The twentieth century witnessed two brutal world wars which mankind would not want to remember - World War One and its sequel World War Two, horrendous horror movies thirty-one years apart.
These wars had a powerful effect on almost every aspect of the social space including politics and economics. Huge resources were brought to the fore as a result of the desperate need to compete and stay ahead, leading to the rapid evolution of technology during the periods that these two wars lasted.
The development of technology was geared directly towards weaponry and whatever could support the war effort. There was a dire need for sturdy machinery that could transport soldiers, as well as withstand attack from the opposition. As a result, there was a desperate investment in the improvement of automobile technology, and this inadvertently affected the cars that we drive today.
Today’s cars have thus been shaped by the innovation that took place to support the war many years ago. Car technologies in world wars invented to guarantee safety, ruggedness, speed, navigation during fierce fights are useful today for everyday vehicles. So you can rightly say the war brought some good to mankind, even though if you say that out loud, it will feel tasteless in your mouth.
The World War II was fierce
Now let’s explore, quickly, a few features born from wartime innovation in your vehicles today.
First and Second World War Innovation Areas that still support modern vehicle production
Starting with World War One, the war revolutionized the automobile industry. As the war required machines in mass, production systems, and technology were set to support this huge demand so that as soon as the war ended, these resources and innovations became the pivot of the next auto revolution. More so, the war led to social changes. Lots of men were taken off the farms, and traveled the world during the First World War, exposing themselves to a different life, a life where technology makes things happen fast, a world of automobiles, aeroplanes, and machines.
They weren’t going back to the farms on the back of such exposure. The bicycle and train became outdated, cars became a huge necessity for people. In addition to this, petrol stations began to rapidly spread across virtually every country. Before that time, people had to carry their gas around with them or pick them up from stores.
A major innovation from World War One was the tank. The war tanks were designed by the British Admiralty to transport men across ‘NO MAN'S LAND' to the German trenches. These tanks were elementary, they had no impacts on the battlefield whatsoever but they were sturdy, able to travel on mud and rough surfaces. This innovation was eventually translated into making tractors.
One such military-grade field machines that actually laid a background for modern tractor production was the WWII RAF Airfield tractor that was later transformed into agric-purpose tractors after the war, laying a solid foundation for modern-day tractor design and production.
WWII RAF Airfield tractor
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Safety was required during the war. It sounds ironic, right? But it’s true. Preventing a soldier from dying was as important as killing an enemy soldier. As a result, vehicle safety was a vital area of concern for military heads. Trucks and cars were fitted with armour plating to resist projectile warheads that came from enemy fire.
But too much of the armour could slow the vehicle down, and you can’t be driving a slow car during the war, that would be counterproductive. The cars had to be light so they could be fast and had to carry armour at the same time for protection. Thus scientists had to find the right ways to utilize the amour with light material for high efficacy. This technology is being employed today to reinforce modern vehicles and make them agile, protecting them against side impacts. Today you have fast bulletproof vehicles made out of such technology.
Another safety innovation from the war is the safety rim developed by Chrysler to prevent the wheels from coming off a car in the event of a blowout. A further breakthrough was in rubber production.
In 1940, Waldo Semon developed Ameripol, synthetic rubber that was cheaper and easier to produce than traditional rubber. By 1944, the Americans were producing twice as much rubber as before the war.
The synthetic rubber produced during the Second World War makes up half of the current usage of rubber worldwide. This means the tires in your cars are very likely from synthetic rubber production during the Second World War.
Auto Industry Technology development
During World War II, the automobile engine developed a great deal.
Prior to the war, engine coolants consisted of just water, because this wasn’t accepted for high-performing aircraft, it was necessary to develop coolants with higher boiling point. As a result, a more advanced kind of coolant was developed and this was the Glycol based coolant. The Glycol based coolant started being used in early cars.
This kind of coolant supported automobiles in the winter months especially due to its anti-freeze capability, as well as its anti-rust behaviour when compared to water. This led to the liquid coolants that included Glycol being used in modern cars.
Modern-day anti-freeze radiator coolants were born during the big wars
In addition to developing technology, the two big wars were crucial to kick-starting vehicle companies.
Because mechanical technology was relatively new during World War I, companies that won government contracts had to undergo rapid expansion. Companies like BMW and Citroen owe their existence to the world wars.
World War I saw the beginning of the car industry technology while World War II saw the market open up more fully. For instance, in the 40s and 50s, the Jeep had higher demand because returning soldiers demanded them because they had become attached to it during the war. The market thus began to open up for vehicles with ‘military features'.
Vehicles like this D-Day Jeep became a model for modern-day auto design
After the war, governments green-lighted commercial production of cars, and automobile companies debuted their 1946 models to an eager public, borrowing design trends of warplanes.
In 1948, Chrysler introduced a car which was started with the turn of a key, before then starting a car required a driver to crank up the engine. That same year, Buick came up with the Dynaflow, an automatic transmission that made cars safer and easier to operate.
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Up until this day, there are still car technologies in the world wars that still have a great deal of influence on the technology and design pattern of the cars we drive. As much as it's saddening to think of the dire effects of the war, we are grateful, in the most ironically twisted way, for the advancements in the motor industry.
To conclude, watch the following documentary on the D-Day Battle of Normandy:
D-Day in Colour (1944) WWII (HQ) Documentary Complete
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