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7 Surprising Technologies From World War I

WWI marked the first time technology was widely used in war. Look back 100 years at early drones, wearables, and other technologies that had lasting influence.
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Tech from the trenches in WWI
One hundred years ago -- June 28, 1914 -- a series of events began leading up to the First World War. A human tragedy of enormous scale, the world after WWI was much different than the world before. Among other distinctions, WWI arguably brought us the first technological war -- a war in which the race to develop new weapons was as feverish as that to develop new tactics. In a war that saw battle lines move little in the space of two to four years, and in which small movements in those lines came at a cost of tens of thousands of lives per meter, military leaders were desperate for any technology that could deliver even the smallest advantage over their enemies.

As is the case with most times of great change, some of the developments involved evolution of existing technology, some were based on re-application of technologies already in use for other purposes, and some were brand-spanking new developments in science and technology. We've examined all three types in this slideshow, and we think that the combination will reveal some surprises for most readers.

It's easy to believe, for example, that WWI saw the first significant use of mobile electrical devices. But if you thought that aerial drones are a product of the GoPro generation, then you're in for a surprise. It's possible you'll also be caught off guard by some of the things that were first carried in the First World War: It's one thing to coordinate the actions of huge groups with a central tech repository. It's quite another to put the means of that coordination on the arm of every team leader in the organization.

Even at a century's remove, the utter horror of this war can't be forgotten. Some of our peeks into the technologies of World War I carry a light tone, but our levity is reserved for the technologies (and the forms they took) rather than the sacrifices of those who served, or for the families, nations -- and nations that were never to be again -- that they left behind.

The political maps of the world were redrawn by what seemed to be a simple assassination a hundred years ago. Whether we stop to think of it often or not, our lives and the technology that surrounds us were similarly changed. While 100 years is a long time in tech terms, some of the technologies that made their debut (or became widespread) during the First World War continue to shape our world today. Let's take a look back at them.

(Source: Public Domain)

Curtis Franklin Jr. has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He contributes to a number of technology-industry publications including Information Week , ChannelWeb , Network ... View Full Bio

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Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 11:39:15 PM
Re: Technology Evolution
Thanks, @jastro. I think that wars are opportunities for a technological version of what biologists call punctuated equilibrium. We know that technology doesn't advance in a smooth line -- wars, catastrophes, and other unusual circumstances tend to be related to times of faster development. If we could accurately predict these unusual points on the timeline then we'd be much better at predicting the future in general!
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/30/2014 | 11:35:18 PM
technologies from World War 1
I think the basic technology always existed, we just work on it and make it sophisticated and smart. But there is still more possibilities out there which future generations will enjoy
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/30/2014 | 11:34:51 PM
technologies from World War 1
I think the basic technology always existed, we just work on it and make it sophisticated and smart. But there is still more possibilities out there which future generations will enjoy
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/30/2014 | 8:06:20 PM
WWi more technical, but Civil War set patterns that played out in it
The Civil War has been marked by historians as the first modern war; in its latter stages no one had to instruct the troops to dig trenches. By its end, repeating rifles and gatling guns were in use. The First World War was horrible for the scale that it brought to trench warfare, each side hurling a million shells into the lines of the other in a battle. Then there was the influenza afterward, believed to have been a particularly virulent virus that jumped from the bloodstream of pigs being slaughtered for the troops into the blood of humans doing the work. One horror begets another. So many young people who survived the carnage of the war were then killed by the disasse.
glenbren
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glenbren,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/30/2014 | 6:41:08 PM
Re: imagination = reality
Nobody can really predict what technology will bring a hundred years from now, but I believe, wereables, androids/robots, hologram technology and space travel will be hot.

The things we can envision now will probably be old hat in 100 years. I think we can't even fathom what the future holds.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 2:13:15 PM
Re: imagination = reality
Sounds kind of like a Star Trek episode where a virtual war raged for hundreds of years but the casualties were real.  If I recall correctly, "virtual damage" caused genuine loss of life imposed by citizens reporting to disintegration booths where they were euthanized.
rmanske53101
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rmanske53101,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 1:05:48 PM
Re: Tactics Didn't Keep Up
Agreed, for during the Civil war, there were the early adoption of the trenches.  But the lessons wern't learned by many till WWII, when the Germans simply went around the French Maginot line (the ultimate trench line with the latest technologies) with a mating of technologies and tactics.  The Americans were already developing fast moving tactics, but the Germans developed and implimented them first, smashing through and by-passing the French defences easily, using the technoligies of fast moving warfare; tanks, infintry carries and aircraft.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/30/2014 | 1:03:33 PM
Re: "War: What is it good for?"
Joe, this reminds me of the trauma surgeons in Boston hospitals who commented they used medical lessons they had learned in the Iraq conflict when they treated Boston marathon bombing victims. I did not know about the super glue example.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 1:00:05 PM
Re: imagination = reality
What will the next 100 years hold!
I was thinking the same thing. I really hope Hospice_Houngbo is wrong (Robot armies will fight in place of human beings), and we live in a peaceful society; where wars are a thing of the past.
Nobody can really predict what technology will bring a hundred years from now, but I believe, wereables, androids/robots, hologram technology and space travel will be hot.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
6/30/2014 | 12:51:29 PM
Re: Tactics Didn't Keep Up
Excellent point, but either way the tactics didn't keep up. The tactics (trench warfare) developed to counter certain technologitical adances (more sophisticated and reliable automatic weapons) were proved ineffective with the advent of still other technologies (nerve gas, tanks, air warfare, etc.). Seems like trench warfare could have worked during the Civil War. 

 
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