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Inventions the Military Gave Us

Updated: Feb 14


Blood Transfusion

This medical procedure has saved countless lives since it was first introduced in the 17th century, but it took the slaughter of World War One to bring the blood transfusion into regular use.


Early transfusions were made directly from person to person, unlike today, where donated blood is administered from a pouch via a drip. Captain Oswald Robertson of the US Army also set up a blood bank on the Western Front in 1917, using sodium citrate to stop the blood coagulating. Blood was also kept frozen for 28 days and sent to medical stations where it could be used in surgery.


It proved a tremendous success and saw multiple blood banks set up as the use of transfusions increased to save lives. The US government instigated a national blood collection programme in 1940.


GPS

Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites can display a route on either your car dashboard or smartphone, which makes use of satellites set up by the US Defence Department in the 1960s. At first, the military set the satellite signals to something called selective availability, meaning certain areas, mainly hostile territories, could not receive the signals. Russia’s GLONASS satellites have been in operation since 1995, and the EU’s Galileo system went live in 2016 and is set to be fully operational by 2020. Both can be accessed for map guidance by the public.


The Global Positioning System was powered by the US Navy’s Transit satellite. This was the American answer to the Soviet Sputnik, though it would not be operational until 1964. When the system became functional, there were 10 satellites in orbit, and the fleet was able to provide location data to US submarines.


It was not until 1983, when President Ronald Reagan approved civil applications of military technology, that the GPS was seen by the public and has since become part of everyday life.


Granola and the Energy bar

Two of the most common "healthy snacks" on your shopping list are also everyday foods that were first developed just for the military. Soldiers expend a lot of calories, and food needed to be nutritious while also easy to pack and store.


The Natick Center and the US military created bars made as a dessert-style treat for soldiers on the go. By the end of World War II, they made glued together, sweet fruit bars that had grain added to them. And so, the granola bar was born. The military then worked to upgrade them and developed energy bars as a result.


Duct Tape

When you need to seal a vent or some leaking plumbing, you probably reach for the duct tape. This would not be possible if President Roosevelt had not gotten a letter from an ammunition factory worker in 1943. This letter was from a woman whose two sons were fighting in WWII and complained about tabs of paper tape breaking on their ammunition cases. In a combat situation, this would be a fatal issue.


She suggested that a stronger tape be used for these boxes. The idea was eventually provided to Johnson & Johnson which created the adhesive tape named “duck tape.” The name came from the waterproof nature of the tape. After the wars end, the tape was made available to civilians and was very popular in the housing boom that followed, particularly for wrapping ducts. This led to the renaming of it as “duct tape”.


Super Glue

This was invented by the US military during WWII. The original super glue was created by Harry Coover, a chemist at Eastman Kodak. Initially, he was trying to create a material which could be used to create clear plastic gun sights. His invention of cyanoacrylate was deemed too sticky for this purpose, yet proved a brilliant adhesive.


The Microwave Oven

The invention of radar played a vital role in determining how WWII played out. The microwave oven was an accidental invention, much like super glue.


In 1945, an American scientist found that the US Army radar transmitters were releasing enough heat to cook food—because a candy bar in his pocket melted. Later that year, Raytheon Company filed the first patent for a microwave oven and may years later were redesigned for the home.


Jeep

The Jeep has come a long way since it was first manufactured for American troops to use on reconnaissance missions in WWII. Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, some new models of the world’s oldest SUV come equipped with luxuries such as leather-wrapped steering wheels, DAB radio, DVD players, and touchscreen media.


Freeze-drying

Astronaut ice cream that doesn’t require a fridge freezer is an interesting addition to any larder, but the freeze-drying which goes into its creation has a background both medical and military.


The technique was pioneered in France in 1906. It involves what's known as sublimation - the transition of a substance from solid to gas phase, without going through a liquid state. In this case, a product is frozen, placed in a vacuum, and heated up, which causes the ice on it to dry without melting first.


It remained a technical feat in need of a practical use until World War Two, when it was used to preserve blood plasma so it wouldn’t spoil on the way to the battlefield where it was required. This practice was eventually stopped when its safety could not be guaranteed.


Pre-packed Salads

They are preserved using modified atmosphere packaging, which delays ripening and prevents the greens from spoiling. This packaging was developed during the Vietnam War as a way of transporting fresh greens to soldiers.


Jerrycan

They were initially developed for the German military in the 1930s.


Epipen

Before the EpiPen was available to anyone with allergies, it was primarily used by the military. It was created to protect soldiers who had been exposed to chemical and nerve agents. The pen was designed for fast and easy injection of required medication.


EpiPens were approved by the FDA in 1987, but would not be widely used for many years for the general public.


Canned Food

The idea for this dates back to Napoleon and the need for an available food for his army that could have been stored for long periods of time. In 1810, the French government offered a cash reward for a cheap way to preserve large amounts of food. Nicholas Appert found that food which had been cooked in glass jars stayed unspoiled until the seal was broken. It would be years later that this concept was transferred to metal cans sealed with lead used for long naval voyages. In WWI, soldiers survived on canned foods. It eventually made their way to the commercial market and are now staple food in all supermarkets.


Cargo Trousers/Pants

British soldiers began sporting cargo pants in the 1930s because they offered a convenient way to carry vital military gear. American troops adopted them just a few years later, and the general public began to wear them as a fashion item in the 1990s.


TV Dinners

The first TV dinners weren’t for dining by the flickering blue light of the TV but for bomber crews on long overseas flights during World War II. They were invented by an armed forces contractor, which froze meat, vegetables, and potatoes in a tray.


Plastic Surgery

During World War I, a British sailor named Walter Yeo was wounded horribly in the 1916 Battle of Jutland. Nearly a year later, he found himself in a facial injury ward started by the father of modern plastic surgery, Harold Gillies. A native of New Zealand, Gillies had come to Europe as part of the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1917, he performed what is known as the world’s first plastic surgery, grafting a flap of skin over Yeo’s disfiguring wounds.



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