Special Report

15 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

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11. Microwave oven
> Date invented:
1946

Microwave technology was originally used as a radar to help locate enemies during World War II. The ability of microwaves to cook food was discovered by accident. While conducting research on microwave radar technology, an engineer at defense contractor Raytheon Company noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had melted. This led to the realization that microwave equipment could be repurposed to heat and cook foods. Later that year, Raytheon Company filed the first patent for a microwave oven. The first commercial microwave was manufactured in 1954 and was about the size of a refrigerator. Today, more than nine in 10 U.S. households own a microwave oven. The technology is one of many military inventions that have shaped the American kitchen and kitchens worldwide.

 

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12. GPS
> Date invented:
1960

Humans have been navigating the land and the sea for thousands of years, using more and more advanced methods to determine their position. In the 1960s, the DoD developed the original Global Positioning System (GPS). The idea was to use satellites to determine a user’s position on Earth by measuring his or her distance from three peripheral satellites in a process known as trilateration. While the system became fully operational in March 1994, it captured the public’s interest long before then. President Ronald Reagan first ensured civil applications of GPS in 1983, after an incident where a Korean airliner that strayed off course and was shot down by the Soviet Union demonstrated the need for better navigational technology. The public received a comprehensive preview of the technology during the Gulf War, when soldiers used GPS to navigate across deserts and target enemies with an accuracy that was previously impossible. Today, GPS technology is used in consumer products such as cars and phones, as well as applications like earthquake research and geocaching.

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13. The internet
> Date invented:
1969

You would not be able to check the weather anywhere in the world, share funny cat videos, or even read this article without the military sinking years of work and billions of dollars into ARPANET — the forerunner for the internet. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network began during the Cold War as a way for the U.S. military to develop an information sharing system without the need for a command center. The military was concerned any central location would be a Soviet target.

By the late 1960s, colleges were able to access the very limited trial run of ARPANET. At the time, the network users could only log onto a remote computer, print remotely, and transfer files. Decades of innovation honed the ARPANET into the World Wide Web we enjoy today.

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14. EpiPen
> Date invented:
1973

A must for anyone with severe allergies, the EpiPen was initially conceived of as a military device. Inventor Sheldon Kaplan worked at military contractor Survival Technology in Bethesda, Maryland, where he developed an autoinjector called the ComboPen. This invention was first designed to deliver a treatment to soldiers who had come into contact with a nerve agent. The ComboPen would quickly deliver the antidote into the bloodstream of the affected person.

Kaplan later tweaked this device to deliver epinephrine, which can help people who go into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction. Though his name was on the patent, Kaplan received little credit for his breakthrough during his lifetime. He died in 2009 but was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016.

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15. Virtual reality
> Date invented:
1979

Virtual reality in the 21st century is often used for entertainment, like in video games. But when the technology was first developed it was serious business. Early flight simulators had mechanisms that could move and jostle prospective pilots on the ground to prepare them for what they might experience in a real cockpit, but they were not advanced enough to provide visuals to the trainees.

In 1979, the military produced the first head-mounted visual display flight simulator. Using the simulator, pilots could train and practice flying jet fighters without the risk of crashing one of the multi-million dollar planes.