Known as an era of conflict, rationing and the big band sound, it is easy to overlook the rush of technology, science and design discoveries made between 1940 and 1950. Here are just a few of the discoveries that we take for granted today.
1940 – Colour Television
In the autumn of 1940, Hungarian engineer Peter Goldmark introduced his peers to the idea of a mechanised system used to view colour images on a television. American network CBS followed this discovery with a field test of colour television in early 1941. At the same time, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (credited with inventing the first working television system in 1926) started work on his fully electronic system called Telechrome.
Due to manufacturing priorities in the Second World War, the making of television equipment was halted until 1945. Despite these huge steps forward in technology it took a lot longer to impastic the domestic market. Black and white television became more widely affordable in the 1950’s, with many buying their first set to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1967, BBC2 launched Europe’s first colour service with the Wimbledon tennis championships and two years later, colour broadcasting went live on BBC1 and ITV.
1940 – Antibiotics and Liquid Penicillin
Ten different types of antibiotics were put into use during this decade. Famously discovered by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928, penicillin was first used successfully to treat infection in 1942. As a result, Fleming won the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. It was Florey and Chain who developed ways to produce and concentrate the drug, proving the wide scope for its antibacterial effects.
In 1940, Florey, Chain and team of Oxford scientists created a concentrated form of penicillin with better application in a clinical setting. By 1941 policeman Albert Alexander had received treatment for an infection in his face, but supplies of the antibiotic ran out and Alexander sadly died. In 1942, Boston doctors successfully treated burn victims with penicillin, allowing science to begin the immense medical strides that we benefit from today.
1943 – Silly Putty
With Allies facing a shortage of natural rubber during World War Two, Scottish-American engineer James Wright aimed to invent a synthetic alternative for his employers at The General Electric Company. Wright hoped to make a new substance with the same flexibility and bounce of rubber. Mixing boric acid with silicone oil, he was disappointed with the resulting compound, it was flexible but sticky to the touch. Strangely, this material also bounced when thrown against a hard surface. It was, however, not much use as a rubber substitute.
This unnamed substance was placed on a shelf and forgotten about, except for a colleague who would use it to entertain clients. One of these clients, a toy seller named Peter Hodgson, spotted the potential of its stretchy, sticky qualities. Packaged up and presented at the 1950 International Toy Fair – Nutty Putty – as it was first named, was a great success.
1943 – The Dialysis Machine
Initially known as the artificial kidney, the first dialysis machine was built in 1943 by Dutch scientist and renal doctor Willem Kolff. His intention was to treat his kidney failure patients by cleaning their blood. Between 1943 and 1945 he applied the artificial kidney approach with up to a dozen patients, sadly only one was treated successfully.
Despite this he didn’t give up, and continued to improve on his concept. Kolff’s early work improved the chances of someone in acute kidney failure, and potentially led to the science behind the first successful kidney transplant in 1950. It was not until the 1960’s that dialysis became a reliable treatment option for many other forms of renal failure. By the mid 1970’s patients could access a portable machine and continue their treatments at home.
1946 – The Bikini
In 1907 Australian synchronised swimmer Annette Kellerman visited America and caused a media storm swimming at a Boston beach. Arrested for indecent exposure, Kellerman was seen wearing a swimsuit that showed her arms, leg and neck. Her costume was similar to male swimwear of the same era, she had adapted it herself from a design seen in England.
Sensibilities had begun to change by the 1940’s. Fabric rationing saw hemlines rise, women turned to wide leg pants instead of skirts, and the two piece made its first appearance. Initially introduced by French fashion designer Jacques Heim, this first design failed to attract much attention, it was relatively modest and still covered the belly button. Just two months later Louis Reard launched his risque alternative – exposing not only the woman’s belly button but also much of her bottom. Runway models refused to wear it so Reard hired nude dancer Micheline Bernardini. Perhaps in recognition of the explosive impact his new swimwear would have, Reard named his two piece swimwear the Bikini Atoll – after the site of the first public test of a nuclear bomb just a few days before. It would take another twenty years for the bikini to be embraced as an acceptable choice for the beach.