In 1944, amid World War II, a 5.9 earthquake in New York City and President Roosevelt's election to a fourth term, five innovative ideas significantly impacted the 20th century - and life today. From sunscreen to assault rifles, these famous inventions pioneered advances in medicine, weaponry, technology and recreation.
Kidneys regulate blood content, removing harmful waste and toxins so organs and cells receive proper nutrients and stay healthy. Those with kidney failure often results in blood poisoning, chemical breakdown and interference with essential body functions. A Dutch physician named William Kolff realised the need for an artificial dialysis process and invented the first dialysis machine, constructed of wooden slats and a filter made of sausage skins. This first dialysis machine required extensive set-up and one session of treatment lasted more than six hours.
During WWII, airman (and future pharmacist) Benjamin Green noticed many soldiers suffering from sunburn. He concocted his own protective serum, using cocoa butter as the main ingredient. Cooked on his wife's stove and tested on his own bald head, this sticky red serum was so thick that it physically blocked the sun's rays. Green's formula became the first consumer sunscreen product, bought and marketed by a fledgling sun care company known as Coppertone.
Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper, two physics students at Harvard University, invented the first automatic digital calculator. The Mark I, designed by IBM, performed mathematical functions in three to five seconds. It was 51 feet long, 8 feet high, weighed nearly 5 tons and consisted of 765,000 parts and more than 500 miles of wire. Used by the US Navy during World War II, the Mark I took two months to build and cost more than £195,000. The Mark I also led Hopper to invent the term "bug" for computer error after a moth caused a hardware malfunction.
Englishman Anthony Ernest Pratt invented the popular board game, originally called "Murder!," to pass the time spent waiting in bunkers during air raid drills. Bought by Parker Brothers and renamed "Clue" for its North American release in 1949, the game still nearly replicates its original prototype design with only a few minor changes, including the elimination of the "Gun Room." Known as Cluedo in Europe, this game of murder and mystery has spawned books, movies and several game spin-offs, and it continues to entertain children and adults alike.
In 1944, a German weapons designer named Hugh Schmeisser unveiled the MP44, his most valuable contribution. Remarkably lightweight, the MP44 was easily produced in large quantities and was specifically designed to fire the Germans' short cartridges. Although only moderately powerful, with its most effective fire at 300 yards, the MP44's curved box magazine capable of holding 30 rounds sparked significant changes in weapons development. This design concept led Schmeisser to help develop the AK-47, one of the best-known weapons ever produced.
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