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18 Ways World War I Directly Shaped the Way We Live Now

Updated February 24, 2020 34.9k views18 items


Also known as the Great War, World War I was a horrific world conflict that lasted for roughly four years (1914-1918). You know a bit about WWI from history class: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, "the War to End All Wars," Allied powers vs. Central powers, trench warfare, Europe forever changed, millions upon millions of lives lost. But do you really know how World War I changed the world?

The impacts of World War I on the world are far-reaching and immeasurable. This list merely covers some of the most significant and obvious ways that it changed the world. First and foremost, it changed warfare forever, and along the way, ushered in countless technological advances we still use today. It was an event that straddled times of great advancement, something that was documented both with modern film photography and traditional paintings. Some of these things - like more effective sanitary napkins - were destined to be developed anyway, but one of the ways WWI changed the world was by greatly hastening these developments: Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention. Read on to learn how World War 1 shaped the modern world.


  • WWI Made The United States An Economic Powerhouse

    Prior to WWI, the US was primarily a debtor country. That changed with WWI in a big way: Hugh Rockoff of Rutgers University says the "turnaround was dramatic." The US emerged from the Great War as net creditors "to the tune of $6.4 billion."

    This later led to New York being considered the de facto financial capital of the world, a spot previously held by London. Rockoff also says that WWI taught the federal government how to play "an important positive role in the economy," a lesson it put to good use in the Great Depression.

  • WWI Saved BP And Helped Usher In The Age Of Oil

    WWI Saved BP And Helped Usher  is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 18 Ways World War I Directly Shaped the Way We Live Now
    Photo: Royal Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Before WWI, British Petroleum (BP) was known as Anglo-Persian Oil Co. At the time, the company wasn't very successful; in fact, if it wasn't for Winston Churchill's decision to build faster warships that ran on oil instead of coal, BP may have gone bankrupt.

    Instead, the oil industry flourished, thanks largely to the WWI effort. Oil became incredibly important to keeping the newly mechanized style of warfare going, and protecting oil supplies became a huge part of the strategy of warfare - just as it is today.

  • Modern Surgery Was Born in WWI

    Modern Surgery Was Born in WWI is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 18 Ways World War I Directly Shaped the Way We Live Now
    Photo: Daily Telegraph / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Journalist Paul Benkimoun argues that surgery as we know it was born during WWI. Fighting in the trenches led to many soldiers needing reconstructive facial surgery using skin grafts. So-called "broken faces" even had a union to support them: the Union des blessés de la face et de la tête (association of the wounded to the face and the head).

    Advances made while working on the "broken faces" led to later revolutions in the fields of oral, maxillofacial, and plastic surgery.

  • WWI Popularized Condoms (At Least In The UK)

    WWI Popularized Condoms (At Le is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 18 Ways World War I Directly Shaped the Way We Live Now
    Photo: U.S. Military / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A few of the many common ailments suffered by WWI soldiers were STDs: As many as 5% of British and Empire soldiers suffered from VDs, and the US Army discharged more than 10,000 men because of STDs (that's a loss of an estimated 7 million man-days).

    Men often visited local brothels to try to escape the horrors of battle. The UK decided to do something about it in 1917, and began issuing condoms to troops. Historian A.J.P. Taylor credits this with making condoms popular in the UK. The US was not quite as proactive. They issued a prophylactic kit meant to treat certain STDs after contraction. It wasn't until WWII that the US distributed condoms to soldiers.

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