(Excerpted from the Introduction)
When one considers World War Two inventions, the Big Three—radar, the practical application of atomic power, and jet engines—are at the top of the list. These are followed in significance by weapons such as the bazooka, guided missiles, the proximity fuse and landing craft, and so many others that this book, begun as a college paper grew rapidly to a manuscript of nearly a quarter million words. So I had to set some limitations. I have outlined my selection criteria here.
The first requirement for a subject’s inclusion was the non-military, post-war use of an idea or invention. For example, the aforementioned Big Three were all military inventions, but they retain crucial peaceful functions.
Just as important is the date of popular usage or significant scientific achievement. When World War Two began largely depended on who you were and where you were living. For German Jews, the war began in 1933 after Hitler came to power. However, a man living in Mexico City was not overly concerned about the war until Mexico declared war on the Axis in June 1942, and there was the possibility that he might be drafted into military service. By 1933, however, all the major World War Two political players were taking their places on the world stage. Hitler came to power, the Japanese were flexing their military muscle in China and Italy was doing likewise in North Africa. In the spring of that year, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt expressed “grave concern” about the ominous invective emanating from the new German Reich. Therefore, for the purposes of this book, 1933 has been set as the first twilight year of the war.
Because of delays in returning to peacetime production, 1947 has been established as the cutoff year for selection purposes. This is not as arbitrary as it may appear. Military production needs, having dominated the American industrial base for more than four years, needed time to retool for civilian products. Inventions from war research were being evaluated for conversion to civilian markets, which were more than ready for new consumer goods. The war-devastated economies of Japan, Germany, Italy, England, and France were all expected to be on the mend by this time with the help of the forthcoming Marshall Plan. The former colonies of France and England, having been abandoned by necessity during the war and now threatened with re-oppression by their returning masters, were beginning to agitate for independence. And the Jews, having been arguably the one group suffering the worst the Nazis could dish out, were vociferously demanding their own territory in the Middle East. And to satisfy the purists, we record here the little-known fact that President Harry Truman signed the document passed by Congress officially ending the Second World War on December 31, 1947.