The U.S. military is in a state of constant technological advancement. Many of their advancements have majorly impacted civilian markets and have even changed the world. Here are some military inventions that many civilians use and enjoy on a daily basis.
Do you use one or more of these inventions every day?
13 U.S. Military Inventions That Shaped Everyday Life
Global Positioning System (GPS)
At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. Department of Defense proposed a system of 24 satellites that would become the GPS project. The project drew from several older navigational systems like the Navy’s TRANSIT and was designed to overcome their limitations. In 1974, the first satellite of the 24 planned satellites was launched. The project was finished in 1995 with a total of 27 fully functional GPS satellites in orbit.
In 1983, President Ronald Regan announced GPS would henceforth be available for civilian use, and in 1996, President Bill Clinton issued a policy directive ending selective availability, meaning the civilian signal would from then on be as strong as the military one. Later, President George W. Bush updated the policy to protect civilian GPS from direct user fees.
In the 1970’s, a former NASA engineer named Shel Kaplan developed an auto injector for the military after creating a similar tool known as the ComboPen. The self-injecting technology was used to save soldiers from nerve gas and other chemical weapons. Ever since 1980, EpiPens have saved civilian lives too, protecting them against severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, was a project funded by the Department of Defense. It was a wide-area network that used packet switching, the world’s major data communications method today. ARPANET was the first network to use the protocol suite TCP/IP, and both of these systems would prove to be the technological ancestors of the Internet we know today.
Air Traffic Control
The technical foundations of air traffic control were developed by the military during World War I. In 1922, the first air traffic control system in the U.S., Air Mail Radio Stations, utilized tracking and directing methods the military had developed for reconnaissance aircraft. Air travel that we enjoy today is made possible by effective air traffic control.
During World War II, the U.S. military commissioned the making of duct tape from the manufacturing company Johnson & Johnson. This request came about because of Vesta Stoudt, a woman who worked in a factory assembling boxes of grenade-launching cartridges. The boxes were covered in a water-proofing wax, which would be peeled off by pulling on a tab of thin paper tape. Unfortunately, the tape was so thin and flimsy that the tab would simply rip apart, leaving the wax unbroken and soldiers unable to open the box to access the grenades.
Knowing this would endanger the lives of soldiers under fire, two of whom were her own sons, Stoudt wrote President Franklin D. Roosavelt with a proposal for a stronger, cloth-based waterproof tape. The idea took, and the military began mass production of “duck tape,” supposedly named for the duck cloth from which it was made.
The original aviator sunglasses, now a popular Ray Bans item, were constructed with G-15 tempered glass lenses and made convex so as to cover as much of the human eye as possible. They were designed to protect military pilots from the harsh light in the stratosphere. “Aviators” subsequently gained a lot of traction in the fashion industry.
During World War II, James Wright, an engineer employed by the U.S. War Production Board, accidentally created silly putty while trying to develop a cheaper alternative to synthetic rubber. The military showed little interest in what they called “nutty putty,” but it was quickly picked up by toy companies and became a hit in civilian markets.
Before pressurized cabins were a reality, altitude sickness, barotrauma, and hypoxia were just some of the physical side effects of flying at high altitudes. Then came the B-29 Superfortress in 1944: it was built with the first non-experimental pressurized cabin, featuring a tunnel-like mid-section of the plane that connected the nose and the cockpit to the aft. For the first time, soldiers were able to move about the plane in relative comfort. This design was soon adopted by civilian passenger planes. Today, we’re able to travel comfortably (well, most of us are) at otherwise harmful heights.
In 1930, the U.S. Navy and Army began developing radio equipment that could locate enemy vessels. The Navy patented a wave-interference apparatus that could detect the presence of an object by measuring interruptions in wave transmission. The Army, through the Signal Corps Laboratories, developed radio position-finding (RPF) as a radio-echo technique.
Thanks to these advancements in radar, American scientists fifteen years later accidentally discovered that radar transmitters released enough heat to cook food. As a result, the microwave oven was developed. Microwave ovens started out huge and cumbersome but were eventually fitted to the typical American kitchen. They are now found in practically every home.
A naval mechanical engineer stationed at Philadelphia’s Cramp Shipyard in 1943 accidentally invented the slinky while trying to develop a stabilizing spring for delicate instruments used at sea. The slinky was a commercial hit after marketers showed it “walking” down a decline.
In the years 1941 to 1945, the first light four-wheel drive utility vehicles were designed
and manufactured by the Army. They were named Willy MB’s and would later be adopted in the automotive industry as the much beloved Jeep CJ.
The first electric, general-purpose computer was called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. It was built for calculating artillery firing tables for the Ballistic Research Laboratory. It was also used to conduct tests during the development of thermonuclear weaponry. Today, our world is run by computers; they allow us to support our families, manage our finances, connect with loved ones, share information, seek education, and solve world problems with unprecedented speed and ease.
X-Rays and Chemo Therapy are medical resources we have today because of the nuclear advances made during World War II. Though many have died because of it, nuclear power has also saved countless lives through essential imaging and radiation treatment. Nuclear technology has also contributed to the development of pest control, food preservation, the diversification of crop genetics, the sterilization of medical supplies, smoke detectors, and environmental tracers.
We owe a lot to our military. Not only do they protect and preserve our lives, but many of their inventions have moved the world forward and made our lives more worth living. At Low VA Rates, we want to give a big thank you to the incredible minds behind these life-changing technologies. The benefits are certainly not lost on us!