Each decade new technological advances and medical breakthroughs save lives, add convenience to daily life, and provide new dimensions to entertainment. Although much of the 1940s were overshadowed by World War II, numerous inventions and medical discoveries appeared during those years that still remain vital and important parts of the American and worldwide culture.
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Streptomycin for Tuberculosis
Prior to the 1940s, tuberculosis was a deadly disease that doctors had trouble treating. In 1943, microbiologist Selman Abraham Waksman discovered that a fungus called Streptomyces griseus produced an antibiotic he called "streptomycin." Waksman and his team first used the antibiotic on animals with tuberculosis. In 1944, he successfully treated the first human patient. For discovering streptomycin, Waksman was rewarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1952. Unfortunately, some tuberculosis strains became resistant to the antibiotic. Streptomycin is still used in an antibiotic cocktail to treat the disease, as well as other bacterial conditions such as plague and tularaemia.
The microwave oven made its debut in the 1940s. It was invented in 1946 by Dr. Percy Spencer during research related to radar. The self-educated engineer was working for Raytheon Corporation testing a new vacuum tube, when he noticed a chocolate bar melted in his pocket. Curious by this development, he placed popcorn kernels next to the tube and watched them pop. Spencer realised that low-density microwave energy caused the candy to melt and the popcorn to pop. He then created a metal box to trap the energy. When he placed food inside, it warmed up quickly. The first microwaves, created by Spencer and Raytheon, weighed 340 Kilogram and were used exclusively in commercial settings such as restaurants and railroad cars. Consumers waited for a few decades before the microwave became available for home use.
Velcro was invented in 1948 by Swedish mountaineer George de Mestral after he observed burrs sticking to his clothes. Until that point, the zipper was the most common fastener. De Mestrel had the idea of creating a self-fastening material that acted similarly to the burrs. While most people scoffed at de Mestral's idea, a textile weaver in France liked it and helped him develop the material that would become Velcro. They would not perfect the design until 1955 when they realised that nylon and not cotton was the ideal material for the idea. The name Velcro is a combination of the French words "velour" and "crochet" which mean "velvet" and "hooks," respectively.
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