From Civilian Life to Military Use
While the U.S. military is responsible for many game-changing inventions, there are a few the military didn’t invent that nonetheless owe their commercial success to military use. Additionally, there are some civilian inventions that didn’t necessarily become marketable to civilians, but did become famous due to their use in wartime.
Check out this list of inventions that became well known and/or widely used thanks to the armed forces.
Military Tools Crafted by Civilians
The process of freeze drying was invented by non-military scientists and used only occasionally in the lab; but the first instance of extensive freeze drying that proved to the world its vast potential was during World War II. The American Red Cross used freeze drying to transport blood plasma from the U.S. to the war front in Europe. The method protected samples from spoiling and opened the door for its commercial use.
When the wristwatch first emerged in civilian markets, it was seen as an odd, comical fad. But with time, the wearing of wristwatches was normalized by military men. Ease of access was the watch’s major selling point: soldiers discovered that precious seconds were saved checking the time on their wrists, as opposed to fumbling around for pocket watches while under heavy fire.
Superglue, Krazy Glue, and Eastman are all members of the same family: they are cyanoacrylates, or adhesives that are exceptionally strong and fast-acting. Cyanoacrylate was accidentally invented by Dr. Harry Coover Jr., who was originally looking to create clear plastic gun sights. During the Vietnam War, soldiers reportedly used medical cyanoacrylates to seal battle wounds. The method wasn’t recommended for civilians, but it helped showcase the many possibilities of cyanoacrylates. Superglue quickly became a popular item for the household and the workplace.
Feminine Hygiene Products
In 1914, cellucotton was invented by a paper mill and lumber company named Kimberly-Clark. Made from pulp wood, it was soft, fluffy, and five times more absorbent that regular cotton. The military soon began buying the material for wound bandaging. At that time, women wore uncomfortable cloth diapers during menstruation that were a nightmare to maintain. Soon, many of the war nurses observed the superior qualities of cellucotton and cut themselves strips after caring for wounded soldiers. When Kimberly-Clark discovered this, they began to use cellucotton to make the first sanitary napkins.
Before World War I, barbers were the preferred method when tending to facial hair needs. Then, during World War I, inventor King C. Gillette entered into a contract with the U.S. government to make his product, disposable-blade safety razors, standard issue for American soldiers in every branch of the military. Gillette sold nearly 4 million razors as a result, and soon after, everyone at home was using them too.
Hand Crank Flashlights
In 1943, Dutch company Philips developed the dynamo, a hand-powered torch that was issued to troops after the devastation of war made electric light scarce. These hand-crank flashlights became very popular in Europe and the United States and some original models still function today.
In 1930, struggling inventor Andrew Higgins had devoted his life to boat-building after his lumber transport company went bankrupt. At first, boat-building didn’t seem to bring him much success either, until the U.S. Marine Corps showed interest in one of his designs. It had originally been intended for the use of oil-drillers, but after testing the boat in simulated combat, the Marines found the design superior to some Naval models. The Higgins Boat or “U-Boat” went on to play a vital role in the war, shaping Allied victories at Normandy, Sicily, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, to name a few.
Armed Forces and Everyday Americans
Wartime affects our lives in more ways than we realize: besides protecting our freedom, over the years, the armed forces have shaped civilian technology, markets, and even diets. And many American victories, for which we’re very thankful, were possible because of the ingenuity of non-military scientists and inventors.