Innovations of WWI

The National WWI Museum and Memorial published a list of WWI innovations to mark the centennial

Source:Doran Cart, Senior Curator, and Jonathan Casey, Director, Archives and Edward Jones Research Center, of The National World War I Museum and Memorial 


Grow Your Own/ Garden to Table (called Victory Gardens)

In WWI, the US Food Administration regulated food production to support the armed forces and allies. To conserve food, Americans were encouraged to be self-sustainable with practices such as growing their own food and choosing meatless and wheatless days, a concept that many people still practice today for various reasons. Americans began to substitute food with other grains, potatoes, flour, and corn, and oils and margarines for animal fat. The regulation also lead to new initiatives like canning vegetables to preserve food. If Americans weren’t fighting for the war, they were working for the war, and growing their own food was one way to contribute. 


The Concept of Vitamins Were Introduced

The concept of vitamins (however, not yet in the form of supplements) grew during this period when medical research began to recognize that you can receive vitamins from a balanced diet and nutrition. This understanding was applied to food in the trenches, including the frequent use of tomatoes, which was added to SLUM (made of beef, potatoes, onion and tomatoes), a main dish in field kitchens. 


Contraception was popularized

Venereal disease disabled many soldiers and man power was lost, causing a strong effort to manage a contraception effort through various forms. Organizations like the YMCA and Salvation Army provided “wholesome” entertainment during the soldiers’ free time, soldiers were given cards that listed the location of prophylactic stations in Paris and booklets were given to soldiers that urged them to keep themselves clean, were all efforts to keep disease from spreading.The actual idea of contraception was not really discussed in the military. One of the prophylactics that were available in France were called French letters. Soldiers could go into a pharmacy and ask for a French Letter that came in a little envelope.   


Kleenex

Items created for the war often had to be repurposed following the war, and one of those items is Kleenex, which was actually the crepe paper used during the war in the filters of gas masks. During the influenza epidemic following the war, Kimberly Clark repurposed the paper as a disposable product for people to sneeze into and limit the spread of bodily fluids. 


Kotex 

During the war, army nurses did not have sanitary products provided to them. They found that the Cellucotton bandages made of wood pulp to treat wounds were five times more absorbent than other bandages and used them as a makeshift sanitary napkin. After the war was over, Kimberly Clarke executives were looking for ways to use the leftover Cellucotton and marketed them as sanitary napkins.  PilatesA German physical trainer, Joseph Hubertus Pilates came up with rehabilitation exercises to help Austrian soldiers with therapy after injuries. It was always really seen as a rehabilitation method until modern times.   (Note: The Museum does not have much information on this topic) 


Plastic Surgery

The modern idea of plastic surgery and the techniques used today originated in WWI due to the injuries from the use of explosives (artillery, machine guns, chemicals). Dr. Harry Gillies developed the techniques to rebuild faces after so many noses were lost and performed over 11,000 plastic surgeries on the wounded during the war. Along with the surgeries that were developed, sculptors created partial masks for those with facial disfigurements.  It did not entirely give them a normal appearance but would make them less grotesque. These advances were made very quickly in this field because of an effort to make it seem like what had happened to these soldiers was not so horrible. 


Prosthetics

The Germans were leaders in prosthetics which did exist before the war, but were advanced during and after the war because of the substantial number of limbs that were lost. The increase in casualties resulted in developing more functional limbs, specifically for arms, so that soldiers could be more accepted and welcomed back into society. While they were not comfortable or made well, they allowed soldiers to participate in society following the war, for example being hired by the labor department. (Note: The Museum has a prosthetic arm in their collection made by a company in Kansas City) 


Toilet Paper (Note – The Museum has several examples on display)

During WWI toilet paper came in sheets, quaintly called napkins.

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