Special Report

15 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

Detailed Findings and Methodology:

Many of the products that ended up having civilian applications began with the military contracting out the development of a specific military application. One example is the modern GPS network. It was developed in the 1970s by Department of Defense (DoD) researchers and was built over the following two decades. The technology, initially designed as a guidance and tracking system for fighter planes, boats, and missiles, today is used in many civilian applications from personal to commercial aircraft navigation systems.

Many of these products appealed to civilians for the same reasons they appealed to soldiers. American consumers value convenience, affordability, and ease of use — qualities essential in a military setting. Duct tape, for example, was incredibly useful during World War II. Many veterans continued using it to seal ducts when they returned home after serving.

Further, there is often an aesthetic appeal to military products, and many were popularized by military use. The rugged soldier appeal of items such as aviator sunglasses and Jeeps was largely behind the success of these products.

The commercial use of products invented for military use often was completely different from their intended military function. What eventually became feminine hygiene products under the Kotex brand was originally medical gauze developed for the military during World War I. Silly Putty, which was invented as a possible substitute for rubber, failed in this regard and became a popular toy.

Unlike years past, these days the flow of innovations is increasingly reversed — from civilian to military application. The size of the consumer electronics market has far exceeded the military’s new technology budget, and the capacity for innovation in the private sector has likely surpassed that of the public sector.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed products that were developed for military use either by the military or by contractors and became a popular civilian products. We also considered products that originated in the private sector but were popularized as a result of military use.

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