Category Archives: Historical/Vintage

Apple’s origins: An oral history from inside the loop

Photo courtesy of Clement Mok

Alums share memories as Apple marks another anniversary. Spoiler: Bill Gates had a bigger role in Apple’s success than he may know.

Shara Tibken

By Shara Tibken, Senior Reporter for CNET News | April 1, 2019 5:00 AM PDT

Editors’ note: This article originally ran April 1, 2016, for Apple’s 40th anniversary. 


Whether Apple was actually started by two guys in a California garage may be debatable, but what’s certain is that the pioneering computer maker turned consumer electronics juggernaut has come a long way.

Forty-three years after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak set out to turn computers into a tool that anyone could use, Apple has become one of the most valuable brands in the world, with some of the most successful products ever made.

Apple has shaped countless industries, from computing to music, and its former employees have gone on to innovate and create new tech industries around everything from enterprise software to smart thermostats.

It has reinvented itself numerous times, changing from Apple Computer to the iPhone maker. Apple now is going through another transition as smartphone sales slow. The company is making a bigger push in services, with its first TV streaming, game streaming, news subscription and credit card offerings unveiled during an event in March.

At its heart, Apple has always been about creating elegant, easy-to-use products we never even knew we wanted.

“It was love at first sight when I first encountered the Apple II at the inaugural West Coast Computer Faire in April 1977,” said Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of the Macintosh team who designed the system’s software. “I continue to be thrilled by new Apple products to this day.”

Other former Apple executives and partners shared their favorite memories of the company and Jobs, who was, to many people, the driving force behind its success. They include former finance execs Debi Coleman and Susan Barnes, ex-Apple designer Clement Mok, technical visionary Alan Kay, chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki, and Jobs’ marketing mentor, Regis McKenna.

Here’s what they had to say.

90 hours a week and loving it

Apple’s first success came from the Apple II computer, and it tried to follow that up with the Lisa. But early Apple became better known for another computer, the Macintosh. The Mac started as a research project in the late ’70s with only four employees before becoming Jobs’ pet project by January 1981.

There was a lot of competition between the Apple II, Lisa and Mac teams. For one off-site retreat, the Mac group, which flew the pirate flag over its offices, had gray hoodies printed up. They read: “90 hours a week. And loving it,” in a red and black font, recalled Coleman, who joined Apple in 1981 as finance controller for the Mac.

Mark Hobbs/CNET

Every member of the Mac team, about 100 people at that time, got the hoodie. It was a hit. (See the photo, courtesy of Mok, at the top of this story.)

“Within a week of coming back [from the retreat], the Lisa group had a shirt that said ‘Working 70 hours a week. And shipping product,'” Coleman said. “A week later, the Apple II group, which was making all the money hand over fist, had a shirt that said, ‘Working 50 hours a week. And making profits.”

“Who knew it was going to cause a reaction across the entire campus?” Coleman added.

She became head of Mac manufacturing in 1984 and was one of the highest-ranking women in the tech industry. She took over the role of Apple chief financial officer in 1986. At a November reunion of some women on the Mac team, Coleman attributed a big part of Apple’s success to Jobs, saying he made people at Apple believe they could change the world.

Look and feel like The Beatles

As he was getting ready to launch the Mac, Jobs wanted the computer “to look and feel like The Beatles. Not the late Beatles, but the early Beatles,” remembered Mok, a designer hired by Apple to work on branding for the Mac launch. “Tom Hughes [the creative director on the Mac team] and myself scratched our heads. What the hell is that?”

They decided it meant there was a certain rawness to the Mac, but with a sense of passion and artistry. “It’s an artistic expression of technology,” said Mok, who joined Apple in 1982. “This product has been crafted.”

The branding for the first Mac featured a squiggly line drawing of the computer, later dubbed the “Picasso logo.” Image courtesy of Clement Mok

(They were so successful in giving Apple a Beatles feel that Apple Corps, the company that owned the rights to the Beatles music, sued the Cupertino, California, company for trademark infringement. The two sides had a long-running legal tussle, but ultimately reached a settlement in 2007 and in 2012 sorted out ownership of the logo.)

Mok became co-manager of Apple Creative Services in 1985 and served as creative director for corporate and the education market. He’s one of the people responsible for the iconic imagery of Apple in its marketing and packaging, including the squiggly line drawings gracing early Mac promotional materials.

But one aspect of the Mac, that squiggly line design, didn’t feel as much like The Beatles to Mok as it felt like Joni Mitchell. Jobs wanted to mimic the logo for the now-defunct Ciao Restaurant in San Francisco’s Financial District.

“I tried but couldn’t for the life of me put it together,” Mok recalled. Apple ended up hiring the man who created the Ciao logo in the first place, John Casado. What came from the team is what’s known as the Macintosh Picasso logo. Some branding elements from the first Mac live on today, including the minimalist white packaging used for Apple’s devices.

Find a way

Early Apple employees, most in their 20s and 30s, were given big responsibilities.

“Steve used to have a saying, ‘We hire smart people to tell us what to do, not hire them to tell them what to do,'” said Susan Barnes, who joined Apple in 1981 as financial controller of the Mac division.

She worked closely with Coleman in her early days at Apple and ended up reporting directly to Jobs for a decade. Barnes co-founded NeXT Computer with Jobs in 1985 and became its CFO.

At one point in early 1985 while still at Apple, Jobs called Coleman and Barnes on a Friday night and said he wanted to buy a chunk of Adobe Systems. Apple and Adobe were closely linked in their early history, with the two working together to develop desktop publishing technology.

“It’s something we really needed in the Mac days,” Barnes said of Adobe’s software and fonts. “Laser printing is something that really made the Mac take off.”

Barnes and Coleman went to the law library late at night, trying to figure out how to buy a stake of another company. “How do we do this?” Barnes said. “This is usually what you ask senior management. And we were like, ‘Oh, we are senior management.’ It sort of hit you.”

Apple ended up investing $2.5 million for a 19.99 percent stake in Adobe in early 1985. In 1989, it sold the stake, which had been diluted to about 16 percent, for $84 million.

“When you’re in corporations later, it’s so easy to hide behind, ‘Let me check with that person,'” Barnes said. At Apple, it was “No, it’s you. Let’s just do it. Find a way and don’t be afraid of the consequences.”

Orwellian 1984

Jobs recruited John Sculley in the early 1980s to help him grow Apple as a company. Sculley was CEO of Pepsi and helped it overtake Coca-Cola as the top beverage maker. Jobs famously convinced Sculley to take the CEO role at Apple in 1983 by asking if he wanted to “sell sugar water for the rest of his life” or if he wanted to “come with me and change the world.” Sculley, who was close with Jobs before ousting him in 1985, served as Apple’s CEO for a decade until being forced out himself.

In the fall of 1983, Sculley, Jobs, other Apple executives and two members of the Chiat/Day advertising firm — Lee Clow and Steve Hayden — were brainstorming about the Mac launch campaign. Business Week had run a cover story that week saying, “The winner is IBM.”

“We hadn’t even come out with the Mac, so we were all a little bit down in the dumps,” Sculley said. “What can we do that will stop the world and get people to pay attention to the fact the game wasn’t over? It hadn’t even started yet.”

The group started talking about the big things that would happen in 1984, and the obvious reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” came up. They debated, thinking that many marketers might play off the “1984” reference. But they hoped to get the leap by coming out with something in January — perfect timing with the Super Bowl.

Steve Jobs and John Sculley worked together closely in the early years of Apple but only spoke one other time after Jobs was ousted from the company in 1985.

“If we do something absolutely heart-stopping on the launch in January, then we’ll preempt it, and nobody else will want to use it because it will look like they’ve stolen the idea,” Sculley said.

The Chiat/Day executives had a week to come up with a campaign like “no one had ever seen before.” The 60-second “1984” commercial they created turned out to be one of the most celebrated ads of all time.

But Apple’s board hated it. “At the end of the 60-second commercial, there was dead silence in the room,” Sculley said. “Two directors put their heads on the table. Then they turned to me and said, ‘You’re not going to run that, are you?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. It’s the best commercial I’ve ever seen.'”

The commercial cost $500,000 to produce, which was about five to 10 times the normal expense, Sculley said. And Apple paid $1 million for 2 minutes of airtime during the Super Bowl. The board told Chiat/Day to sell the time, but they could only offload 1-minute, so the commercial ran.

“We ended up getting $45 million of estimated free advertising because the networks kept running it over and over in its full length,” Sculley said. “It turned out to be an amazing start for the Macintosh.”

Apple is a religion

Apple knew the first Mac wouldn’t succeed unless there was software for it. Getting developers to write software for the computer fell to Guy Kawasaki, who joined Apple in 1983 as the Mac’s first chief evangelist.

“It was easy to get people to begin writing software because we were breaking new ground for the marketing of computers and opening a new market for computers,” he said. “We provided a good alternative to the IBM PC and … developers could write software they always dreamed about writing.”

But it wasn’t easy to get developers to actually finish writing their software. They were working with an immature platform and dealing with the Mac’s new graphical user interface.

Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985 but returned in 1997. James Martin/CNET

Kawasaki avoided Jobs as much as he could because Jobs “scared the shit” out of him. One day, Jobs came to Kawasaki’s cubicle to introduce him to someone and to ask Kawasaki what he thought of a company. “I say, ‘It’s mediocre, and the product is crap,'” Kawasaki said. “At the end of my diatribe, he says, ‘This is the CEO of the company.'”

“I passed the Steve Jobs test,” Kawasaki added. “Probably he knew the company was crap. If I had said it was great, it could have been my last day at Apple.”

Kawasaki ended up leaving Apple in 1987 to start his own company. He returned as an Apple Fellow in 1995, “when Apple was supposed to die.”

“The very fact they brought me back was because the cult was dying,” Kawasaki said. Getting people excited about Apple again “wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t impossible.”

“There’s a core of people who never lost faith in Apple,” Kawasaki said. “Apple is a religion.”

Bill Gates to the rescue

When Jobs left Apple in 1985, he started NeXT, a new computer company focused on workstations for universities, financial institutions and other businesses. While the computer didn’t sell well (PCs running Microsoft Windows were the most popular at the time), NeXT had very interesting software.

“Steve called me and he said, ‘Hey, I’m starting this new company. It’s an amazing computer for education,'” said Tom Suiter, who served as Apple’s first director of Creative Services and helped launch the Mac in 1984. He left Apple after Jobs’ departure in 1985 but kept in touch with Apple’s co-founder over the years. That included the time Jobs was setting up NeXT.

Suiter remembers his conversation with Jobs about naming the new company.

“I said, ‘Congrats, it’s great. What are you going to call it?’

Jobs said: ‘Two.’

I said: ‘What do you mean?’

Jobs said: ‘It’s my second company.’

I said: ‘Everybody’s going to go, what happened to one?’

Jobs said: ‘That’s exactly why I’m talking to you. I need some help.’

I said, ‘Let me think about it.'”

That weekend, Suiter flew to Seattle to attend a CD-ROM conference hosted by Microsoft and keynoted by co-founder Bill Gates. “I could not believe how many times he was using ‘next’ in such a positive way. I counted them up and said ‘next’ would be a cool name for a company.”

When Suiter got home on Sunday, he called Jobs and said he had the perfect name for his new company.

“He goes, ‘Hey, what is it?’

I said, ‘It’s NeXT.’ There was like this silence.

Then he said,’ I love it!’

The rest is history … The irony is it actually came from the mouth of Bill Gates to help Steve.”

Suiter never told Jobs his inspiration for the NeXT name. “It probably would have diluted the brilliance of what the name was,” he said, laughing.

Microsoft didn’t just unwittingly help out Apple. It also invested $150 million in the company in the summer of 1997 to keep Apple afloat as it was close to going out of business. As part of the deal, Apple made Microsoft’s then-underdog Internet Explorer the default browser for the Mac. And Gates agreed to develop future versions of Microsoft Office and development tools for the Mac — an arrangement that helped Apple win over customers tied to Microsoft’s software.

Jobs hired Suiter again in 1998, while Suiter was at Silicon Valley advertising agency CKS Group, to lead marketing communications for all Apple products, including the launch of the iMac.

Inventing the future

In the 1970s, Alan Kay, one of the fathers of computing, worked at Xerox PARC, the Palo Alto, California-based research group that inspired the Mac user interface and other early Apple products. Kay joined Apple in 1984, a few months after the Mac was unveiled.

Kay famously said “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

He remembers Jobs’ ouster by Apple’s board of directors and the company’s struggle to recover:

“It is not easy to summarize ‘what could have beens’ and ‘what should have beens’ because Steve both had some vision and was also seriously nutty along a number of lines. He and I were friends despite this — as much as he could have a friend.

Watch this:
Watch users sound off on Mac v. PC debate in 1995  1:06

“A few years later I was contacted by some long-standing colleagues in computer graphics — who were then at Lucasfilm, and wanted to get out. I drove up to NeXT and briefed Steve on these folks, and then I took Steve up to Marin County to meet the people who became Pixar. The funding of Pixar and hanging in with the serious talent they had was almost certainly Steve’s finest period.”

Kay, however, has been critical of Apple’s reinvention after Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.

“The return of Steve to Apple and his transformation of the company into one mainly aimed at consumer marketing, was only successful from a business standpoint. The ideals that Apple had in the early ’80s about ‘wheels for the mind’ were now long gone …

“I talked with Steve off and on since then until his death, and he would periodically send me stuff for my opinion, invite me to product openings, etc.

“I would periodically try to get him back to being ‘centrally serious’ about education, etc. I once tried to get him to remember what he had said to John Sculley to get him away from Pepsi (‘Do you want to sell sugar water all your life, or do you want to change the world?’) — the point being that Steve’s largest preoccupation after coming back was to get Apple to be a success primarily by selling ‘sugar water’ to consumers!”

Funny how things turn out

When Jobs and Wozniak were starting Apple, they knew they needed savvy marketing and public relations help to launch the world’s first personal computer. They liked Intel’s campaigns so asked the chipmaker who was doing work for it. Intel told them it was Regis McKenna.

That began a relationship between Jobs and McKenna that lasted from 1976 until Jobs’ death in 2011. McKenna’s firm, Regis McKenna Inc., helped launch the Mac in 1984. Though the formal relationship between the firm and Apple ended in the early 1990s, McKenna stayed close with Jobs and spoke with him about once a month for the duration of the Apple co-founder’s life.

That included the period after Jobs’ return to Apple. Jobs rejoined Apple in February 1997 after the company bought NeXT for $429 million and he was asked to serve as a consultant to then-CEO Gil Amelio. Less than five months later, Jobs convinced the board to fire Amelio and name him interim CEO.

“He went from when he had no position on the board and was not an adviser and ended up taking over the company,” said McKenna. “Those people, Amelio and others, quite frankly, didn’t know what hit them.”

Jobs didn’t stay interim CEO for long. But he faced a daunting task. “Apple was in horrible shape,” McKenna said. Jobs “wasn’t sure he could fix it. People don’t realize it took several years for him to get it off the ground. It didn’t just happen.”

Jobs ultimately turned Apple around by dramatically cutting the company’s product line and introducing one hit product after another — the colorful iMac computers, then the iPod music player, iTunes Store, iPhone and iPad.

“They cut out 50 percent or 60 percent of the products being developed,” McKenna said.

Apple launched the iPod in October 2001, which offered “1,000 songs in your pocket.” It wasn’t until two years later, in October 2003, that the iTunes Music Store started working on Windows PCs. Kim Kulish/Corbis SABA

“Steve calls me up. … They were just about to launch their online store, just about to launch iTunes … He was all excited. He said, ‘I think these products we have coming are pretty good.’ He didn’t say great. He was a little bit skeptical until the first iMacs, the colorful ones, took off like crazy.”

Most people involved with Apple’s early years never expected it to grow as big as it is today, Jobs among them. After he returned to Apple and it was successful and growing, “one of the things he said was, ‘Funny how things turn out.'” McKenna said.

“He was just reminiscent. It surprised him. He didn’t expect these things…Up until a product was successful, he always questioned if it was good enough. He never felt, when he launched a product, [that it was good enough] but he would sell it as if it were. In fact, he always felt there could be more or better [features]. His comment of ‘funny how things turn out’ was a sort of comment by him that it all surprised him.”

Concentrate on industrial design

Apple’s colorful iMac line, and Jobs’ close relationship with designer Jony Ive, helped the company recover from near-death. Tim Bajarin, a longtime industry analyst focused on Apple, remembers what Jobs vowed to do to save his company when he first returned to Apple.

“When Steve came back to Apple, I met with him the second day he came back,” said Bajarin, who began following Apple in 1981 for the firm Creative Strategies. “I asked, ‘How are you going to save Apple?’ The first thing he said was, ‘I’m going to go back and take care of the core needs of our customers — engineering and graphics designers. I’m going to go back and make sure we take care of those customers.’ The next generation of the Mac was more powerful and had more support for that particular group.

“Then he told me — at the time what I thought was one of the craziest things I’d heard — that ‘I’m going to concentrate on industrial design.’ I remember walking away and saying, ‘How in the world is industrial design going to save Apple?’ As you know, it ended up being a core tenet of Apple’s success. A year later, Apple introduced the candy colored, all-in-one Apple iMacs.”

Ive became the lead designer behind Apple’s most important products, including the iPhone. Cook named him chief design officer a year ago. Bajarin, meanwhile, continues to follow Apple for Creative Strategies.

Will anyone show up?

Ron Johnson, the company’s onetime retail chief, said one of his most notable memories at Apple was the opening of the first Apple Store in McLean, Virginia. He remembered the moment exactly: May 19, 2001, at 10 a.m.

Johnson helped dream up the concept of the stores’ bright, simple look with long wooden tables holding a handful of Apple devices that people could test. The design was a departure from the typical stores, with aisles and aisles of shelves filled with products. Apple’s retail approach has since been copied by others, including Microsoft.

Thirty minutes before the first store opened, Johnson got a call from Jobs, who asked how many people were in line outside. Johnson told him there were about 50 customers. Unhappy with the low turnout, Jobs said they should’ve marketed the opening — the company sent out an email and press release but hadn’t done any advertising. Johnson assured Jobs folks would show up.

Now playing:
Most iconic Apple products ever made  2:55

By the time the store opened, there were 1,500 people in line.

“It went from 50 people to 1,500 in a 30-minute period of time,” Johnson said. “It was really fun.”

Now with over 500 Apple Stores worldwide, Apple’s stores have become hubs for fans to camp out, often waiting in long lines for the newest gadgets to go on sale. While many other retailers are closing locations amid weak store traffic, Apple Stores bring in the highest sales per square foot of any retail locations in the US, according to eMarketer.

Johnson said Jobs sought to create retail stores “so we can market innovation face-to-face” with customers. Johnson saw that mission in full effect when he witnessed the iPhone launch in 2007. He was among a huge crowd at the company’s iconic Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan.

“It really showed Steve’s genius at its peak,” Johnson said. “It was the marriage of an incredible product strategy with the ability to communicate with an unparalleled customer experience.”

That ‘aha moment’

What impact has Apple had on society? You can see it when an 8-year-old boy swipes at a microwave screen, puzzled that nothing happens. You can’t really fault him. After all, we all instinctively use our fingers and gestures to control our phones and computers, so why not other gadgets with big screens?

That child’s uncle, AT&T Vice Chairman Ralph de la Vega, can trace our reliance on our fingers back to the first time Jobs showed him the iPhone, which he calls his “aha moment.” He was one of the first people to see the device and had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, vowing not to tell anyone about the phone including the CEO and board of AT&T — or his wife.

De la Vega’s first question when seeing the iPhone was “Where’s the stylus?”

“[The iPhone] dramatically changed how users interfaced with the device,” de la Vega said. “It really highlights how it changes the expectations of people.”

While there had been touchscreens before the iPhone, Apple was the first to show the benefits of ditching a stylus, a move that had a massive impact on the tech industry. Without Apple, we might all still be mashing physical buttons.

“Apple accelerated the pace so dramatically it changed everything,” de la Vega said.

AT&T became the first wireless carrier to sell the iPhone, something that helped the carrier attract millions of customers. And the iPhone has helped Apple become the biggest company on the planet.

On to the next 40.

CNET’s Roger Cheng and Ben Fox Rubin contributed to this report.

This story was part of CNET’s coverage of the 40th anniversary of Apple’s founding. For more stories in this package, click here.

27 Military technologies that changed civilian life

Adrian Willings – Contributing Editor for Pocket-lint | 2 February 2018

The old saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention and when countries go to war, it’s the one with the best technology who’s most likely to win. Survival of a nation and victory can depend on the technology their military uses in combat.

Over the years before and after the invention of Nuclear weapons and the race towards the semi-peace that comes with mutually assured destruction, nations have created incredible technologies all in the name of war. These technologies later found their way into civilian life and have improved the world as a whole.

War might be a necessary evil in some cases, but the research and development that comes along with it has improved our lives in a number of surprising ways over the decades.

We’ve been through the history books to collate useful tech that started off life on the battlefield but we now take for granted in our everyday lives.

ARPANET; Coolcaesar [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 15

The internet

The World Wide Web that we know and love originally started life back in 1977 in the form of its forefather the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). This network technology, along with TCP/IP became the technical foundation of the Internet as we know it today.

Before this time, development of computer technologies were advancing to a point where in the 1950s a concept was required for a wide area network to connect computers in science labs. It was the Cold War though that led to the need for ARPANET and the beginning of the modern internet.

About the image – Left, a 1977 diagram showing the structure of the ARPANET network. Right: Berners-Lee’s first-ever web server at CERN.

USAF; Nachoman-au [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 16


After World War II and the space race that came shortly afterwards, it wasn’t long before mankind started sending satellites into the atmosphere. In the 1990s, some of these satellites would be used for a space-based radio navigation system that was originally owned and operated by the United States government.

This system was perfect for keeping soldiers safe on the battlefield but also for identifying targets, improving mapping, tracking plane trajectories and more. As the technology expanded and improved it has moved into the civilian world too.

Now we’re used to having GPS in our everyday lives – including navigation in our pocket thanks to the invention of GPS capable smartphones.

About the image – An artist’s impression of the Navstar-2F satellite and a modern-day maritime GPS receiver.

Evan-Amos; NASA/Eugene A. Cernan via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 17

Duct Tape

The Duct Tape we know today comes in a variety of forms of strong, durable and highly adhesive tape that’s multipurpose and can be used for a number of day-to-day applications. The original Duct Tape was invented as a necessity of war. During World War II, an adhesive tape was invented that was made from a rubber-based adhesive applied to a durable duck cloth backing.

This tape was capable of resisting water and dirt and was strong enough to be adapted for a number of uses including repairing military equipment, vehicles and weapons. The idea originally came from the thought that seals on ammo boxes would cost soldiers precious time on the battlefield that might also cost them their lives and something new was needed.

The resulting product has improved over the years, so much so that Duct Tape has built up a name for reliability and durability and was even used by NASA during space flight. You’ve probably got some in your house too.

About the image – Duct tape can be used to repair virtually anything as demonstrated in this 1972 Apollo 17 mission shot.

Bukvoed [CC BY 2.5] (], via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 18


Nowadays drones are such a common sight that regulating them has become a headache for governments and there are all sorts of consumer drones available whether flying for fun or for professional photography and videography.

The humble drone began life as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). These pilotless air vehicles were remotely controlled to survey battlefields or go on missions deemed too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for human beings. The idea for drones started well over a Century ago when Austria sent unmanned bomb-filled balloons to blow up Venice in 1849. Technology has progressed a lot since then. Nazi Germany pushed the technology forward during WWII with a number of UAVs aimed at dealing out death, but the US Military is perhaps most well-known for its drone use in more recent years.

Since the 1990s, UAVs have been used to launch Predator and Hellfire missiles to attack ground targets during a range of conflicts. It is now thought that over 50 countries have employed military drones in one form or another since 2013. Now the skies are full of drones, many with cameras for capturing leisure activities.

About the image – Israel’s Tadiran Mastiff drone is seen by many military historians as the world’s first modern military drone. 

NOAA’s National Weather Service; Bidgee [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 19

Weather Radar

Radar is another technology we take for granted in everyday life. It’s also another one that began its inception in the 1800s when German physicists discovered that radio waves could be reflected from solid objects. This knowledge was later used during WWII when Watson-Watt made advancements in the technology that allowed Allied forces to use radar for air defence during the Battle of Britain and beyond.

During World War II, the people operating the radar machines discovered that weather could hinder the readouts and cause echoes on the machines. As radar evolved the technology developed to allow scientists to study the data then detect and decipher the weather. This allowed for a prediction of weather including rain, snow, hail and more.

Modern weather radar is a lot more accurate and helps in the prediction of weather for the days and weeks ahead.

About the image – Left, Hurricane Abby approaching the coast of British Honduras in July 1960. Right the Bureau of Meteorology Berrimah radar, in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Acroterion [CC BY-SA 3.0]; Pamperchu [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 20

Microwave ovens

The radar technology developed during World War II was later adapted for different uses. One of these included the production of technology capable of creating electromagnetic waves on a tiny scale – hence “microwave”. That technology could be used to rapidly heat and cook food by passing microwave radiation through it. This radiation causes the molecules in food to vibrate and heat quickly.

The original range of microwave ovens were named Radarange and sold in 1946. They were too large and expensive for most consumers. It wasn’t until 1967 that they started to become commonplace in commercial and residential kitchens across the world.

About the image – Original Raytheon Radar Range oven on the NS Savannah in Baltimore. Right: a domestic 1971 radar range.

NASA; Naval Intelligence Support Center, via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 21

Digital cameras

Digital camera technology originally started life in early spy satellites where they were used to capture high-resolution aerial images of enemy installations. The technology progressed in the military sphere, especially during the Cold War and in the 1970s the first self-contained digital camera was created. This early technology would take years to progress into the DSLRs we use today, now digital photography is everywhere, even in our pocket.

About the image – Left, the design of the KH-11 was believed to be based on that of the Hubble Space Telescope (pictured here in 1985). Right: A leaked digital image of the Nikolaiev 444 shipyard in the Black Sea taken by KH-11.

The National Archives; Via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 22


The original technology for computers was a lot more archaic than it is today. The original computers used punch cards and mechanical looms to solve problems. The technology improved at greater speed during World War II though, when an electronic digital programmable computer named Colossus was invented to help decipher messages sent by the Nazi encryption machines.

These computers were a small part of helping the Allies win the war and kick-started the age of the modern digital computer. In the decades that followed, technology has vastly improved and shrunk greatly, with computers even fitting in our pocket.

About the image – Left, Colossus in action at Bletchley Park in 1943. Right, The American ENIAC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Ballistic Research Laboratory in 1947.

British Government; Gaius Cornelius, via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 23

Jet engines

Inventor Frank Whittle was working on a design for a jet engine during the late 1920s and filed an official patent in 1930. But it wasn’t until the later years of World War II that jet engine technology would advance in leaps and bounds.

In 1944 the world’s first jet-fighter aircraft took to the skies in the form of the Messerschmitt Me 262. Luckily for the Allies, production was limited due to the shortage of supplies and materials and this invention wouldn’t help Nazi Germany win the war.

In the years that followed, jet engine technology continued to improve and is now a common staple of planes in the skies above us.

About the image – Left, Frank Whittle at the Ministry of Aircraft Production ion 1943. Right, Whittle’s W-2 jet engine, used to power the Gloster E.28/39, the first British aircraft to fly with a turbojet engine.

Alfred T. Palmer, via Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy of United States Rubber CompanyMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 24

Synthetic rubber tyres

Historically, vehicle tyres were manufactured using natural rubber with suppliers from Southeast Asia. During World War II when Japan occupied that region supplies were unavailable to Allied forces and they were forced to adapt. Industrial manufacture of synthetic rubber tyres was therefore required to counter the problem.

Synthetic rubber is now used for all sorts of applications but continues to be used in the tyre industry.

About the image – This sheet of synthetic rubber coming off the rolling mill at the plant is now ready for drying, B.F. Goodrich Co., Akron, Ohio in 1941. On the right, a 1944 United States Rubber Company advert for Fighting Tires.

Courtesy of the Archives of the city of Kingsport; Super Glue Corp.Military technologies that changed civilian life image 25


During WWII scientists were employed to find a material suitable for creating clear plastic gun sights for weapons. During that process, these researchers made an accidental discovery of a substance that would stick to everything it came in contact with and Superglue was born.

It was rejected for military use, but was later sold commercially in 1958 and famously used to suspend a car from a crane to demonstrate its adhesive capabilities.

About the image – The now famous 1957 demonstration of the strength of Eastman 910 adhesive which gave to the rise to the modern day hanging-car logo on the tube of super-glue.

U.S. Army Signal Corps; Christopher Ziemnowicz, via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 26

The Jeep

The iconic Willys Jeep is an instantly recognisable vehicle with a distinct shape. The Jeep was a multi-purpose and fully capable four-wheel drive vehicle that was designed to be used in all theatres of combat during the second world war. It was the primary vehicle of the United States Military and its WWII Allies and continued in popularity in the years of peace.

About the image – A U.S. Army Willys MA jeep is put through its paces in 1942 and on the right an open-topped V6 CJ-5 in 2008.

Jpbarbier Jean-Paul Barbier [CC BY-SA 3.0]; Paul Mashburn [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 27

Canned food

Keeping troops fed, supplied with ammunition and with ready access to medication is an essential part of successful warfare. Starving soldiers are not effective soldiers. The idea of food that could last longer and go further is not a new concept. In around 1810, the French government offered a large cash reward to anyone who could come up with a cheap way to preserve large amounts of food. One investor discovered that food cooked inside a jar did not spoil unless the seals leaked and so sealed food containers were born. These were ideal for supplying troops – though somewhat cumbersome.

In later years, canned foods took over. During WWI soldiers generally survived on rations of low-quality canned foodstuffs including corned beef, canned sausages, pork and beans and the like. Production of canned food allowed commanders to transport great quantities of food for troops to survive on.

Canned foods made their way in the civilian markets and became a staple of grocery store and supermarket shelves for years to come.

About the image – A Napoleonic era Appert canning Jar is pictured next to a 1966 shot of U.S. Airman’s C-rations

Wikimedia Commons; Science Museum London / Science and Society Picture Library [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 28


During World War I Alexander Fleming served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during which time he witnessed many deaths of soldiers from sepsis resulting from infected wounds. The Antiseptics of the time were not effective and actually did more harm than good, especially with deep wounds.

In later years Fleming discovered a type of mould that was releasing a substance that was inhibiting bacterial growth. That substance was later named penicillin and was mass-produced in the years that followed, successfully treating injured soldiers during WWII.

About the image – Alexander Fleming, who first discovered the mould Penicillin Notatum, is seen in his lab at St Mary’s, Paddington during WWII. On the right, a sample of penicillin mould presented by Fleming to Douglas Macleod, 1935.

Courtesy of Mapplin & Webb27 Military technologies that changed civilian life image 2


Some of the first wristwatches were worn by soldiers and military men in order to allow the synchronisation of military manoeuvres on the battlefield without alerting the enemy. The importance of this synchronisation was recognised throughout the military organisations across the world and popularity began to spread. Later, wristwatches made their way into civilian life where they transformed into fashion accessories before becoming part of everyday life.

About the image – A press image shows three original Mappin & Webb Campaign watches, two Boer War examples owned by Officer Halpern, who is depicted in the portrait (top and middle) and one First World War example (bottom). On the right a vintage advert for the Campaign watch.

Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection; Staff Sgt. Erik Cardenas, via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 4


The classic walkie-talkie, like many things on this list, started life during WWII. It was initially developed for infantry use, then for field artillery and tank crews to provide convenient communication on the battlefield.

In peacetime, the use of walkie-talkies spread into civilian life starting in public safety, appearing on job sites and more. Now they’re available to purchase in a variety of forms including for private personal use.

About the image – A sergeant at Fort Myer, Virginia demonstrates a “walkie-talkie” in the field in 1942. On the right A U.S. Marine, with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Battalion Landing Team 1/4, radios in medical evacuation details during a downed-vehicle exercise in 2013.

Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy of Wehrmacht history.comMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 5

Night vision

During WWII, the German Army was the first to develop military night vision devices. By the mid-1940s, the first night-vision scopes and rangefinders were mounted on Panther tanks and made their way onto the battlefield. A smaller, man-portable night-vision system was later mounted onto Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifles taking the first steps towards widespread military use.

Night vision is now making its way into the civilian world in cameras and even being installed in modern cars to improve safety at night and make all our lives a bit easier.

About the image – On the right a WWII era “Vampir” man-portable system being used by the Wehrmacht. On the left a set of modern panoramic night visions goggles.

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota; Gift of U.S. Department of Agriculture, through Dr. Arno ViehoeverMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 6

Wound dressing/Sanitary napkins

Ben Franklin originally invented pads to help stop wounded soldiers from bleeding while they received medical treatment. In later years, this simple invention was adapted and changed to help women coped with their menstrual flow.

Things have changed a lot since then. The original menstrual pad manufacturers were also bandage makers, which gives an idea of what they were like initially.

About the image – A 1923 Kotex advert sits alongside a 1920 box of Sphagnum Moss sanitary Napkins.

USGS Public DomainMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 7


In the years around WWII and after, the US military invested time and money in research into personal jetpacks and propulsion devices. The initial intention of these devices was to allow easy reconnaissance of enemy positions and installations, but also to quickly and easily get soldiers out of harm’s way. In later years, there were many attempts to create jetpacks for personal use in the civilian world.

About the image – On the left, the 1957 jet vest, on the right, Bill Suitor geared up and ready to demo the Rocket Belt for NASA and the USGS – circa 1966.

Via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 8

Freeze drying

The process of freeze-drying was originally invented in 1906 but it was put to increased use during WWII when blood serum was freeze-dried in order to the prevent it from spoiling during transport. This allowed for medical treatment of the wounded and saved countless lives.

In the years that followed, the freeze-drying technique developed further into the processing of food, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, manufacturing of ceramics, production of synthetics and much more besides.

Wikimedia Commons; Courtesy of Mylan.comMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 9


The original EpiPen started life in the military as an autoinjector intended for use by soldiers in the event of exposure to chemical warfare toxins and nerve agents. The design allowed for fast, safe and easy injection of essential medication with ease. This technology made its way into the civilian sector with hand-held devices intended to be carried by those with severe allergies for fast injection of Epinephrine in emergency situations. Countless lives have been saved since.

About the image – On the left the original military auto-injector used for rapid administration of nerve gas antidotes. On the right the civilian application of the technology for the administration of adrenaline to relieve allergic reactions.

Arche-foto, Burkhart Rüchel [CC BY-SA 3.0]; Naval Surface Warriors [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 10


The jerrycan was originally designed by Germany in the 1930s for military use to hold 20 litres of fuel. This new design was a leap forward as previous designs required tools and funnels to use and were cumbersome when what was needed was convenience. The robust jerrycan design has been popular ever since.

About the image –  On the left two WWII era German fuel containers. The one on the right is the now-classic Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister made by Nirona in 1941. In the picture on the right, a near identical canister can be seen on the rear of the Japanese Defence Force vehicle in 2012.

Ministry of Health; U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons;Military technologies that changed civilian life image 11

Blood banks and transfusions

The carnage and devastation of the First World War saw the need for the rapid development of blood banks and transfusion techniques. Canadian Lieutenant Lawrence Bruce Robertson was the first to push for the adoption of blood transfusion techniques to help save the wounded. The success of his techniques led to increased use.

The very first blood transfusions had to be made from person-to-person due to issues with coagulation. Transfusion techniques and storage solutions quickly improved and blood banks were set up to help with casualties.

Medical advances soon saw the techniques move into the civilian world where transfusions and donations continue to save lives even today.

About the image – Left, a WWII era information poster issued by the Ministry for Health. On the right, Private Roy W. Humphrey of Toledo, Ohio is being given blood plasma after he was wounded by shrapnel in Sicily in 1943.

T5C. LOUIS WEINTRAUB; NASA/U.S. Army, via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 12

Space Programme

During WWII, Nazi inventors worked on creating various long-range rockets for delivering explosive payloads to enemy targets. These were the first steps towards putting a man-made object into space. After the war, the US took those German scientists involved in the V2 rocket programme back to the states to help them win the space race and to be the first nation to reach the moon.

Space travel has since become a passion for many, including Elon Musk and more. Travel into Earth’s orbit has also been used for commercial purposes with satellite navigation systems, satellite television and satellite radio all coming about thanks to the first developments.

About the image – On the left German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, with a broken arm, surrenders to allied forces in 1945. On the right the July 1950 with the launch of the first rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida: the Bumper 8. Shown above, Bumper 8 was an ambitious two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket.

Rich Niewiroski Jr. [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons; 1986 Paramount PicturesMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 13

Aviator sunglasses

Aviator sunglasses were originally developed in the 1930s for use by military pilots to protect their eyes while flying. They replaced the classic flight goggles and had many benefits over them too – being lighter, thinner and snazzier too. Eventually, the aviator sunglasses produced by the company behind the original pilot’s glasses were trademarked as Ray Bans and have since risen to iconic status in the civilian world.

Wikimedia Commons; Look Sharp! [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia CommonsMilitary technologies that changed civilian life image 14


In around 1487, the very first ambulances appeared on the battlefield. They were used by the Spanish army to pick up wounded soldiers from war zones. They weren’t usually sent in until after the battle had finished though, so many died waiting to be saved. In later years, horse-drawn carriages appeared in greater numbers working more effectively as ambulances and rescuing people quickly from active battlefields.

Ambulance use changed greatly when motorised vehicles were introduced and they quickly made their way into civilian life too.

About the image – On the left American Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field, during the American Civil War. On the right a 1970’s era British Air Force Landrover Ambulance.