Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and we have proved that time and time again. Human beings can adapt to new situations and come up with solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. Safe to say that the times of war are one of the most difficult times in human history, regardless of whichever it was. Thankfully, new ideas came, which were not only deemed useful at times of conflict but also even after. These were some of the wartime innovations that changed our lives forever:

Duct Tape

Could you imagine the world without your trusty solve-it-all duct tape? What a scary concept, right? Before the invention of duct tape, soldiers would dip ammunition boxes in wax before sealing them with thin paper tape that had an exposed tab so that they could be easily opened. The problem, however, was that the tape lacked strength which in turn left the soldiers scrambling to open the boxes under fire.

Thankfully, an Illinois ordnance plant worker named Vesta Stoudt came up with a solution. In the 1940s, she was a mother with two sons in the Navy. To help in the war effort, she got a job at Green River inspecting and packing the cartridges used to launch rifle grenades. When she noticed the weak tape, she knew it was a matter of life and death, including the lives of his sons, and she had to do something about it. Her idea was to seal the boxes instead with a strong, cloth-based waterproof tape. When her supervisors didn’t seem to do anything with her idea, she decided to take her concerns to the top. And we aren’t talking about taking things to the top in terms of the plant manager, we meant to the President of the United States. In her letter, she wrote,

You have sons in the service also. We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved… I didn’t know who to write to Mr. President, so have written you hoping for your boys, my boys, and every man that uses the rifle grenade, that this package of rifle cartridges may be taped with the correct tape.

Letter from Vesta Stoudt to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, February 10, 1943, courtesy of Kari Santo. (kilmerhouse.com)

Roosevelt did not ignore her plea and forwarded her letter to the War Production Board in Washington, D.C. In just a few weeks, she received a series of replies saying that her idea was being considered and forwarded to the right division. The War Production Board turned to Johnson & Johnson to make the tape based on Vesta’s idea since the company had extensive experience in making surgical adhesive tapes. The result was named “duck tape” because it was waterproof, just like ducks, and the cotton was made from duck fabric.

Vesta received the Chicago Tribune’s War Worker Award, but perhaps her greater achievement was the peace of mind that she and the other families of the soldiers had that their men would not die trying to prop open a box of ammunition.

Feminine Sanitary Napkins

During World War I, the Red Cross nurses who tended to the wounded soldiers would use cellucotton to dress the flesh wounds of their patients. Cellucotton was developed by Kimberly-Clark at the turn of the 20th century, resulting from the cotton shortages at that time. It was made of wood pulp, and the material was about five times more absorbent than cotton. It was in high demand during the First World War, given the number of troops brought to the Red Cross stations daily.

 

A Kotex newspaper advert. (cellucotton products company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

After the war, the company wanted to explore possible peacetime use for cellucotton. One of their enterprising employees suggested that they could perhaps use it to make sanitary napkins that would help women manage their menstrual cycles. In 1919, the first box of pads hit the shelves, and sanitary napkins were manufactured on a wide scale.

Wristwatches

While wristwatches could be traced back to the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I received one from Robert Dudley in 1571, it was in World War I that the use of these watches entered the mainstream.

The soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front had to carefully time movements around the artillery barrages, and the pocket watches were just pretty much a hassle to use. Imagine having to pull it out and back in your pocket every single time, with the possibility of it falling as you move, or probably while trying to shove it back in your pocket in the middle of the rush and chaos.

Frontispiece, watch advertisement (Signalling, 1918). (Andy Dingley (scanner), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thankfully, wristwatches exist to free up one hand that would normally be used to check the pocket watch. The sales of wristwatches started to boom not only for battlefield purposes but more as a fashion trend. It became a symbol of masculinity, and one brand, the Cartier Tank, even took its name from France’s FT-17 tank that was used in World War I.

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