we discovered last week, war has produced many popular inventions
that we take for granted. These include aerosol cans, food
preservation, synthetic rubber, Silly Putty (yes, Silly Putty), jet
engines, rockets and radar.
Today we continue where we left off
last week by taking a look at three more important wartime
inventions, including one that has saved millions of lives since it
was discovered by accident in 1928.
translating apparatus, also known as secret Project PX…
During World War II the U. S. Army
awarded a grant to inventors John Mauchly and John Eckert Jr. to
build a device to help the war effort. Originally labeled as Project
PX, the ENIAC, which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator and
Computer, was the first electronic digital computer. It is also the
system to which modern computers trace their roots.
Within two years, the ENIAC was able to
predict the weather, calculate atomic energy and study wind tunnel
design, among other uses. It stood 150 feet long, weighed over 30
tons, contained 18,000 vacuum tubes and required 200 people to
operate. Yet it was 1,000 times faster than previous calculators.
The war had ended by the time the ENIAC
was introduced to the public in 1946. Mauchly and Eckert then went
on to develop the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC, which
stands for UNIVersal Automatic Computer. Both inventors were
inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame posthumously in
"Oh, I see they've got the Internet on
-- Homer Simpson
Staying on the theme of computers, ARPA,
which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency (enough with the
acronyms already!), produced the forerunner to the Internet, known
as ARPAnet. The need for the Internet was inspired by war -- the
Cold War -- because the United States government was concerned that
a nuclear attack could wipe out our intelligence system.
Here's an abbreviated version of how
the Internet evolved: ARPA was created by the U.S. Department of
Defense as part of the U.S. reaction to the Soviet Union's 1957
launch of Sputnik. By 1969, computer scientists had begun work on
the ARPAnet, which was a network of huge supercomputers from five
major universities that could exchange information with each other.
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in this article]
The National Science Foundation, or
NSFnet, linked them together and eventually replaced the slower
ARPAnet in 1990. I think you know where we're going with this.
NSFnet formed the backbone of today's Internet, and the rest is
It took only four years for the
Internet to reach 50 million users in the United States. By
comparison, radio took 38 years, television took 13 years and
personal computers took 16 years to reach critical mass.
luck = the accidental discovery…
Penicillin began saving lives in 1943
when two men -- neither of whom was named Fleming -- figured out how
to produce it as an antibiotic.
Scottish scientist Sir Alexander
Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 by accident when he left his
lab for a two-week vacation and returned to find that a mold had
developed on a plate of staphylococcus culture. After further
research, he found that the mold had stopped the bacteria from
spreading. Even though the entire world knows about his discovery,
it went virtually unknown for more than 10 years.
It wasn't until two other men, Howard
Florey and Earnest Chain, figured out how to produce penicillin as
an antibiotic in 1939 that it actually benefited society. Florey and
Chain had researched Fleming's work to study ways to use molds to
kill bacteria. Even though they knew how to produce it as an
antibiotic, they weren't able to have the drug mass-produced in
Great Britain. In 1941 Florey flew to America with another colleague
and got U.S. assistance for its production once the United States
entered the war.
By the end of World War II, penicillin
had begun saving millions of lives and also led to the discovery of
many other antibiotics that are used today. Fleming, Florey and
Chain split the 1945 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
You might be an inventor if ….
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004