History Channel: 6 World War II Innovations That Changed Everyday Life

One of the most infamous inventions of WWII was the atomic bomb. In August 1945, the United States launched its first (and so far only) nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing an estimated 110,000 to 210,000 people. While the bomb is distinguished by its devastating impact, there were many other non-lethal innovations during the war in medicine and technology that radically reshaped the world, Historical channel writing.

Some of these innovations were based on pre-war research or designs that could only take off when the US or British governments funded these projects to aid Allied forces. Here are six innovations resulting from this development push.

1. Flu shots

The influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 had a major effect on World War I and motivated the United States military to develop the first influenza vaccine. Scientists began isolating influenza viruses in the 1930s, and in the 1940s the U.S. military helped sponsor the development of a vaccine against them. The United States approved the first influenza vaccine for military use in 1945 and for civilian use in 1946. One of the project’s principal investigators was Jonas Salk, the American scientist who would later develop the polio vaccine.

2. Penicillin

Before the widespread use of antibiotics like penicillin in the United States, even small cuts and scrapes could lead to fatal infections. Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, but it wasn’t until after World War II that the United States began to mass produce it as a medical treatment. Making penicillin for soldiers was a top priority for the US Department of War, which featured the effort as “a race against death” in a poster. Military surgeons were amazed at how much the drug reduced pain, increased chances of survival, and made it easier for nurses and medics to treat soldiers on the battlefield. The United States considered the drug so essential to the war effort that, in preparation for the D-Day landings, the country produced 2.3 million doses of penicillin for Allied troops. After the war, civilians also had access to this life-saving drug.

3. Jet engines

Frank whittle, an English engineer in the Royal Air Force, filed the first patent for the jet engine in 1930. But the first country to fly a jet was Germany, which carried out a flight test of its model on August 27. 1939, just a few days before the country invaded Poland. “Germany and Japan have been really preparing for WWII for about a decade,” says Rob Wallace, STEM education specialist at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. With the onset of the war, the British government developed airplanes based on Whittle’s designs. The first Allied aircraft to use jet propulsion took off on May 15, 1941. Jet planes could go faster than propeller-driven planes, but also required significantly more fuel and were more difficult to handle. Although they had no impact on the war (they were still in the early stages of their development), jet engines would later transform military and civilian transport.

4. Blood plasma transfusion

During World War II, an American surgeon named Charles Drew standardized the production of blood plasma for medical use. “They developed this whole system where they sent two sterile jars, one with water and one with freeze-dried blood plasma and they mixed them,” Wallace explains. Unlike whole blood, plasma can be delivered to anyone, regardless of their blood type, making it easier to deliver on the battlefield.

5. Electronic computers

In the 1940s, the word “computers” referred to people (mostly women) who performed complex calculations by hand. During World War II, the United States began to develop new machines for performing ballistic trajectory calculations, and those who had done calculations by hand began to program these machines. Programmers who worked on the University of Pennsylvania’s ENIAC machine included Jean Jennings Bartik, who led the development of computer storage and memory, and Frances Elizabeth “Betty” Holberton, who created the first software application. Lt. Grace Hopper (later Rear Admiral of the US Navy) also programmed the Mark I machine at Harvard University during the war and developed the first computer programming language.

In Great Britain, Alain turing invented an electromechanical machine called the Bomb which helped smash the German Enigma cipher. While not technically what we would now call a “computer,” the Bomb was a precursor to the Colossus machines, a series of British electronic computers. During the war, programmers like Dorothy Du Boisson and Elsie Booker used Colossus machines to crack messages encrypted with German Lorenz cipher.

6. Radar

MIT’s Radiation Laboratory, or “Rad Lab,” played an important role in the advancement of radar technology in the 1940s. However, the lab’s original goal was to use electromagnetic radiation as a weapon, and not as a form of detection. “Their first idea they came up with was that if we could send a beam of electromagnetic energy into an airplane, maybe we could kill the pilot by cooking him or something,” Wallace says. “The kitchen wasn’t working, but they were getting a bounce that they could receive and they got the idea that they could use electromagnetic radiation just like they were using sound radiation in sonar. So they started working on the radar. Radar aided Allied forces in detecting enemy ships and planes. It was later found to have many non-military uses including guiding civilian missiles and detecting major weather events like hurricanes.