The 5 Most Surprising Inventions to Come Out of World War I

From TIME - April 6, 2017

If necessity is the mother of invention, it stands to reason that the life-and-death situations of war have often provoked more than their fair share of light-bulb moments. Such ideas and items are later associated with everyday peacetime life, but their origins are on the battlefield.

In light of the 100th anniversary of America entering World War I on April 6, 1917, TIME has compiled some of the most surprising innovations that came out of U.S. involvement in what has been called the first real technology war, with the help of Doran Cart, senior curator at the National World War IMuseum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo.

Kotex and Kleenex

As battlefield injuries grew, the cotton supply shrunk. The company Kimberly-Clark developed a substitute made from wood pulp and dubbed it Cellucotton. The new material was pitched to the U.S. surgeon general as a substitute for cotton surgical dressing for war wounds and as a filter in gas masks. Two employees developed the material after visiting European pulp and paper mills in 1914 and seeing that manufacturers overseas were using processed pulp to make something that could stand in for cotton.

During the war, the company claims it produced 380 to 500 feet of Cellucotton per minute, according to the company. Red Cross nurses started using the new material as sanitary pads during their menstrual periods, ditching the old-fashion diaper-like flannel products that American women typically washed and reused, according to The Curse, A Cultural History of Menstruation. Post-war, Kimberly-Clark had to figure out what to do with the surplus of Cellucotton that was left over, which the company had bought back from the government. After hearing about how the nurses were using it, they made a version to sell to consumers. It was hand-produced and sold in 1920 at 60 cents per 12-packmaking it the company's first consumer product: Kotex sanitary napkins.

Then researchers figured out another use for the invention. They ironed out heavyweight material into thin sheets, tweaking the ingredients and using different pups to produce a thinner, softer tissue that became known as Kleenexwhich likely took its name from its ability to clean, "while the capital 'K' and the 'ex' ending were adopted from Kotex, which had been introduced four years earlier," according to the company.


Uniforms for soldiers on the battlefield had to hold so many things that pocket watches lost their places. The solution was to adopt something that might have previously made troops turn up their noses. "[Wristwatches] existed before the war, but they were primarily worn by women because they were seen as jewelry," says Cart.


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