Functionality is a key attribute in the items we use in our daily lives, and what better resource to obtain highly functional items than from the military? While you may not see many tanks on local roads, there are many items we use on a regular basis that have military origins. Here are 4 household objects civilians acquired from standard military equipment.
Duct tape was invented in 1942 by a concerned mother named Vesta Stoudt, whose two sons served in the United States Navy during World War II. Originally invented as a low cost, durable way to prevent moisture from entering ammunition cases, Duct tape had the double advantage of being easy to grab and tear open when soldiers were under duress. The old tape soldiers used was paper-thin and flimsy, causing the tabs to tear when soldiers frantically attempted to open the ammo boxes in battle. When her original idea stalled at the upper levels of the military factory in which she worked, Stoudt proceeded to do what any concerned mother would do: she wrote a letter directly to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlining her idea. Several weeks later, her invention was in production. Soon soldiers in the field had access to duct tape, and being the clever humans they were, began using this fantastic new substance for other minor equipment repairs as well as water-proofing their ammo. Today we’ve adopted this technology, and use it far beyond its original purpose. Need a way to repair a broken pipe? Try duct tape. Brake light out and waiting for a fix? Try red duct tape (temporarily, of course).
Like many articles of human convenience, microwave ovens were invented by accident. In 1939, the U.S. government contracted a company called Raytheon to produce combat radar equipment for the military. One day, an employee of the company named Percy Spencer was working with an active radar set when he noticed that a candy bar he had in his pocket had melted. Interested, and quite possibly a little hungry, Spencer and his colleagues began to experiment with these ‘micro-waves’, heating up different food items and noting the effectiveness these waves had on cooking. And, as things are wont to do, experimentation stalled when an egg exploded in his colleague’s face, but Spencer did not give up. Raytheon filed a patent for this technology in October 1945, but microwave ovens as we know them today were not commonly used until about 1967. In the modern world, microwaves can be found in most homes and businesses, making popped popcorn possible whenever your heart desires. Thank the military for our access to quickly-heated instant food.
If you are reading this article, you can thank a teacher AND the internet. Originally dubbed the ‘Advanced Research Projects Agency Network’ or ARPANET, this network was developed during the Cold War to bring computing to the front lines, metaphorically speaking. The problem was, ARPANET was not mobile. Yes, it could transfer info between equally large and immobile computers, but it needed a network that could talk to another network deep in the heart of enemy territory. In 1974, two ARPANET researchers developed a universal rule book that set how computers should communicate, which supplied strict regulations to reliably transmit data, but was flexible enough to cover all different forms of data being sent. The network also had to be future-proof, allowing it to adapt and change as needed and as technology improved. In 1976, researchers successfully stitched two different networks together, and got them communicating. In 1977, they added a third. The internet as we know it today was born in 1989 after decades of work by some of the smartest minds in the world. This code lets humans interact with one another across the globe, transmitting ideas and experiences to other equally curious minds. The internet is designed to go anywhere the military goes, so when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere and need directions to the nearest gas station, thank the forward thinking of the military for your ability to look it up.
Humans have been navigating the globe for centuries, using the stars and sky as their guide. However, in the last 100 years, knowing exactly where you are has gotten a lot easier. GPS technology originated as a frequency-hopping system designed to hide Allied torpedoes from Nazi detectors. Invented by Hollywood beauty icon Hedy Lamarr, who donated her frequency system to the war effort, the navy didn’t actually use this predecessor to GPS until the 1960s. During this time, technicians experimented with the Doppler Effect, and were able to precisely locate satellites in space, thus beginning the development of this technology in the reverse: to use satellites as a means of locating exactly where you are on Earth.
In 1989, the first official GPS satellite was launched into space under the guidance of Navy engineer Roger Easton. That same year, after a passenger plane was destroyed for accidentally drifting into unauthorized airspace, President Ronald Reagan decreed that access to this technology was no longer fully classified. In fact, civilians could use GPS units with precision of up to 100 meters all around the world to prevent a tragedy like this from every happening again.
Today we have access to the full spectrum of GPS technology, and its applications are as variable as the humans who use it. Still at work in military operations, GPS tech is also used by business to track fleets, by search and rescue teams to assist in emergency circumstances, and as a tool for outdoorsy folks to find their way through the wilds. Thanks to the focus and efforts of our military, the only way we will lose our way is if we forget to bring our oh-so-useful GPS.