Special Report

15 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

Source: Thinkstock

6. Jeep
> Date invented:
1940

In World War II, the U.S. Army had a need for a light reconnaissance vehicle and asked automakers to develop prototypes and submit proposals. The government chose the design of American Bantam car company — a four-wheel drive vehicle with a top speed of 65 mph. The automobile’s namesake, General Purpose, was abbreviated to G.P. and eventually nicknamed jeep. The jeep proved an invaluable contribution to the U.S. military effort, with then General Dwight D. Eisenhower stating that “America could not have won World War II without it.” The company manufactured more than 600,000 jeeps during the war, and later sold the postwar surplus to the public rather cheaply. Today, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sells Jeeps. While the military use of jeeps has dwindled since World War II, U.S. sales of the Jeep Wrangler – which bears many of the design characteristics of the original – exceeded 200,000 units in 2016.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Aerosol bug spray
> Date invented:
1941

In World War II, soldiers stationed in the South Pacific needed an easy way to kill mosquitos, which could potentially carry malaria. In a partnership with the Department of Defense, two scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lyle Goodhue and William Sullivan, took on the task of developing a way to deliver insecticide as a fine mist. The first aerosol can was patented in 1941 and nicknamed “bug bomb” by soldiers. The partnership between the USDA and the DoD has yielded other life-saving innovations, including the use of DDT in controlling typhus. In 1949, engineer and veteran Robert Abplanalp patented a cheaper plastic aerosol valve meant for commercial mass production. He started the Precision Valve Corporation to market the invention and turned a profit almost immediately. The aerosol can has since been refined and is now less harmful to the environment.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Duct tape
> Date invented:
1942

During World War II, the U.S. military was in need of a durable adhesive tape that could maintain its bond under harsh field conditions. The military asked Johnson & Johnson Co. to develop the idea, and initially called it duck tape for its waterproof nature. Civilians began to utilize the product heavily during the postwar housing boom, when it was used to seal central air and heating systems. Duck tape was used in ductwork so much that it was renamed and recolored to match the silver metallic color of HVAC systems. Known for its versatile uses, duct tape has recently taken on another life as material used in a variety of personal products, including wallets, bags, and phone cases. Multiple companies, including Scotch and Duck Brand, now manufacture duct tape.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Super glue
> Date invented:
1942

Eastman Kodak was one of many companies that contributed to the war effort during World War II. In 1942, while testing a variety of compounds for use in a plastic rifle sight, Dr. Harry Coover a company chemist, inadvertently created cyanoacrylate, a compound later marketed as Super Glue. The material was incredibly durable but was dismissed for being too sticky. When a colleague was testing cyanoacrylate nine years later, Dr. Coover had another encounter with the material. As the colleague complained the compound ruined his equipment, Coover realized its commercial potential. Super Glue was first sold as a commercial product in 1958. The product was eventually adopted by military surgeons during the Vietnam War, who would spray it over wounds to stop bleeding instantly.

10. Silly Putty
> Date invented:
1943

In the 1940s, the United States needed a new source of rubber after Japan had invaded Malaysia and cut off U.S. supply of the material. The War Production Board asked the nation’s industries for help. A chemist at General Electric came up with a stretchy, bouncy material made of boric acid and silicone oil. While highly unique, the material had no military application. The material caught on, however, after GE executives began showing it off at cocktail parties and one interested party, adman Peter Hodgson, bought the manufacturing rights and changed the name to Silly Putty. The product, packaged in small plastic eggs as a toy, began selling in 1950 and immediately caught on. In 1968, astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission used Silly Putty to help keep their instruments in place. Since 1950, the company has sold more than 350 million Silly Putty eggs.

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