancy type of plane could dare into regions that might have been too hazardous for the average man. After all, much of war involves acting fast, often under frighteningly uncertain conditions and drones allowed for minimal risk to human life.
We can thank a particularly industrious American duo for bringing us the unmanned planes in 1916. Their names were Peter Hewitt and Elmer Sperry. While a feat in its own respect, the Hewitt-Sperry model was far from perfect. It could direct itself, but rather clumsily, with the aid of gyroscopes. Inside the machine, a barometer calculated altitude and determined its aim. As it turned out, this first drone was not suited for warfare, as it just did not perform reliably. Nonetheless, this invention became an important basis for developing the drones we are familiar with today.
26. Aviator Sunglasses
All this talk about jets and various aircraft may be cool, but what about the pilots in the cockpit? Little things like flying in blinding sunlight can affect how well a pilot completes his task as well. In a war situation, efficiency is everything.
That’s where aviator sunglasses came in, now popular fashion choice. They came about in the mid-1930s. Popularity grew after a photo of US General Douglas MacArthur started making the rounds. In it, he stood on a beach in the Philippines, proudly donning these strangely-stylish sunglasses. Before long, the demand for aviator glasses rose significantly, and now many beachgoers can’t be without a pair on a scorching hot day.
27. Ballpoint Pens
Few might think of pens as a handy wartime inventions. We can thank Hungarian journalist and inventor Laszlo Biro for this invention, which he thought up when he decided that he was fed up with pens that smeared so easily.
With the help of his brother, he obtained a patent for his ballpoint pen and saw his creation hit the market in 1938. During World War II, the pen proved to be so useful for the Royal Air Force that the British ordered several thousand of them to be used by their pilots.
28. Tracer Bullets
Imagine stumbling around unknown terrain in the dark, totally uncertain what direction you are going in or where you need to be. Now imagine being in the dark in unknown terrain with enemies at your heels. If you are not careful, your next movement could be your last should those enemies find you and be properly armed. Many inventions were tested to solve this issue.
The tracer bullet was one way to address this obvious dilemma. When fired, the bullet would trail a distinct line of phosphorescent light, easily seen against the black of the night. It took some time to perfect, but by 1916, the British army had something they could make use of. Of course, that did not make wandering through a war zone in the middle of the night any less terrifying.
29. Tea Bags
Like many great inventions on this list, the tea bag was not necessarily invented during any one war. Over a decade before World War I even began, the tea bag had been discovered accidentally when a tea merchant dropped a couple bags of tea in water. Thus, the tea bag was born.
But during World War I, one German tea company decided to adopt the tea bag model so troops could have tea at their disposal as they wished. These tea bags, aptly named tea bombs, were made from an unusual material: cotton. Nonetheless, they got the job done.
30. Mobile X-Ray Machines
World War I resulted in many casualties and even more life-changing injuries. As such, advancements in medical equipment were in high demand. Such marvels as sanitary napkins, surgical dressing, and new medicines went a long way in improving the lives of wounded soldiers. Mobile X-Ray machines also happened to make their debut during this trying time in human history.
When a soldier was wounded, he would need to undergo a careful examination to determine the extent of the damage. The problem was that equipping wartime clinics with large, expensive x-ray equipment was impractical. Thanks to Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie, mobile X-Rays made treating the wounded much more efficiently. Now, X-Rays could be installed just about anywhere, and not just makeshift surgical stations but in emergency vehicles as well.
31. Duct Tape
Today, we think of duct tape as a quick way to hold just about anything together, from car parts to glass to furniture. It doesn’t look particularly attractive, but it gets the job done. During World War II, however, duct tape had an even greater responsibility.
First introduced by Johnson & Johnson, duct tape was intended to ensure that ammunition stayed safe from the elements. Even just a little rain could cause significant damage. Soon, duct tape proved to be even more versatile. Soldiers used it for basic repairs, as well as a means to bandage wounds when no other first aid equipment was available.
Jerrycans certainly do their job well. After all, how else could you carry vast amounts of gasoline without making a mess? Today, you can find Jerrycans at just about any major retailer. Initially, though, these inventions were a wartime necessity.
Jerrycans first came to be in Germany during World War II, for obvious purposes: to transport massive amounts of gasoline from one place to another. They were made from steel and meant to be durable. As the war wound down, the Jerrycan still had a market. It just was not one that would require the highest quality steel for a top product. Thus, manufacturers transitioned to plastic-based Jerrycans. However, many militaries around the world still make use of the original steel Jerrycans.
33. Synthetic Rubber
We already know that war often results in a lower supply of even the most popular products. Usually, people have just a couple options: to fork over more money for a limited quantity or to go without altogether. Another option is to devise a different material that serves the same purpose. That is where synthetic rubber came in, the kind we often associate with tires.
During World War II, getting your hands on authentic rubber was no easy task. It had to travel long distances, usually overseas, before it could reach consumers. At the time, rubber was in high demand by the U.S. military since its tanks, planes, and other modes of transportation needed high-quality tires. Synthetic rubber solved this problem. Today, it is used in all sorts of products, from footballs to chewing gum.
34. Canned Food
Canned foods are perhaps best known for their impressive shelf life. It never hurts to have a can of beans or chicken noodle soup on hand should a time of great need come around: such as a power outage or just a need for convenience. Canned goods have been around for a while. However, when World War I came around, they seemed all the more appealing.
Soldiers needed food that was not only tasty and filling but also long-lasting. Perishables just would not do in the volatile conditions they often stumbled into. Canned goods also do not require refrigeration or thorough preparation before consumption, which meant soldiers could wolf them down when they needed to keep moving but desperately needed the calories.
35. Veggie Sausages
Speaking of wartime cuisine, meatless sausages definitely rank up there as one of the most interesting. Made from soy, these sausages were inventions cooked up by a German chancellor named Konrad Adenauer, during a point in the war when desperation and hunger were at an all-time high.
One thing that many people lacked access to was meat. Adenauer’s fake meat provided a hearty taste and satisfying texture that could stand in for the real thing, or at least provide an equivalent level of nutrition. He did not limit his recipe to soy, however. He experimented with all sorts of ingredients, from barley to rice-flour. These sausages soon earned the name “peace sausages.”
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