Special Report

19 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

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6. Duct tape
>Year 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.

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7. Super glue
>Year 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.

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8. Synthetic rubber
>Year 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
>Year invented: 1943

In the 1940s, the United States needed a new source of rubber after Japan 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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10. Cheetos
>Year invented: 1943

The popular snack food Cheetos probably reminds people today mostly of sitting around on the couch. But the puffed up cheesy and crunchy foodstuff was actually created in WWII as a way to satiate hungry soldiers who were missing the cheese they ate back home.

In 1943, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist George Sanders developed the first cheese powder at the behest of the U.S. military — first by shredding or grating cheese, then drying it out. By removing the moisture from cheese, it would not only last longer, but weigh less, making it easier to ship overseas to troops. After the war ended, the Fritos company combined the newly-developed dehydrated cheese and some of its puffed up “enriched cornmeal” to make a new snack. In 1948, the company began selling Cheetos. Eventually Cheetos became one of America’s favorite snack foods.