OK, so maybe we got a little silly with our article’s featured image. Regardless, the 1940s were an industrious time in the US, particularly as we rebounded from the Great Depression and everyone came together to contribute to the war effort. Plus, nations around the globe felt pressured to outdo each other, which spurred innovation.
As you’ll see below, research for and by military outfits were a significant part of new development during the ’40s. The most destructive weapon known to mankind comes to mind, but there were certainly some more whimsical inventions made during the decade as well.
Here’s a look at 15 pivotal—or at least iconic and enduring—creations from the 1940s, listed in no particular order. They’re all key mid-century era contributions to scientific progress or quintessential American cultural or consumer experiences.
Things Invented in the Forties
- The atomic bomb
- The Slinky, invented by naval engineer Richard T. James
- The point-contact transistor, developed by John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain in 1947, and for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics
- Aerosol spray cans (the practical version we know today, at least)
- The kidney dialysis machine, invented by Dutch physician Willem Johan Kolff in 1943 and built using such makeshift parts as washing machine components, beverage cans, and sausage casings because of the scarcity of materials in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands
- The jeep, designed for the US Army as a reconnaissance vehicle in 1940
- Color television, although color television broadcasting was one of the inventions of the 1950s
- Synthetic cortisone, a corticosteroid patented by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. and introduced for use in 1949
- Tupperware—and the Tupperware party would become a classic mid-century era direct marketing phenomenon in the ’50s
- The Z3, the world’s first programmable automated digital computer
- The first successful mass-produced turboprop engine
- Silly Putty, which came out of government-funded research into synthetic rubber polymers (rubber was rationed and in high demand during WWII, and Japan was even invading rubber-producing countries at the time)
- Aqua-Lung, the first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), and another war-driven innovation
- The microwave oven, after engineer Percy Spencer accidentally discovered the heating effect of a high-power microwave beam in 1945
- Duct tape, created to seal ammunition boxes; it was unnamed originally, but soldiers nicknamed it “duck tape,” possibly because it was descended from earlier adhesives made from cotton duck fabric, or maybe because it was waterproof like a duck