Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Zippers and drones
It would be nice to get the innovation without the war, though. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Today is Veterans Day, so thank you to all those readers who served (and their families; you all serve too!).
The day’s origin was originally intended to commemorate the end of World War I, although of course (sadly) we keep having wars and thus having more ends to commemorate.
Even in the worst of human experiences, we can find the best of human innovation. So while my sense is that people talk more about the innovations that came out of the Second World War (less obvious case in point: the Slinky!), I’ve compiled 10 peacetime innovations that came out of what people once called the Great War.
How did they keep their jackets closed and their pants before zippers? Buttons, I suppose, and ties. The zipper wasn't technically invented during World War I, but it became mainstream during the conflict, when military suppliers suddenly had a massive need for flight jackets and other military clothing.
Inventors Elmer Sperry and Peter Hewitt, members of the Naval Consulting Board, built technology that enabled development of a remote controlled airplane—only 15 years after the first flight. They had about 100 successful test flights, but the war ended before their remote controlled aircraft—intended as a flying bomb—was put into production.
3. Industrial fertilizer
Obviously we've used fertilizer since ancient times, but two wartime German scientists found a way to turn nitrogen into ammonia, which now helps produce food for "one third of the population on Earth," according to one source. The Germans were actually using the process to create explosives; agricultural fertilizer was an ancillary use.
4. Sanitary napkins
New medical technology meant some wounded soldiers survived injuries that would have killed them in prior wars—one such advance was the development of absorbent surgical gauze. Red Cross nurses began using the gauze when they had their periods, which ultimately led to development and use of disposable pads after the war.
5. Daylight savings time
The idea of turning the clocks ahead to save sunlight had been around for a long time, but it was Germany that put it into practice a temporary wartime measure in 1916. Then the British followed, then the Americans, and now we can all eat dinner at sidewalk cafes after work in the summer.
6. Air traffic control
The first airplanes were basically cut off from the ground, meaning there was no practical way for pilots to communicate with anyone on land. The advent of the war led the U.S. Army to develop radiotelegraphs that could send messages from ground to air or even from one airplane to another.
7. Tea bags
The British love their tea, but it was the Germans who popularized the idea in World War I of packaging tea in small bags that could be dropped right into a pot of boiling water. (While an American company had invented the idea, it was the Germans who mass produced tea bags during the war.)
The word came from Napoleonic times, but the Royal Army Medical Corps put it into practice during the first World War, segmenting wounded soldiers into three categories: those who required immediate medical attention in order to live, those who were wounded but could be delayed care, and those who were unlikely to survive.
Much like the development of surgical gauze and menstrual pads, the advent of a cotton-like fabric that was stronger than cotton and could be produced cheaply enough to be disposable led to modern facial tissue. They first hit the market about a decade after the war.
10. Plastic surgery
Again, medical progress meant wounded soldiers could survive wounds that would have been fatal in earlier wars, but that often meant living with severe injuries. A New Zealand-born surgeon, Harold Gillies, came up with ways to graft skin, bones, and muscles—"paving the way for modern-day plastic surgery," as the Wall Street Journal put it.
Call for comments: Got any ideas I missed? Do any of these surprise you? And why is it that innovation so often comes out of death and destruction? I mean, couldn’t we just skip the war and get straight to the innovations?
7 other things worth knowing today
We still don't know who will control either house of Congress next year. So many races are coming down to a handful of votes, and—good news for people who want this to go on forever—the potentially pivotal Georgia senate race comes down to a runoff next month, after Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock got 49.4% of the vote and Republican challenger Herschel Walker got 48.5%. (AP)
Twitter ... where to begin ... more executives left the company ... one of the legal officers warned the site could easily violate a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission and sent a link to whistleblower protection to every employee ... and Elon Musk sent his first all-hands email and did his first all-hands meeting, warning the site could go bankrupt and that any remote worker who doesn't return to the office will be considered to have resigned. (Bloomberg)
A New York jury found filmmaker Paul Haggis liable in a sexual assault case brought forward by a publicist who alleged he raped her at his Manhattan apartment in 2013, according to the Associated Press. Haggis is best known for the films “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” the latter of which won him two Academy Awards in 2006 for best picture and best original screenplay. (WashPost)
Tens of thousands of U.S. students are receiving offers that seem too good to be true: Get into college, with a guaranteed scholarship, without ever applying. “There has to be a bit of a redistribution of the power dynamic from the college to the families right now,” said Luke Skurman, chief executive and founder of Niche.com Inc., which offers profiles and ratings of hundreds of thousands of schools and towns. (WSJ)
Apple has restricted the use of AirDrop on iPhones in China, after protesters used the wireless file-sharing feature to secretly spread messages criticizing the Chinese authorities. Chinese users who updated their iPhone’s version to iOS 16.1.1, released Wednesday, will be able to use the feature to receive files from strangers only for 10 minutes at a time. Previously, the setting to accept files from “everyone” had no time limit. (Vice)
A French court has ruled that refusing to disclose a mobile passcode to law enforcement is a criminal offense. Here in the U.S., this is why you shouldn't use Face ID or fingerprint ID on your phone; the government can force you to open your phone in those cases, but cannot under the law require you to disclose a password. (FairTrials)
America’s richest self-made woman grew up on a dairy farm—now she has a net worth of $11.6 billion. Earlier this year, Diane Hendricks—who has a net worth of $11.6 billion—topped Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women for the fifth year in a row. Her fortune is largely dependent on ABC Supply, a construction materials company she built with her late husband in 1982. (CNBC)