Technological Developments

© IWM (Q66092)

New technology, vital to winning the war, brought developments in civilian life as well.

Technical developments involving telephones and wireless were later applied in civilian life. Air traffic control using radio made air travel safer. Petrol and diesel engines developed for military vehicles improved motor transport generally.

Treating the millions of casualties brought important advances to medicine. On the Western Front, the first mobile X-ray machines helped doctors deal with battle casualties. New techniques to store blood cells made blood transfusions possible. Mutilations caused by high explosives led to advances in plastic surgery and in manufacturing artificial limbs. In psychiatry, doctors dealing with shell-shocked patients at specialist hospitals such as Craiglockhart gained new understanding of the mind.

Germany was blockaded by the Royal Navy and became short of food and raw materials. Its scientists developed chemical substitutes for foods such as honey and coffee, and replaced butter with edible oil – margarine. The German chemical industry developed artificial fibres for clothing and made wartime bread from potatoes and sawdust. The chemist Fritz Haber, who won the Nobel Prize for synthesising ammonia and nitrogen fertilizer, used his expert knowledge during the war to make poison gas more effective. The use of science can help human beings or cause harm to them.

For good or ill, the accelerated scientific and technological advances of wartime brought modern technology to twentieth century life.