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Wartime advancements now commonplace


Posted on 3 March 2018

War produced new circumstances and technology that was used in combat and then found other purposes in peacetime.

Here are some examples of common products that began or were popularised during the First World War.

Bandaids: Sterile wound dressings were pioneered by Johnson & Johnson during the war, using a method pioneered by French surgeon Alexis Carrell who estimated 80 per cent of amputations on the Western Front were due to wounds becoming infected. Carrel developed a sterile solution of chlorine and applied a dressing to injuries. After the war, Johnson & Johnson made the bandages adhesive. Bandaids were then advanced as sterile, in time for the Second World War.

Doughnuts: American soldiers on the Western Front were known as ‘doughboys’, one theory being this was due to their love of doughnuts made by the Salvation Army women. Most cultures have a food based on deep-fried batter. In the United States, the dough confectionery appeared when Dutch settlers brought olykoek (‘oily cake’) to New York. The simple doughnut became a symbol of relief for Americans on the front line with Salvation Army workers making them in the field.

Plastic surgery: Bullets and shrapnel left many soldiers disfigured and at risk of social stigma, prompting wartime surgeons to pioneer skin and bone grafts. The man who fixed faces was Harold Gillies from New Zealand. Dr Gillies was shocked by injuries he saw in the field and requested the British Army set up a plastic surgery unit. The unit in London treated 2,000 patients after the Battle of the Somme.

Teabags: Teabags were invented by accident when an American merchant put tea in small sachets and sent them as samples to customers. The customers mistakenly believed they were trialling a new product. A German company, Teekane, copied the invention and supplied the “tea bombs” to troops.

Tissues: ‘Cellucotton’ was developed by paper mills in Germany and trademarked by American manufacturer Kimberly-Clark. When America entered the war and surgical cotton was in short supply, the product was used as surgical dressing and in filters for gas masks. An employee ironed the tissue and it was released as Kleenex, ‘handkerchiefs you can throw away’, in 1924.

Wristwatches: Synchronisation was vital during the war, and men had to have both hands free, so wristwatches replaced pocket watches. The French luxury brand Cartier even released its “Tank” watch in a shape inspired by the Renault tanks on the Western Front.

Vegan sausages: The British blockaded Germany from 1914 to 1919, restricting goods to enemy countries and causing malnutrition and deaths. The Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, responded to the crisis by making bread from rice, corn and barley and sausages from soy instead of meat. The “peace sausages” were patented by King George V when Germany declined to recognise them as ‘sausage’.

Zips: A Swedish engineer in the United States, Gideon Sundback, invented the zip in 1913 as the ‘hookless fastener’, a slider that locked two sets of teeth together. ‘Zippers’ became mainstream after the US Army and Navy used them in uniforms and boots. The name originated from B. F. Goodrich Company which used the fastener on its boots called ‘zipper’.

Stainless steel: Sheffield is famous for its steel and that is where metallurgist Harry Brearley discovered stainless steel as a hard alloy for rifles and aircraft. Brearley noticed that scraps of steel mixed with chromium did not rust. Stainless steel was then used in cutlery and surgical instruments.

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