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Inventions Gone Mainstream
From Military to Civilian Life

Inventions Gone Mainstream
Many household products, such as bug repellant and frozen juice concentrate, and modern conveniences such as GPS technology were initially developed for military use. Their convenience, affordability, and ease of use mainstreamed them into civilian life.  

In the 1930s, Bausch & Lomb developed the aviator goggles under the direction of the military. In 1937, Bausch & Lomb rebranded and remarketed the style under the Ray-Ban (banish the sun’s rays) label. In the 1950s, style icons James Dean and Audrey Hepburn onned classic aviator sunglasses inspired by goggles worn to protect military pilots from glaring sunlight. General Douglas MacArthur flaunted the style when he landed in the Philippines during World War II. In 1987, Bausch & Lomb launched a collection of sunglasses in honor of this 5-star general. Learn more about his landing in the Philippines in Under MacArthur in Luzon

During World War II, the U.S. military needed to provide a simple, effective way for soldiers in the South Pacific to wipe out mosquitoes and prevent malaria. Soldiers initially used pressurized canisters of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical insecticide created by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Muller. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers Lyle Goodhue and William Sullivan perfected the delivery of this wartime necessity when they developed the first effective disposable aerosol spray can in 1941. In Inventors and Patents, Philip E. Edelman writes, “The inventor creates something which has never existed before, and imparts an increased value to the material wealth of the earth, so to speak” (p. vi). 
In the 1970s, the Department of Defense launched Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite-based radio-navigation system. It was originally referred to as Navstar GPS and became fully operational in 1995. Beyond its use in cars and phones, GPS technology is used in earthquake research. Explore more about the early history of this technology in Application of Space Technology to Crustal Dynamics and Earthquake Research. The document states, “When the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) becomes operational, the possibility will exist of using the GPS satellites as radio sources for the standard VLBI technique and in other ways that may be equally useful for local-scale geodesy” (p. 116).

Other inventions started in the military and segued into civilian life. Cargo pants used to hold dressings, maps, etc. Feminine hygiene products evolved from the invention of inexpensive padding intended to be used as bandages; it was widely used by nurses during menstruation. Silly Putty was a failed attempt to create a substitute for synthetic rubber. 

By Regina Molaro



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