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Incredible Products That Were Invented by the US Military

Updated November 6, 2017 30.2k views15 items

Say what you will about the U.S. military industrial complex, it sure has given us some truly awesome products, machines, and devices. All right, some military inventions may represent ridicuolous wastes of taxpayer dollars, and quite a few never really needed to exist to begin with (we're looking at you, F-22 Raptor). Still, go ahead and try to make a case that the world isn't a little more awesome for F-22s being in it.

But not everything the army builds exists just for the sake of being cool as hell, or funneling money to congressional districts. Some things invented by the military have found their way into our everyday lives. In fact, practically everything you can think of contains some part, material, or process that came about through military funding. 

On this list, we're going to take a look at some cool military technologies and army inventions that you either use every day, or would if you could. Sorry, no jet fighters included. 
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  • Photo: Juan-Calderon / Flickr

    Digital camera technology started out on spy satellites in 1976 - which is at least a little ironic, considering how much spying they've done with cell phones and laptop lenses since then. The KH-11 Kennan satellite was the very first fully electronic camera capable of beaming images back to ground commanders in almost real time. Crazy as it sounds today, prior to 1976, spy satellites were just film cameras sitting up in orbit. They would take a certain number of shots on command, and then release the film in canisters that would plummet back to Earth, and hopefully be found somewhere within a hundred miles of where they were supposed to land.

    If that sounds a bit less than efficient or secure, it probably should. More than a third of the dropped "Keyhole" canisters were never found; and once a spy cam was out of film, it was space junk. So, there was always about a 33% chance that the tactical spy photos you desperately needed would wind up in some kid's "awesome stuff" collection. 
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  • Photo: Plashing Vole / Flickr

    Back in the day, Napoleon offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could come up with a way to keep his massive army supplied with food that hadn't gone rotten on the way. And, because it was France, the answer involved wine bottles. Specifically, pouring still-hot sauces and other puree'd products into the bottles, then quickly sealing them with corks.

    That concept evolved into the tin cans we're familiar with today, and those cans proved amazingly effective at preserving food. How effective? Almost 200 years later, you can still find Napoleonic canned meat and vegetables for sale at auction. The few people who have eaten 200-year-old canned pork haven't yet reported any taste sensations...but they haven't died either... which is more than you can say for some military rations. 
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  • Photo: Greg Friese / Flickr
    Anyone who has severe allergies is familiar with the EpiPen. The spring-loaded, single-use syringes contain epinephrine, which counteracts allergic reactions and can help to save a sufferer's life. But similar devices have been saving lives for decades. Some of the first were issued in World War I first aid kids, and were used to treat soldiers exposed to chemical agents and nerve gas. 
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  • Photo: Jaroslav Kuba / Flickr

    All remote control vehicles (including those little camera drones that you control with your phone) can trace their lineages back to a top-secret WWII mission that claimed one very well-known life. "Operation Aphrodite" involved packing a worn-out old bomber with tons of explosives and a radio control device. The bomber's human pilot would take the plane off the runway, and bail out once the bomb plane was pointed the right way. From there, a radio controller in a chase plane would visually direct the world's first (and most powerful) "standoff missile" into heavily protected fortifications like U-Boat pens and V-2 launch sites.

    Unfortunately, thanks to a faulty fuse, one of the bomb planes detonated before its human takeoff pilot could bail out. That pilot's name was Joseph Kennedy Jr., the elder brother of Robert and John F. Kennedy. The mission was a tragic operational failure, but a technological success. Several modern technologies spun off of Project Aphrodite, including cruise missiles, drones and even the radio controls in your favorite RC car. 
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