Special Report

15 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

Source: Jiří Sedláček / Wikimedia Commons

6. 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

7. 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.

Source: santiphotois / Getty Images

8. Synthetic rubber
> Date invented:
1942

In the early 20th century, rubber was harvested from trees in South America, but soon southern Asia became the dominant producer of the world’s rubber. The global supply of natural rubber was sufficient until World War II, when the Axis powers cut off nearly all of the rubber supply from Asia.

Rubber is an incredibly valuable substance for the military. In addition to tires, the U.S. military needed rubber for airplanes, tanks, vehicles, and battleships. In desperate need of the substance, the U.S. government turned to companies like Firestone, Goodyear, and Standard Oil to create a replacement. They quickly whipped up a synthetic rubber recipe, which is still used to this day.

9. 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.

Source: USDA / Wikimedia Commons

10. Frozen juice concentrate
> Date invented:
1945

In 1943, the USDA and the Florida Citrus Commission set to work on the development of a frozen juice concentrate that could be sent to U.S. soldiers overseas. At the time of their collaboration, orange juice that had been frozen and thawed would turn an unappetizing brown color. The thawed juice also developed a bitter taste, prompting soldiers to nickname the beverage “battery acid.” Eventually, USDA scientists discovered that adding a dash of fresh orange juice to the concentrate before freezing it preserved its flavor. The process was patented in 1945 but made available to any public or private entity that wished to use it. Minute Maid began selling frozen juice products commercially in 1946. Orange juice is now one of the most commonly consumed fruit product in the United States, with the average citizen drinking over 30 pounds of juice annually.