In a previous article we highlighted some of the key defence innovations of the last 100 years. Here we consider some innovations made in the defence sector that have become important in civilian life.
When one thinks about inventions that have been developed by the military, one thinks of weapons and explosives however some of the more surprising inventions that were developed by the military include: duck (or duct) tape, digital photography, the internet, satellite navigation and the jet engine. In this article I discuss some more inventions that came to prominence as military inventions and made their way into civilian life.
Most people will be aware that radar (radio detection and ranging) was developed extensively in the mid-late 1930s in the UK and elsewhere to detect the presence and range of enemy aircraft. Short pulses of radio waves were reflected from objects such as aircraft and this could be used to determine the range and position of the aircraft. By the end of WWII, many nations had made huge strides in radar technology, with radar sets being deployed in aircraft and on ships. Radar is now a standard technology for tracking civilian aircraft and monitoring weather.
Magnetrons were originally developed in World War II to generate radio waves for radar detection. They were used extensively as part of radar equipment until semiconductor microwave sources were developed. In 1946, a Raytheon researcher purportedly melted chocolate in his pocket when working on radar equipment. Further tests showed that it was the radiation from the radar equipment that had melted the chocolate and the microwave oven was born. It transpired that those magnetrons developed for radar are very useful in exciting water molecules and therefore heating up food.
In 1942, Harry Coover and his team were researching clear plastics for use in gun sights when they came across an extremely sticky glue (cyanoacrylate). Several years later, Coover’s team re-examined cyanoacrylates for use in jet canopies. When one of Coover’s colleagues reported that the cyanoacrylate had stuck together a piece of measurement equipment, Coover realised that the cyanoacrylate may be of some use. First marketed as Eastman 910, it shortly became known as Super Glue.
Epinephrine (or adrenaline) Autoinjector
The epinephrine autoinjector (often known by a trade name EpiPen) is used to provide an intramuscular injection of adrenaline to treat anaphylaxis. The device is placed firmly against the thigh of a casualty and the device automatically injects the casualty through any overlying clothing. Autoinjectors were developed by the military, and are still used, to deliver anti-nerve agent drugs to counter certain nerve agents.
During World War I, nurses noticed that wound pads made from cellulose were far better than cloth bandages at absorbing blood. Kotex used surplus wound pads to make the first commercially-successful sanitary pads.
Instant (soluble) coffee
While instant coffee was developed just before the US entered World War I, it was the entry of the US into that war that saw the popularity of instant coffee soar. Instant coffee gave the Doughboys the ability to brew a cup of George (named after its inventor George Washington) without the kitchen usually needed for a conventional brew. Oftentimes, it was not possible to get the kitchen to the frontline, especially if gas attacks were threatened.
In the late 1700s, the French government had a need for keeping calorific food fresh and safe for their military, and launched a competition. Nicolas Appert won the prize, developing a food preservation method that involved heat treatment in a bottle, eschewing tin plate at that time because of its poor quality. Years later, he went on to develop a method that used tin cans, and his canned products were sold across Europe.
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