How the many technology developments of World War One brought shape to the last century.

Machine Guns

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Various forms of rapid fire guns began to appear around the 1860s, but it wasn't until the Great War that it was truly developed and began effecting the way war was waged. 

Two French soldiers firing a machine gun on a German biplane during WWI. 

Tracer Bullets

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Along with the advent of machine guns came the necessity to see where you're shooting, especially at night. Invented in 1916, the rounds are packed with bits of phosphorous to show gunners the path their bullets were taking.

Weaponized Aircraft

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Airplanes had been around for more than ten years by the time World War I broke out. At the beginning of the war, they were used for reconnaissance and enemy pilots would often give each other congenial waves as they passed in the air. That all changed as the war dragged on and both sides became more bitter. The interrupter gear was invented to allow pilots to mount machine guns on their aircraft that would shoot between the spinning props. This development gave rise to aerial dogfights, fighter pilots and aces.

Modern Mortars

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The concept of launching high-angle explosive artillery was not a new one at the outbreak of World War I, but previously mortars had been like traditional cannons and under the control of artillery. Trench mortars were created to let soldiers fire explosives in an arc across no-man's land without exposing themselves above the trenches. The self-propelled ordinance was in the hands of the infantry and are still an important part of modern warfare.

Depth Charges

Submarines began appearing in the world's navy's in the first years of the twentieth century, and they began taking their deadly effects at the outbreak of the Great War. Navy's began developing defenses against submarines and eventually came to the depth charge that could detonate where the depth captains believed subs to be located. They even developed K Guns, shown here to launch the depth charges instead of simply dropping the explosives overboard.

Sanitary Napkins

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WWI surprisingly made a big contribution in women's health. Cellulose bandage materials developed for use in hospitals found new use by army nurses who began using the material during their periods. It caught on quickly and it wasn't long after the war before the first commercial sanitary napkins were on the market.

Poison Gas

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Chemical weapons were deployed by all sides in the war to devastating effects that led to many global treaties banning such weapons today. Many of the companies that made those poison gasses for the war effort went on to use that expertise to make pesticides.

An American infantryman suffocates on phosgene gas on the battlefield without a gas mask. 

Air Traffic Control

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At the outbreak of the war, pilots couldn't communicate with the ground except through flag and light signals. Planes also couldn't communicate with each other so landing was generally at the pilot's discretion, leading to some anarchy in the skies. By the end of the war, technicians had figured out a way to transmit telegraph messages and by 1917, the first voice-to-voice transmissions began, launching the era of air traffic control.


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The cruelty of trench warfare also inspired the deadly flamethrower that allowed one man to clear an entire enemy trench. Of course that man had to carry a heavy drum of flammable liquid across no-man's land with people shooting at him--risky business.

Portable X-Ray Machines

X-ray machines were new medical technology at the outbreak of WWI and the massive amounts of casualties put too much strain on the fixed machines of the time. Military doctors came up with the idea of mobile machines, an important medical innovation for contemporary medicine.


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Trench warfare and machine guns effectively put an end to horse cavalry. The static nature of trench warfare threw armies back to the siege tactics of the middle ages. All that changed when nations developed tanks that could roll over barbed wire and trenches. It brought mobilized warfare back into the picture as tanks broke the stalemate of WWI and revolutionized the warfare of the last century.