5 Fictional Inventions From Literature That Became Real

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This is from Mental Floss.



Long before these modern-day inventions became real, their fictional precursors existed in books, essays, and short stories. Talk about prescient prose!


Texans Lew Hewitt and Dee Horton are thought to have officially invented the automatic doorin 1954. But 55 years earlier, the concept of a motion-sensitive sliding entryway first appeared in H.G. Wells’ 1899 book When the Sleeper Wakes. One difference? Wells’ door folded upwards instead of moving side-to-side like today’s technology.


In 1964, Isaac Asimov’s essay “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014” imagined what technology—and humanity—would be like 50 years later. Asimov’s forecast wasn’t entirely accurate, but he did predict the advent of wireless technology, writing that the “appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long-lived batteries.”


Throughout history, many people have come up with the concept of a global communication system. However, Mark Twain’s 1898 short story “From The ‘London Times’ of 1904”described a fictional invention called a “telectroscope,” which worked as a global telephone. The device made “daily doings of the globe…visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.” Sounds like the Internet, huh?


Not only did Hugo Gernsbacher found the world’s first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, he also provided the world with the very first description of radar in his 1911 novelRalph 124C 41+. The technology, Gernsbacher wrote, would be “a pulsating polarized ether wave, [that] if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light-ray is reflected from a bright surface or from a mirror…”


In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, a fictional team of inventors use a cannon to shoot a spacecraft into the sky. In 1926, 61 years after the work was published, Robert H. Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket. Thirty-five years after that, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, completing an orbit of the Earth in 1961.

All images courtesy of iStock.


Our top 9 inventions and technical innovations of WWII. What have we missed off??

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This is from War History OnLine.

Amazing inventions.


1. The mass production of penicillin



Alexander Fleming was looking for ways to destroy bacteria. In 1928, he was growing lots of bacteria known as staphylococci on agar plates. Alexander Fleming could be a bit slapdash – his lab was rather untidy, and he sometimes left the lids off his plates for a long time, letting the air in. Before going on holiday in 1928 Alexander made two mistakes. He didn’t put all of his plates in bleach to sterilise them, and he left the lab windows open. When he came back from a holiday, Alexander noticed that lots of his culture plates were mouldy.

A common mould that might have grown happily on a slice of bread had landed on Alexander Fleming’s plates – a stroke of luck which has saved millions of lives Alexander Fleming. Although Florey and Chain developed it as a medicine, Fleming and his mouldy plates will always be remembered. Just before he put all the plates in the washing up to get clean, Fleming noticed something. Although lots of bacteria were growing on his plates, there was a clear ring in the jelly around some of the spots of mould – no bacteria were growing Something had killed the bacteria that was covering the jelly. Straight away Fleming saw that this might be important. He labelled and saved the plates.

Fleming worked hard on his mould, Penicillium notatum. He squeezed out some ‘mould juice’ which he called penicillin. But he couldn’t get much penicillin from the mould. It wouldn’t keep – even in the fridge – and he couldn’t prove it would actually kill bacteria and make people better. By 1934 Fleming gave up on penicillin and went on to do different work!

In 1938 Howard Florey and Ernst Chain at Oxford University decided to do some work on penicillin. They infected eight mice with bacteria which would normally kill them. Four were given penicillin. The four treated mice stayed healthy – but the other four died.

They went on to treat Albert Alexander, a 43 year old policeman dying of a blood infection. Florey and Chain gave him penicillin for five days, and Albert was well on the way to health again when the penicillin ran out. Florey and Chain tried everything – they even collected spare penicillin from Albert’s urine – but the infection came back and Albert died. Florey and Chain didn’t give up. They collected more penicillin and used it on a 15 year old boy who had an infection after an operation. He was completely cured.
They showed the value of penicillin in destroying bacteria. The next problem was making enough of it to supply the demand of the soldiers in World War 2. In Britain all the big laboratories and factories were busy with the war effort. But Howard Florey knew lots of people in America, so the scientists took their mould to the United States where some of the big chemical companies helped them make penicillin on a large scale. Penicillin became available to everyone and the history of infectious diseases changed for ever.

2. The dynamo-powered torch



Power was always a problem during WWII and in 1943 in occupied Netherlands the Philips company built a dynamo-powered flashlight for the troops. Powered by a handle on top, light was generated by squeezing the handle on top. The unit had no battery to charge, so power was only generated while the handle was being rapidly depressed. The torchs were nicknamed the knijpkat (roughly translated as squeezed cat) due to the noise that the dynamo made.

Although previous examples of dynamo-powered torches exist, Philips managed to mass produce them and popularise them: the torches were still on sale in the 50s! They were also built to last: we have one and, more than 70 years later, it still works using the original components and bulbs. Still available today, most torches use a hand crank that charges an internal battery, giving more use for less effort.

3. Jerrycans



Called the Wehrmachtskanister by the Germans, the Jerrycan is a robust container designed for carrying fuel around. It was invented at the bequest of Hitler to provide a way of transporting fuel by hand. The clever design was reverse engineered by the Allies and put into service to replace their existing canisters, which were easy to puncture.

The Jerrycan is clever for several reasons. First, it has three handles, which lets a can be carried by one person or two people easily, plus passed along a human chain like a bucket full of water for putting out a fire. When empty, the three handles means two cans can be placed side-by-side and one person can carry two Jerrycans in each hand.

The cross design on the side helps strengthen the can, while allowing the contents to expand. There was also an air pocket under the handles. A cam lever release mechanism and short spout with an air-pipe to the air pocket allows smooth and accurate pouring on the contents.

4. Pressurised cabins



Flying at high altitude puts occupants of an aircraft at risk of hypoxia (poor oxygen levels in the blood), altitude sickness, decompression sickness and barotrauma (cause by pressure differences). Despite these risks, bombers at the start of WWII were only equipped with oxygen masks, which restricted movement and were prone to failure.

Until the B-29 Superfortress was introduced in 1944, only experimental aircraft had been produced with pressurized cabins. For this plane, the Americans created the first cabin pressure system, with the nose and cockpit sections linked to the aft via a long tunnel, all pressurised. However, the bomb bays remained unpressurised. Even so, this advancement meant the crew could move around in comparative comfort. After the war, the benefits of pressurised cabins were rolled out to passenger planes, allowing us all to fly at high altitudes in relative comfort.

5. Synthetic rubber and oil



A shortage of oil meant that the Germans desperately needed an alternative and came up with a blend of adipic acid ester with poly(ethylene) oil. It helped keep the Luftwaffe in the air during the duration of the war. The Americans also developed their own synthetic oil and started using it in the airforce once it was discovered that synthetic oils made the planes easier to start in winter and reduced soot deposits in oil radiators.

In addition, with the Axis powers in control of most of the world’s supply of natural rubber, there was a desperate need for the Allies to improve synthetic rubber production. In 1940, Waldo Semon developed Ameripol, which was cheaper to produce and easily met the Allied need for rubber.

6. Radar



Both the Allies and Axis powers used radar in World War II, and many important aspects of this conflict were greatly influenced by this revolutionary new technology.

The technology of radio-based detection and tracking evolved independently in a number of nations during the mid 1930s. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, both Great Britain and Germany had functioning systems. In Great Britain it was called RDF, Range and Direction Finding, while in Germany the name Funkmessgerät (radio measuring device) was used.

By the time of the Battle of Britain in mid-1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had fully integrated RDF as part of the national air defence. By contrast, The German Funkmessgerät, was neglected, partly due to Adolf Hitler’s prejudice against defensive measures, and failings by the Luftwaffe in coherently incorporating the new technology. After the Fall of France, it was realised in Great Britain that the manufacturing capabilities of the United States were vital to success in the war; thus, although America was not yet a belligerent, Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed that the technology secrets of Great Britain be shared in exchange for the needed capabilities. In the summer of 1940, the Tizard Mission visited the United States.

7. The V-2 the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile



The V-2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2″), technical name Aggregat-4 (A4), was the world’s first long-range[4] guided ballistic missile. The missile with liquid-propellant rocket engine was developed during the Second World War in Germany as a “vengeance weapon”, designed to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings against German cities. The V-2 rocket was also the first man-made object to cross the boundary of space.

Beginning in September 1944, over 3,000 V-2s were launched by the German Wehrmacht against Allied targets during the war, firstly London and later Antwerp and Liège. According to a 2011 BBC documentary, the attacks resulted in the deaths of an estimated 9,000 civilians and military personnel, while 12,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners were killed producing the weapons.

As Germany collapsed, teams from the Allied forces—the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union—raced to capture key German manufacturing sites and examples of German guided missiles, rocket and jet powered aircraft, and nuclear experiments. Wernher von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to the Americans. Through a lengthy sequence of events, a significant portion of the original V-2 team ended up working for the US Army at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles. The Soviets gained possession of the V-2 manufacturing facilities after the war and proceeded to re-establish V-2 production and move it to the Soviet Union.

8. Jet engine



Whittle is one of the great engineers of the century, perhaps the greatest if judged by the scale of the consequences of his invention”. From A Wrack Behind by Lord Kings Norton

Frank Whittle filed his first patent for the jet engine in January 1930, after working on the idea of combining gas turbines and jet propulsion as a cadet at the RAF College, Cranwell. Surprisingly, the Air Ministry showed no official interest in the patent, and allowed international publication.

By 1936, Whittle had received enough private backing to start Power Jets, the company that would develop his ideas. Leading aviation companies started their own research in this area, but only Whittle’s design actually worked.

With the threat of war, Government support arrived as gas turbines could give the Allies superiority in the air. The rapid development of the engine was the paramount consideration. The first aircraft to fly powered by a Whittle gas turbine was the Gloster E28/39, which had its maiden flight at Cranwell in 1941. However, engine development was too slow and, to accelerate the process, Roxbee created the Gas Turbine Collaboration Committee. This consisted of all the companies working on jet engine projects at the time, including Frank Whittle’s company Power Jets, and was a forum in which they shared their design work and test data. Whittle was against the idea at first, but as he recollected in his book, Jet – The story of a pioneer:

“…we later became enthusiastic supporters, and I am firmly convinced that Britain owes much of its technical superiority in this field to the Gas Turbine Collaboration Committee. There were many intrinsic difficulties in the proposal, but somehow or other, under the skilful chairmanship of Roxbee Cox, a good deal of thin ice was skated over very successfully.”

Roxbee later said that this was one of the most thrilling periods of his life and the formation of the GTCC proved to be a major milestone in the development of the jet engine. Indeed, it continued to meet for many years after the war ended.

Successful though GTCC was, progress was still not yet fast enough for the war effort, and in July 1941 Roxbee initiated the programme to share the jet engine with the USA. Surprisingly, the aircraft industry in the USA had not yet realised the potential of the jet engine but they learned fast, and soon the unparalleled industrial might of the USA was being applied to the revolutionary concept.

9.  The first computer – Colossus


Colossus was the name of a series of computers developed for British codebreakers in 1943-1945 to help in the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher.  Colossus is thus regarded as the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer, although it was programmed by plugs and switches and not by a stored program.

Colossus was designed by the engineer Tommy Flowers to solve a problem posed by mathematician Max Newman at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing’s use of probability in cryptanalysis contributed to its design. It has sometimes been erroneously stated that Turing designed Colossus to aid the Cryptanalysis of the Enigma. Turing’s machine that helped decode Enigma was the electromechanical Bombe, not Colossus.

The prototype, Colossus Mark 1, was shown to be working in December 1943 and was operational at Bletchley Park on 5 February 1944. An improved Colossus Mark 2 that used shift registers to quintuple the processing speed, first worked on 1 June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings on D-Day. Ten Colossi were in use by the end of the war and an eleventh was being commissioned. Bletchley Park’s use of these machines allowed the Allies to obtain a vast amount of high-level military intelligence from teleprinter messages between the German High Command (OKW) and their army commands throughout occupied Europe.

The destruction of almost all of the Colossus hardware and blueprints, as part of the effort to maintain a project secrecy that was kept up into the 1970s, deprived most of those involved with Colossus of credit for their pioneering advancements in electronic digital computing during their lifetimes. A functioning replica of a Colossus computer was completed in 2007 and is on display at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park



Top 10 Inventions Discovered During WWII

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This is from War History Online.

I knew about some of these.

There was some good to come out of the horrors war.




World War 2 is the kind of event that nobody can condone and the struggle for political power and territory at that time brought millions of innocent lives to an abrupt end. However, in the struggle for dominance, both sides were forced to develop new technology that would allow them to outsmart, outplay and outgun their adversaries. As a result, the WW2 period was extremely lucrative in terms of inventions, some of which you still utilize today. Let’s find out more about what World War 2 brought us in addition to slaughter and a new geopolitical map of the old continent.

1. Penicillin


Originally, the discovery of the capabilities of the Penicillium Notatum mold on killing bacteria was made in 1869 by Ernest Duchesne and Sir Alexander Fleming made it popular later or in 1928 with his studies on the matter. However, it was not until 1939 when Dr. Howard Florey’s research was able to prove the effectiveness of penicillin without a shadow of a doubt and with the aid of Andrew J. Moyer he developed the most powerful antibacterial substance in the world. Needless to say, with all the wounded soldiers dying from simple infections, it was about time.

2. Jerrycans



If you own a car, then you probably have a few motor oil and gasoline cans in your garage/trunk. However, the cans you utilize to transport fuel did not always look like that. In fact, before the Germans perfected the design by strengthening the structure with the cross shape, maximizing the contents of the can and adding the innovative handles that permitted soldiers to carry 2 of them in each hand, fuel containers used to be impractical and rudimentary. Of course, the design was quickly reverse engineered by the allies.

3. The pressurized cabin




You have the US to thank for this invention that practically revolutionized air transportation. It is necessary to point out that in the absence of similar pressure/temperature/oxygen condition, the pilot of the aircraft would not be able to fly at high altitudes. However, the solution utilized prior to pressurize cabins comprised of giving the pilot an oxygen mask, which needless to say, failed numerous times.

4. Radio navigation



Before the invention of the Gee-H, Oboe and GEE neither of the forces was able to accurately direct the aircrafts in effective blind bombing runs. In addition, although flying these huge bombing ships was always incredibly difficult, landing them safely was even harder. The successor of the original GEE, LORAN was used for commercial aircraft navigation until not long ago when the GPS took over. However, there are voices that suggest LORAN should be reintroduced on commercial and military aircraft as a failsafe for potential GPS failures.




While the original plan for radio waves was to create a device that could concentrate them into powerful blasts (the presumed death ray machine), things took a different turn for this technology. The basis of the radio wave tech can be found back in 1886, but an actual demonstration of a working RADAR system capable of bouncing the radio signal off objects in order to determine their position was made much later on, in 1935 by Arnold F Wilkins.

6. Synthetic rubber and synthetic oil



While synthetic oil was created by the German scientists in order to account for the extreme shortage of its natural counterpart, synthetic rubber was invented in the US shortly after. It is necessary to mention that the polyethylene oils were utilized in powering the famous Luftwaffe air force throughout the entire World War 2. Synthetic rubber on the other hand was needed by the Allied Forces because the Axis controlled the vast majority of natural rubber suppliers by the American scientist Waldo Semon.

7. The V-2 rocket



While the original V-1 rocket was an extremely clumsy and inaccurate weapon that was easily countered by the Allies, the V-2 version is considered one of the most deadliest ballistic missiles of all times. However, the technological principles behind the V-2 were also used in launching the very first satellites on the orbit, namely the R7 and the Mercury Redstone.

8. The jet engine



Ironically, the British scientist Sir Frank Whittle finalized the functioning prototype for jet engines long before the Germans, but the government showed limited interest in the invention and awarded him very low funds. This is the reason why the German army that poured massive funding and manpower into the development of this technology was able to reap the benefits sooner. The Messerschmitt ME 262 (fighter jet) and the Arado Ar 234 (bomber) were among the most feared weapons of the Axis, particularly the former one which was allegedly able to gun down 5 allied planes on average before being destroyed. The principle behind the original jet engines is still used for commercial flights nowadays.

9. Nuclear power



When you think of nuclear power, the first thing that springs to mind is that it is a source of energy. However, nuclear power plants that we utilize to obtain electricity nowadays originated from the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, namely the Fat Man and Little Boy. Although in theory the scientists of both sides were aware of the potential of the atom, the US managed to succeed in creating a weapon of mass destruction first through the Manhattan project. The debate on whether or not the world would be a better place without atomic power can go on forever, but the truth is that not only would we not benefit from this cheap and clean electrical source, but it is probable that WW2 would have lasted much longer and its end could differ radically.

10. The original computer




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