5 Inventions You Won't Believe Came From War
If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that war is horrible. Nothing kills the mood faster than a bloody, painful death for a political agenda that you probably don't even fully understand. But you can't deny that armed conflicts gave us some pretty good things, such as major advances in everything from rockets to microwave ovens.
Oh, and also there's this stuff.
Feminine Pads and Tampons (World War I)
The biggest problem with war is that it tends to put holes in people, thus encouraging blood to take a scenic stroll through places it's not supposed to visit. Especially during World War I, when the dead and wounded toll hit the double-digit millions. And especially when a cotton shortage made the bandaging of dying soldiers a pain in the neck.
At the time, Kimberly-Clark was a paper mill company that realized you could do more with wood pulp besides just make it into paper. In fact, if you prepared the right combination of pulp, you could get a material that was five times more absorbent than cotton, yet significantly cheaper to produce. Kimberly-Clark named their newly discovered material cellucotton and the Allied Forces were on it like white on rice.
Or gangrene on trenchfoot.
Guess who else was on cellucotton like white on rice? Allied nurses on their lady-days. It turned out those super absorbent bandages worked really well as disposable sanitary napkins, something that was not readily available to women at that point. Back then, most women were forced to use literal rags, sponges or a whole mess of nothing during their periods.
So once the war ended, Kimberly-Clark had a ton of blood bandages on their hands and no one's blood to soak up. Until someone remembered that unlike the war, menstruation wasn't going to end anytime soon, and that those nurses LOVED using their bandages during their periods. With a quick re-branding that actually capitalized on their product's origin, Kimbery-Clark packaged cellucotton as feminine hygiene products and was hailed as the saviors of women everywhere.
And the bane of whipped boyfriends everywhere.
Twinkies (World War II)
There is something about eating a Twinkie that just lets the world know you're not too keen on self-respect. Maybe it's because under "expiration date" Hostess just prints "LOL." Or maybe it's because you're eating something called a "Twinkie" and you're not five-years old. We're not judging; this is being typed one-handed, and there are Twinkie marks all over the space bar. So why do we have Hitler to thank for them?
If Hitler just stuck to inspiring delicious snack cakes.
Well, back in the 1930s, a baker named James A. Dewar invented a sort of strawberry shortcake snack for Hostess; yellow sponge cake with strawberries crammed inside. Because strawberries were only in season a couple of months out of the year, they eventually switched it up and filled them with bananas instead. People didn't exactly go crazy for them.
But then WWII began. The government started rationing all sorts of goods, so they could be used to fight the Nazis instead. Bananas were among these items, because apparently you can't stop a blitzkrieg without bananas. Maybe by littering the battlefield with peels so the Wehrmacht would slip hilariously on them.
In Charlie Chaplin's Wehrmacht, anything is possible.
Whatever the reason, Dewar and Hostess were clearly screwed. No strawberries, no bananas; all they had was their stupid empty yellow cakes. Dewar finally decided screw it, leave out the fruit completely and squirt some cheap cream filling in there. What else was he going to do?
People went absolutely nuts for it. Sales exploded, and the modern Twinkie was born.
Followed shortly thereafter by its cousin, modern obesity.
A Bunch of Classic Toys (World War II)
In 1943, naval engineer Richard James was working on a doozy of a problem. Delicate equipment aboard battleships had this way of getting knocked the hell around during high seas. So James was messing around with springs to support the phonogram machines or whatever, when what do you know? He dropped one of the springs. And instead of just sitting there like a punk, the little spring kind of stepped away in a very slinky-like manner.
"Holy shit! Jagged metal springs are the perfect child's toy.
Knowing that there was nothing kids loved more than coiled metal, James figured he just might have invented the world's greatest toy ever. Within two years, James found the perfect metal for his toy idea and scored a $500 loan to build his first batch, which he sold in 90 minutes. A few years later, probably still haunted by his failure to actually keep the battleship equipment safe, James gave it all up and ran away to join a cult. Go figure.
While the Slinky was discovered by accident, tons of government dollars worth of research were poured into Silly Putty. In 1943, the wartime rubber shortage was so bad that the government asked private companies to create a synthetic rubber substitute. General Electric had a whole team of scientists throw together every chemical they could think of in hopes that it would create something rubber-like.
Some successes were more notable than others.
One squishy mixture proved to have surprising qualities: It bounced and stretched, it would not stick and it only melted at very high temperatures. Things were looking up until someone pointed out that you can't make tires out of something with the malleability of wet chewing gum, even if it can totally copy the newspaper.
"Mr. President, I'd ask you to reserve judgment until you see it make Blondie look like she's blowing Dagwood."
It was so useless at replacing rubber that GE tried to send it to scientists around the world in hopes that someone, anyone, could figure out something to do with it. Eventually, a toy manufacturer mentioned that little kids will pretty much play with any goddamned thing you give them. He figured that he might as well try to sell the stuff by packing it in small eggs and advertising it through novelty catalogs. The rest is history. Cheap, $2 in a pink plastic egg history.
Finally, there's Walter "Fred" Morrison.
The patron saint of hipsters.
Fred, like most other college kids in the 1930s, spent a great deal of time throwing around pie pans from the Frisbie Baking Company. But it wasn't until he joined the Air Force that he learned about aerodynamics and he realized he was doing science during those pan-flinging sessions.
So, Fred took what he learned about basic aerodynamics from the Air Force and made a prototype of a better flying disc, that didn't have bits of pie crust stuck to it. And instead of tin, he went with plastic. He dubbed his creation the "Pluto Platter," which was ultimately renamed the "Frisbee" and went on to provide hardcore leaping motivation for extreme college kids everywhere.
It is impossible to say the word "extreme" without sarcasm.
Tabasco Sauce (The Civil War)
If you're thinking that you're about to hear Tabasco sauce was originally brewed as a cannon lubricant or some kind of chemical weapon, relax. The Civil War gave us Tabasco in a much more roundabout way.
Totally worth it.
Edmund McIlhenny was a self-made man, the kind of guy who picked himself up by the bootstraps, worked 12 hours a day and became a prominent New Orleans banker, just in time for the American Civil War to erupt and destroy everything he'd worked so hard to achieve.
Once Union soldiers invaded his town, McIlhenny fled with his family to his wife's home at a place called Avery Island, which wasn't actually an island at all, unless you consider a big ol' salt dome an "island." McIlhenny started a new life helping to run the family salt mines, which was actually pretty good business. The Avery Island salt mine provided the Confederacy with 22 million pounds of salt during the war, and before he knew it, McIlhenny was back on his feet!
Which was more than a lot of folks could say.
That is, until Union forces mounted an attack on his salt mine and he had to flee once more. This time they went to Texas, where the McIlhennys wisely stayed put until the end of the war. And while the cat's away, the Union soldiers will plunder your plantation and burn your crops to the ground, as the McIlhenny family discovered upon their return.
"Look men, off in the distance! Something we haven't burnt yet!"
Everything had been destroyed, Yankee-style, and the only crops that seemed to thrive in the ashy, salty soil were some pepper plants... from the Mexican state of Tabasco.
(Thunder crashes ominously in the background)
Thanks to the war, in 1868 those peppers were pretty much the only thing McIlhenny had going for him. So, he mixed them up with some Avery Island salt, vinegar, other peppers and wham! Tabasco sauce was born. He bottled his concoction in some old perfume bottles and started shipping to them grocers around the country. Two years later he got a patent, and the McIlhenny family has been running the Tabasco brand ever since.
His son went on to ride with Teddy Roosevelt, where his face played host to an impressive satellite mustache.
Nylon Stockings (World War II)
In case you haven't figured it out yet, war has a way of gobbling up resources. It's bad enough when you can't have a salted banana every morning for breakfast, but it's downright HELL when you can't get some silk for your pantyhose. Which is exactly what happened to American women once the Japanese decided the Americans weren't on the right side of the World War II. And remember, this is the 1940s. Women wore dresses all the damn day long, but they wanted their gams covered. Specifically, covered with silk.
This was porn in 1951.
So when Japan cut off the West from their silk, American women freaked the hell out. Women put money into grabbing the last silk pantyhose at a time when they had to grow their own food and turn over their kitchen grease for the war effort. That's how important silk was.
What can we say, priorities are priorities.
It was about that point that American ladies got good news and bad news. The good news was that back in 1935, DuPont hired the brightest chemists of the day to work on synthetic polymers to replace the silk they knew they weren't going to be able to get once Japanese relations soured, and what they came up with was nylon.
Nylon was stronger than silk and totally awesome for covering bare legs. The bad news was that, oh yeah, the war effort really needed all of America's nylon for parachutes and tires and flak vests. So the ladies got their nylon hose for about two weeks, then they were cut off once more.
But by the end of the war three different companies were producing versions of nylon, improving on the original until they could mix it with cotton fibers in order to create easy to wash, wrinkle free shirts. And more importantly, cranking out those sexy pantyhose. And we all know what happened when soldiers came home to see their wives wearing the miracle material that had saved so many lives during the war:
Nine months later, she gave birth to the first of America's most insufferable generation.
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For more modern brands created during tough times, check out 6 Global Corporations Started by Their Founder's Shitty Luck. Or learn about some inventors that fortune favored, in 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World.
And stop by Linkstorm (Updated Today!) to see how many Twinkies David Wong can eat in one sitting.
Or find out what happened when the Red Army listened to "Beat It."