Military adaptations to changing needs in theaters of war have led to numerous items that were so well made and useful (or just cool) that those items, which often began their life in the civilian world, crossed back to civilian again. For example, in 1942, folks in the US military invented duct tape for sealing ammunition cases. I have at least 2 rolls of it in my tool drawer, and I have don’t have ammo cases to seal up. Today we use it for everything from making novelty dresses in sewing to sealing packing boxes to emergency auto repair. We can also think of our sisters and brothers in arms when we get our children some silly putty. It was conceived as a substitute for rubber, which failed, so it crossed over to civilian use as a toy.
Here is a by no means comprehensive list of military inventions:
- Microwave ovens: Microwaves originated as magnetron, which was the result of research conducted on radio transmission and radar detection. The magnetron produced much smaller radio waves, known as microwaves, and was small and powerful enough to be used in airplanes. Its detection capabilities helped solve the persistent problem of accurately bombing towns. Microwaves’ ability to heat food was discovered accidentally after the war in 1945. Percy Lebaron Spencer, who was employed at the time by the American defense contractor Raytheon Company, realized at work one day that radar waves had melted a candy bar in his pocket. Raytheon produced the first commercially available microwave oven in 1954.
- Aviator sunglasses (1937)
- The internet (as ARPANET) (1960s)
- GPS, or global positioning system, was originally developed for Air Force and Navy use. Between 1973 and 1978, Dr. Bradford Parkinson worked with both military branches to develop the Navstar GPS system, which relies on numerous satellites positioned at staggered points around the earth. The system uses multiple satellites to triangulate users’ location and help navigate. It can be very accurate any time of day, anywhere in the world. It is accurate enough for the military, which uses it to guide missiles and track aircraft and vessels. In The technology can now be found in many commercial applications, including airlines, cars and smartphones. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the United States launched a second generation of satellites, which are more accurate than the first. The European Union and China have begun to develop their own independent networks.
- Duct tape (1942)
- Silly putty (1943)
- Night vision (1939-1940’s)
- Feminine Hygiene Products (1910)
- Super Glue (1951)
Standard procedure when the military had a need was to contract out their requirements to various companies. Many automakers adapted entire production lines to serve military manufacturing. The two most notable military vehicles of today that we use outside of war have to be the Humvee and the Jeep. The jeep was first manufactured for troop usage during WW 2. It is the world’s first SUV, and remains the template model for a car that can barrel over rough terrain and is favored around the world for extreme conditions without spending a lot of money. Jeep’s iconic 7 slot grill is symbolic of the 7 continents.
In 1939, the army needed a replacement for the aging motorcycle and sidecar from World War l, and other vehicles already in use, like the modified Model T Ford. A list of priorities was given to American car makers to design and build a prototype for an all-new fast, lightweight, all-terrain command and reconnaissance vehicle. The army wanted a working prototype to be delivered in 49 days. It was, by the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania. And so, the Jeep was born.
- The Jeep revolutionized the Army’s mobility. Versatile and lightweight, it was the first general-purpose vehicle that could be airlifted into battle.
- The Jeep was revolutionary because its construction was simple yet extremely strong. Safety and comfort were primitive but that didn’t stop it from becoming every soldier’s favorite.
- Rigours tests proved that it could take more punishment than any other vehicle. It was powered by a 60hp engine and weighed just 2400 lbs. This combination of strength and power meant that it could get through practically anything.
- In the Second World War 700,000 of them were built for use in Europe and the Pacific.
- On D-day the Jeep was one of the first vehicles to hit the French beaches. It was a machine that gave the Allies an edge in every battle zone across the world.
- During the War it became so famous that even President Roosevelt rode in one but perhaps the most famous person ever to grace the seats of a Jeep, was Marilyn Monroe.
- For over forty years, through the wars in Korea and Vietnam the Jeep remained the standard Military transport vehicle.
Next time you heat up your tea in a microwave, then use your GPS to take your SUV in for repair advice wearing your aviator sunglasses, thank the military.