The very first tea bag was patented by two women in 1901 and they were originally known as "tea leaf holders." For whatever reason, history tends to forget their work in favor of the blind luck of Thomas Sullivan, who, in 1908, stumbled upon the modern tea bag by sending small samples of tea in silk bags to customers in an effort to boost sales.
Rather than opening the bags of tea to traditionally brew them, his customers simply placed the bags inside individual cups of hot water. With proper marketing, Sullivan's tea bags became a substantial hit, gaining larger acceptance worldwide after WWI, thanks in large part to being packed in soldiers' rations.
The origins of Tabasco hot sauce date all the way back to the Civil War. The McIlhenny family had fled their Louisiana plantation during the war. When they returned, one of the few crops of theirs that survived was their capsicum peppers. They combined the peppers with salt (and probably a slew of other ingredients that the National Museum of American History fails to mention) and, in 1868, the infamous sauce was born.
Fast forward to the late 1960s when, in an attempt to make army rations taste better, WWII veteran and Tabasco CEO Walter McIlhenny sent hot sauce to soldiers during Vietnam, along with a cookbook titled, Charlie Ration Cookbook or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.
The discovery of penicillin was a bit of a happy accident. In 1928, Biologist Alexander Fleming had left a sample of Staphylococcus uncovered while on vacation, which is the equivalent of you or I leaving the oven on before a trip to Bermuda. When he returned from his getaway, he found that the fungus Penicillium notatum had grown on the plate and created an area free of bacteria.
After initial trial tests, penicillin hit the market and was widely hailed for saving many soldiers' lives during WWII.
During WWI, supplies for dressing wounds were slim. Medics were running out of cotton and using an absorbent plant called sphagnum moss. In 1917, the good old U.S. of A. brought cellucotton, an absorbent material made of wood pulp, to the table. Manufactured by Kimberly-Clark Co., the cellucotton pads were cheap to make and proved to be highly effective in dressing wounds. They were even a popular option for front line Red Cross nurses, who preferred them to the cotton rags they were using during their menstrual cycles.
After the war, Kimberly-Clark used the excess supply of cellucotton to manufacture Kotex sanitary pads for women.
Prior to the Civil War, methods for preserving dead bodies included packing them in ice, placing them in air-tight boxes or using an embalming fluid that was poisonous and would occasionally kill medical students during dissections. Then they would be embalmed with the same poisonous concoction, causing more medical students to die... It was a vicious cycle.
Then Thomas Holmes came along and invented an embalming fluid free of poisons. His method became the go-to for funerals after he successfully embalmed Union Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth in 1861.
Wristwatches did exist prior to WWI, though they were mostly worn by women, not for telling time so much as just for looking fly. During the war, wristwatches became the standard for efficiency (it was easier for a soldier to look at his wrist than to have to pull a watch from his pocket and open the case to check the time) and functionality as scheduling delivery drops and tactical maneuvers became ever important. The phrase "synchronize your watches" actually comes from WWI.
If it weren't for Marie Curie's work in the field of radioactivity, we'd probably all be dead by now. Not only did she discover radium and polonium, she also created portable x-ray machines, which were vital to saving lives during WWI.
X-Ray equipment was already around, but they were large, cumbersome machines that couldn't be moved to the front lines. Curie, along with her daughter, strapped X-ray machines to donated vehicles to create mobile X-ray units. Not done being completely awesome, she also helped set up more than 200 permanent radiological posts throughout France during the first two years of the war. I'd like to see Kim Kardashian do that.
During the Civil War, coffee was the go-to food item for soldiers because, unlike their bland rations, it was fresh and actually tasted good. In 1861, in an effort to minimize the amount of time spent grinding coffee beans, the army created America's first instant coffee. Called "essence of coffee," it was made by mixing the instant coffee with water, milk and sugar.
Now there's a Starbucks on every street corner, meaning that there are plenty of coffee outposts for soldiers today should another war break out.
Originally, Twinkies were made with banana filling, until World War II reared its ugly head. Bananas were rationed (to feed our ape soldiers), causing a banana shortage in America. Hostess switched to vanilla filling, and the Twinkie took off, making Hostess the largest wholesale baker in America at one point.
Duct tape, the thing that fixes everything, was invented in 1943 during World War II. Vesta Stoudt worked in a munitions factory and felt that the paper tape and wax method used to seal ammo cases made them too difficult to open while getting shot at by hundreds of enemy soldiers. Stoudt came up with the mother of all inventions: a waterproof tape made of cloth. With the help of Johnson & Johnson, duct tape was born. If she only knew her invention would one day help future generations make prom dresses.
We can thank the U.S. Army for having pressurized cabins on our flights, otherwise we'd all have to bring oxygen takes onboard as our carry-ons and they'd probably go over the weight limit and then we'd have to pay extra fees. Airlines, man...
Prior to World War I, blood transfusions were done by connecting the donor to the recipient. This was impractical on the battlefield, so Peyton Rous and J.R. Turner set out to come up with a solution. After a lot of trial and error, they found that by adding sodium citrate to prevent clotting and dextrose to give the blood energy, they could preserve blood for longer periods of time.
In 1917, they hit the front lines in Belgium, taking donations from soldiers back at camps and performing several transfusions out on the battlefield, essentially creating the very first blood blank in the process.
For the invention of canned food, we have to go all the way back to 18th-century France. At the time, French soldiers were waging wars all over Italy, Germany and the Caribbean and they needed a way to keep their food fresh over long periods of time.
A young chef by the name of Nicolas Appert came up with a primitive method in which food was stuffed into Champagne bottles and sealed with a mixture of cheese and lime. From there he experimented with wider glass containers before testing the preservation of meat in tin cans. The use of cans was an overwhelming success and Appert was awarded the Directory's Prize in 1809 for his efforts.