13 Wartime Innovations That Unexpectedly Changed Daily Life

Voting Rules
Vote up the most practical wartime innovations.

It's one of warfare’s paradoxes: from great destruction comes boundless creativity. Human beings have a remarkable capacity to adapt to new situations and develop ingenious solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We might rightly regard World War I and II as low points in human history, but as this collection shows, in some ways we’re actually better off today because those terrible conflicts took place.

This list examines the circumstances of the wars that caused new ideas to come to the fore, as well as some old ones that would have never taken off otherwise. From the mass production of penicillin to feminine hygiene products - world wars definitely changed our world today.

  • 1
    135 VOTES

    Duct Tape

    Before the advent of duct tape, ammunition boxes were dipped in wax and sealed with thin paper tape with an exposed tab intended for easy opening. The tape's lack of strength meant these tabs frequently tore off and left soldiers desperately scrambling to open the boxes under fire. 

    An Illinois ordnance plant worker named Vesta Stoudt had the answer - a durable waterproof tape to seal the ammunition boxes. But her attempts to have the right tape used fell flat, so she took her concerns up the chain of command. All the way up

    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.

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt was suitably impressed and ordered the production of “duck tape” to begin immediately. The tape’s original name came from it being waterproof like the feathers of a duck and made with cotton duck fabric. 

    135 votes
  • Penicillin 
    Photo: Calibuon / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    152 VOTES

    Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of the life-saving antibiotic in 1928 long predates World War II. But it wasn’t until the 1940s that the mass production and awareness of penicillin occurred.

    In anticipation of D-Day, the US produced 2.3 million doses. The drug entered into civilian use after the war.

    152 votes
  • 3
    125 VOTES


    The formula for the high-strength adhesive was stumbled upon by American inventor Harry Coover, who was attempting to form a clear plastic for use as a gun sight during World War II. The compound, cyanoacrylate, was suitably durable, but quite useless for its intended purpose due to its stickiness. Initially discarded as a failure, Coover once again fell upon his unintended invention some time after the war while researching heat-resistant polymers for jet canopies.

    In October 1956, he obtained a patent for "alcohol-catalyzed alpha-cyanoacrylate adhesive compositions" or simply "superglue."

    125 votes
  • Radar
    Photo: Stuart166axe / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    86 VOTES


    The development of radio detection and ranging, or radar, has its roots in World War I. German terror bombing of London achieved little due to the limitations of aircraft available at the time, but the experience had a profound effect on the British government. Between the wars, the British military invested heavily in radar technology to allow fighters a chance to intercept incoming bombers.

    These investments in the 1930s more than paid off in the summer of 1940, as the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe battled for control over the skies of Britain. Radar stations across the country allowed the RAF to conserve its supplies and strength by knowing when, where, and how many enemy aircraft were coming in. The technology gave the British a crucial edge and prevented a German invasion.

    86 votes
  • Feminine Hygiene Products
    Photo: cellucotton products company / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    118 VOTES

    Feminine Hygiene Products

    Cellucotton was first developed by the American company Kimberly-Clark at the turn of the 20th century. The highly absorbent material (five times greater than cotton) was in high demand during World War I. The Red Cross nurses who tended wounded soldiers found another use for cellucotton dressings - to manage menstrual cycles. These makeshift sanitary napkins became the basis for modern feminine hygiene products.

    After the conflict, the company set about finding a peacetime use for cellucotton, and one enterprising employee suggested making sanitary napkins on a wide scale. Although there was some apprehension over how to market such a product, a catchy name (Kotex is a portmanteau of cotton and texture) and an employee’s persistence saw the pads hit shelves in the early 1920s.

    118 votes
  • Synthetic Rubber
    Photo: National Archives at College Park / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    75 VOTES

    Synthetic Rubber

    One area of great vulnerability to the American effort in World War II was having its supply of rubber cut off. In the 1930s, the American demand for rubber represented about half of the world’s natural supply. When the prospect of war loomed in 1940, the Rubber Reserve Company formed to stockpile rubber. At the same time, substantial efforts were undertaken to develop a synthetic alternative.

    With a little more than 18 months’ supply and no existing production facilities, time was of the essence. Fifty production facilities were built while a partnership of public and private research helped iron out a reliable recipe for mass production. The remarkable effort saw production rise from 230 tons annually in 1941 to 70,000 tons monthly in 1945. The impact of this undertaking is still felt in the present day, as about 70% of rubber used in manufacturing processes is synthetic. 

    75 votes