We are truly a remarkable species, accomplishing amazing things in a short time, like removing ourselves from the food chain, building the Great Pyramids (suck it aliens!), and making space tourism a reality. Necessity is the mother of all invention and throughout our history, the need to move weapons and troops has arisen frequently… to say the least. But what works for the battlefield – efficient transportation, communication, and navigation – has had massive benefits for us travelers today.
1. The United States Highway System
World War I exposed the limited capability of US trains to move solders and supplies, so in 1921 the Phipps Act was passed, authorizing plans for the first interstate highway network. The original layout, called the Pershing Map, was presented to the Bureau of Public Roads by the Army, who drafted the original design.
2. Global Positioning System (GPS)
When the first GPS satellites began launching in 1978 (after development in the 1960s by American scientists Bradford Parkinson, Roger L. Easton and Ivan A. Getting) they were limited to military use only. It wasn’t until 1996 the technology was made available for commercial use so we could yell at our dashboards; GPS however still remains under the authority of the Department of Defense.
3. Pressurized Cabins
We take for granted the fact that commercial planes can fly above 3,000 meters without us requiring oxygen masks, or beyond 12,000m without enlarging our hearts and permanently damaging our bodies. There’s also the bonus of avoiding most weather systems – the type that can crash planes. Although cabin pressurization was in use limited prior to World War II, it’s all of those mentioned benefits (specifically for bomber pilots and crew) that pushed development forward.
The word “jeep” might be a result of mumblers like myself mashing through the words “g-overnment purpose”; the reason they were invented in the first place. Prior to the United States entering World War II, it commissioned several companies to come up with an all-purpose reconnaissance vehicle. The American Bantam Car Company came up with the winning design, with the Willys & Ford Motor Company manufacturing the vehicles. And a durable one it was, you can still see World War II “jeepneys” being driven around the Philippines.
5. Hot Air Balloons
They weren’t quite developed with the sole purpose for use in warfare, but it didn’t take more than 11 years for them to be used by the French military as a spy posts. (In 1794 against the British in Antwerp, Belgium.) Hot air balloons didn’t see widespread use in battle until World War I, when the Germans used Zeppelins as bomber aircraft.
6. Air Traffic Control
Prior to 1915 and the outbreak of World War I, once airplanes took to the skies, pilots were pretty much on their own. To reduce the amount of time it would take to receive reconnaissance information, the American Army began equipping aircraft with two-way radios. Fortunately for all of us, it made landing planes easier for pilots as well.
Combat Trousers Cargo Pants
If you love pockets, you have the British Armed Forces to thank for inventing what were then referred to as combat trousers in 1938. Quick-dry and with convenient places to pack bullets, a radio, and cigarettes, they’re still as useful for today’s travelers as they were to soldiers during World War II.
Connecting After Killing
Like most technologies, it’s our use of them that can fluctuate between good and bad, rather than the innovation having some innate moral leaning. Many of the inventions above were developed to keep groups of people separate, yet connect us more than ever in today’s modern society. The lessons of battle don’t stop with the physical, you can still use The Art Of War to win battles at the ticket counter, nearly 2,000 years after it was written.
Wow! There are a few things on the list I expected, but also a few surprises, like the highways and pressured cabins.
World War II even helped expand them further, after Roosevelt saw the autobahn in Germany, he said:
“The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.”
Great article, such a unique view on these things we take for granted!
so interesting! what a great blog.
i always love finding a kindred travel lover! can’t wait to follow along on bloglovin.
Thank you very much!
It’s always surprising to look at just how much warfare and military organisations overall change civilian live. It is surprising to think how different the world would be if governments didn’t invest so heavily in war.
Great list very interesting keep up the good work.
Imagine where international space programs would (or wouldn’t) be without the Cold War or the development of the Internet. Progress tends to follow the pursuit of power.
A different angle to see things. Interesting!
Very interesting blog post about travel items used for war! Did you know the board game Monopoly helped prisoners escape German camps in WWII?? Pretty random right? We enjoyed your post so much that we shared it with our Facebook fans at [Edit: Link removed]. Check it out and we look forward to reading more of your future articles!
I’ve never heard that, how would they have access to the game? (I’m probably missing something.)
Yep, it’s true! Germany was open with the Geneva Convention and allowed humanitarian groups to distribute care packages to the prisoners. One of their allowable categories were “games and pastimes”. The allies secretly worked with the humanitarian groups to create military strategies and road maps on the board games to help prisoners escape. Pretty crazy…I just read that Monopoly was actually created in 1934. It’s super old.
As I recall, some of the game pieces had concealed compartments with things inside, as well.
Good stuff, Anil!
You could have also included our Interstate highway system. General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower saw how useful the German Autobahn system was in waging war during WW II. When he became President, he and Congress passed the law establishing the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” (its complete and proper name) — in the event America was ever invaded. The early specifications called for sections of the highway to be level and straight every so many miles, so they could be used as runways by aircraft. By the way, your graphic is the original map of the Interstate highway system, rather than the highway system proposed by the Phipps Act.
As to GPS, that was the second satellite navigation system to come along. The first was the Navy Navigation Satellite System (called NAVSAT or Transit), invented and developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University (I used to work there). Although developed by the Navy, it was the official DoD system for many years. Although it was still the official DoD satellite navigation system at the time Gulf War I was fought, the troops actually used GPS, which became the official DoD system soon afterward.
Thank you Al for adding to this post, I did not know about the “built-in” runways which I find fascinating and highly clever from an engineering and strategic point of view.
Jeep wouldn’t derive from mumbling “general purpose”, surely, it’d be a shortening of the abbreviation GP.
I could imagine the evolution being: government purpose >> g purpose >> GP 😉
Fascinating! I only recently found out one of the main highways in my home town (just north of Sydney, Australia) was actually built as an evacuation route by the US Army.