Five Military Inventors that Changed Our World
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Five Military Inventors that Changed Our World



We know that the military holds some of the most cutting edge technology – guns, ammunition, stealth airplanes, and protective clothing. But did you know that there are several inventions that have made our everyday life ten times easier because of them?

Lewis Howard Latimer

The Light Bulb

You may have thought that we have Thomas Edison to thank for the light bulb, and that may be true in part, but a former Navy Seaman, Lewis Latimer, worked with Edison and eventually invented a better carbon filament than Edison’s paper filament that burned out too quickly. Latimer was eventually inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Electric Call-Bell System & Electric Generator

Frank Sprague

In 1878, Naval Academy graduate Frank Sprague, was commissioned and began his Officer career serving on multiple ships. He also began his career as an inventor. Sprague installed the first electric call-bell system on the USS Lancaster, as well as the first electric generator. After several years in the Navy, a friend who also worked with Edison worked to convince him to resign his commission with the Navy and come to Menlo Park. Lucky for us, Sprague did and went on to create improvements upon the electric elevators and trains. Thanks to Sprague, elevators are equipped with safety systems that prevent acceleration and speed becoming a problem. Transportation is a lot easier thanks to Sprague.

Northup Grumman – Engineering

Leroy Grumman

A name you might recognize on the list is one of the two names that make up Northup Grumman. In 1918 Leroy Grumman was commissioned into the United States Navy and began a career as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer. What Grumman and his company have created and contributed to our military, and to our everyday life is enormous. Each invention and creation has not only kept our military on the cutting edge side of things, but kept our service members safe as well.


Did you know that the implantable pacemaker was invented by a service member? Who knew right? After graduating high school Wilson Greatbatch joined the military as a radioman. After he was honorably discharged he used his GI Bill to attend Cornell University studying electrical engineering. Greatbatch holds patent

Wilson Greatbatch

number 3,057,356, for the implantable pacemaker, later going to invent a more reliable and better working battery that is not the standard for pacemaker use.

Barcode System

Perhaps one of most used inventions, by the most people, on our list today is one invented by Norman Woodland. Woodland joined the Army Air Corp, and worked as a technical assistant for the Manhattan Project. But as one of the inventors of the optical scanning barcode, Woodland became a part of our everyday lives. In 1948 one of Woodland’s classmates heard a conversation between Supermarket executives and professors at his college discussing the possibility of processing information automatically in their stores. The school wasn’t interested, but Woodland and his friend were.  Only a few years later they had the initial plans for the barcode system; but it wasn’t until 1974 that the first barcode was scanned in a grocery store. The first item scanned…..a packet of chewing gum.

Norman Woodland

Can you imagine how our lives might be different had none of these individuals contributed to our world? Most of these people lived so long ago, and their hand touched things that we now take for granted.  It’s important that we remember that we have all of these things because someone had the focus and strength to seek out answers to problems they saw in our lives; average humans who served, or were serving, when they achieved something more than average. Even today service members are accomplishing amazing things! Iowa National Guardsman in Afghanistan put together a means to carry more ammunition for their MK48 machine guns. Putting together supplies on hand and creating new things out of old, they came up with something they call the Ironman Pack.  Go Guard!!


Want to learn more about Veterans who have inventions? Read this article from Task and Purpose. Or, if you are in the Washington, DC area visit the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Museum at the National Patent Office and see their Visionary Veterans exhibit.


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