If necessity is truly the mother of invention, it makes sense that the military would be on the forefront of innovation. When an advance in technology can mean the difference between life and death, research becomes incredibly important.
Many technologies made for the battlefield have entered the civilian world and improved countless lives.
Here are 11 examples that may well surprise you:
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) use satellites to triangulate the latitude and longitude of an exact location. A fourth satellite can even determine altitude. In the early 1990s, the U.S. Air Force launched the first GPS satellites.
While the military has integrated GPS into weapons to make them more precise, it has also revolutionized countless other systems. Navigation, whether in the air, on the sea, or on land, has become much more dependable. Surveying land has become more accurate, improving maps. Search and rescue missions have become more successful, saving many lives.
GPS has made a big difference for civilians, too.
Turn-by-turn directions eliminate the need to read (potentially outdated) maps. Air traffic controllers are now using GPS to keep commercial flights safer, and scientists can keep tabs on wild animals through tracking devices to ensure that the best conservation efforts are made.
While microwave radiation is naturally occurring, the technology behind the microwave oven was discovered by accident. During World War II, a man named Percy Spencer was working on new radar technology when he noticed a candy bar in his pocket had melted. He explored how the radiation was able to have this affect on food and tried to direct the focus in order to heat a variety of food items.
Microwave ovens were developed very soon after (though it would still be several years before they became practical home appliances) changing the game on how homes cook and reheat food.
3. Jet Engines
Air combat started to come about during WWI, but it became crucial in WWII. The need for planes that were faster and more powerful became paramount. Engineers on both sides raced to develop engines capable of generating more thrust to fly faster, farther, and higher, with Germany introducing the first operational jet to combat in 1943.
Jet engines are now commonplace in commercial aircraft, helping people travel all over the world faster than ever before.
4. Aviator Sunglasses
While most people view aviator sunglasses as a fashion trend with serious staying power, they were actually invented for pilots, as the name suggests.
When pilots in the 1930s reported vision problems with bright sunlight at high altitudes, Ray-Ban created a set of glasses that had dark green lenses to keep pilots comfortable. The lenses were much larger than what was seen on traditional glasses in order to protect the entire range of view.
Because the glasses proved to be so effective, they were then marketed towards outdoorsmen in order to help them hunt, fish, and hike while maintaining their vision. Now, sunglasses are an important part of maintaining eye health for those that spend a lot of time in the sun — and aviators are a popular choice.
5. Duct Tape
Duct tape was invented during WWII by a concerned mother for soldiers who needed to seal their ammo cans to keep water out. It quickly became a hit, as it was lightweight, strong, water resistant, and very sticky. In the midst of the war, soldiers began using duct tape to make minor repairs to other equipment.
In the civilian world, duct tape has continued its legacy of being used for practically everything. Originally marketed as a way to seal ducts, this silver tape has been used on everything from regular household repairs to one-of-a-kind car designs to prom dresses.
6. Disposable Razors
Until about 100 years ago, shaving required a trip to the barber or using one's own straight razor. The blade needed to be sharpened frequently and one false move could spell disaster. The military quickly took notice of a new patent for a disposable razor blade embedded in a protective case. The razors were standard issued during WWI.
Because the razors were so convenient, they remained popular after the soldiers returned home. In the coming years, it became fashionable for women to shave their legs and armpits, greatly expanding their market.
7. The Internet
As modern programmable computers were becoming popular following WWII, the United States military wanted to be able to link machines together into a reliable network. ARPANET was finally realized in 1969 and allowed for the transmission of information from one system to another.
This system would be refined over the next twenty years, until finally Tim Berners-Lee of CERN wrote the code that brought the World Wide Web to life in 1989.
As for civilian uses: well, let's just say there are a few.
8. Synthetic Rubber Tires
Natural rubber for tires, tubing, and a variety of other products is sourced from liquid latex under the bark of certain trees. During WWI, it became incredibly difficult to keep up with demand, leading to shortages and rations. Following the war, an enormous amount of research was done to make synthetic rubber, allowing the military to be much better equipped during WWII.
Synthetic rubber now has a wide range of uses, as it can be developed to meet the specific needs of any product.
9. Super Glue
During WWII, a researcher worked with a substance that he had hoped to use to make plastic gun sights, but found it to be much too sticky. A few years later during the Korean War, he was working on a way to make jet canopies heat resistant, and his forgotten substance was brought back to life. While it didn't provide the heat resistance he was after, it did adhere two prisms together very tightly during testing, making him finally realize what he had.
This "super glue" was an excellent adhesive that didn't need the heat, pressure, and drying time that many other glues needed, making it desirable for soldiers in a hurry. It has also been said that the glue was used in Vietnam as a way to temporarily seal wounds.
This glue has a number of household uses and was the inspiration for an FDA-approved medical sealant that doesn't irritate the skin like the original formula.
10. Canned Food
Because food spoils so easily, mobile military units have long looked for ways to preserve it, like salting it and storing it in glass vessels. In the 1800s, preserving food in lightweight tin cans became popular. During WWI, morale was boosted by increasing the diversity of canned food, giving soldiers a real meal that wouldn't spoil during shipment.
Home canning had been used for years to preserve produce over the winter, but following WWII canned food was marketed to housewives as an easy way to prepare meals, and it has remained a grocery store staple ever since.
Vehicles that could travel off-road had been in the works for decades prior, but WWII demanded something lighter and easier to transport that was still rugged and capable of hauling supplies. As a result, the Jeep was created. The success of the Jeep has made it an iconic vehicle of the United States military.
Today, Jeep still makes the Wrangler, the model closest in design to those early military vehicles. However, they also have a full lineup of SUVs for every purpose, from off-roading to heading to the soccer field.
Cover image: Shutterstock