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Enigma was a machine used for the encryption and decryption of secret messages during World War II. It was invented by German engineer Arthur Scherbius in the early 1920s and was adopted by the German military and other organizations for secure communication.

The Enigma machine consisted of a series of rotors that scrambled the letters of the alphabet, making it very difficult to read messages without knowing the exact settings of the machine. The operator would input a message by typing the letters on the machine’s keyboard, and the resulting ciphertext would be transmitted to the recipient.

The Germans believed that the Enigma machine was unbreakable, but a team of codebreakers at Bletchley Park, including Alan Turing, worked tirelessly to crack the code. With the help of early computers and other techniques, they were able to decode many of the messages sent using the Enigma machine, which helped to turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.

The breaking of the Enigma code was one of the greatest achievements of the war effort and is considered a significant milestone in the development of modern computing and cryptography.

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Penicillin Saves Soldiers Lives poster. Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, 515170.

Of the enduring legacies from a war that changed all aspects of life—from economics to justice, to the nature of warfare itself—the scientific and technological legacies of World War II had a profound and permanent effect on life after 1945. Technologies developed during World War II for the purpose of winning the war found new uses as commercial products became mainstays of the American home in the decades that followed the war’s end.

When looking at wartime technology that gained commercial value after World War II, it is impossible to ignore the small, palm-sized device known as a cavity magnetron. This device not only proved essential in helping to win World War II, but it also forever changed the way Americans prepared and consumed food. This name of the device—the cavity magnetron—may not be as recognizable as what it generates: microwaves. During World War II, the ability to produce shorter, or micro, wavelengths through the use of a cavity magnetron improved upon prewar radar technology and resulted in increased accuracy over greater distances. Radar technology played a significant part in World War II and was of such importance that some historians have claimed that radar helped the Allies win the war more than any other piece of technology, including the atomic bomb. After the war came to an end, cavity magnetrons found a new place away from warplanes and aircraft carriers and instead became a common feature in American homes.

More than solely changing the way Americans warm their food, radar became an essential component of meteorology. The development and application of radar to the study of weather began shortly after the end of World War II. Using radar technology, meteorologists advanced knowledge of weather patterns and increased their ability to predict weather forecasts. By the 1950s, radar became a key way for meteorologists to track rainfall, as well as storm systems, advancing the way Americans followed and planned for daily changes in the weather.

Similar to radar technology, computers had been in development well before the start of World War II. However, the war demanded rapid progression of such technology, resulting in the production of new computers of unprecedented power. One such example was the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), one of the first general purpose computers. Capable of performing thousands of calculations in a second, ENIAC was originally designed for military purposes, but it was not completed until 1945.

Along with the advances of microwave and computer technology, World War II brought forth momentous changes in the field of surgery and medicine. The devastating scale of both world wars demanded the development and use of new medical techniques that led to improvements in blood transfusionsskin grafts, and other advances in trauma treatment. The need to treat millions of soldiers also necessitated the large-scale production of antibacterial treatment, bringing about one of the most important advances in medicine in the twentieth century. Even though the scientist Alexander Fleming discovered the antibacterial properties of the Penicillium notatum mold in 1928, commercial production of penicillin did not begin until after the start of World War II.

Of all the scientific and technological advances made during World War II, few receive as much attention as the atomic bomb. Developed in the midst of a race between the Axis and Allied powers during the war, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki serve as notable markers to the end of fighting in the Pacific. 

Source : The Scientific and Technological Advances of World War II (The National WWII Museum New Orleans)


  • Enigma
  • Meteorology
  • Computer
  • Alan Turing
  • Nuclear Bomb
  • Penicillin